Can You Get More French Than Erlangen?

16 Sep

Putting Erlangen on the Map

After moving to a new city it is natural to wonder who your neighbors are, and how they and others before you got there.  Rarely or barely mentioned in guidebooks, Erlangen is generally known for its University, its popular beer festival the “Bergkirchweih,” or for the its cultish corporate culture.  It is considered one of Germany’s “large” cities (i.e. 100 000 plus inhabitants), and yet it might never have surpassed its village status if it had not been for religious turmoil, refugees, and one Margrave with vision.

Hugenottenkirche - the "new" city's first building still stands today

A (very) concise history

In Erlangen, there is definitely a feel for the old and the new, and it’s history is truly a tale of two cities: the “Altstadt” (old town) and the “Neustadt” (new town).   The old city was first officially mentioned in the 11th century, while the new city was not created until the late 17th century, and the two cities coexisted side by side until finally merging in 1812.

In reality, Erlangen as we know it today really owes its vigor to the nobleman, Margrave Christian Ernst, who planned out the creation in 1686 of a new city intended to become a booming commercial hub.

And along came the French part of this story

After finding the ideal location and drawing up the plans for his city, the Margrave in question obviously was lacking one essential element…people!  This is where he had stroke of genius – Huguenots.  Not only had the French king Louis XIV revoked the Edict of Nantes in 1685 forcing French Huguenots to flee, but these French Calvinists had also developed a reputation as highly skilled and productive workers.  This is how the idea of creating a French town in the middle of Bavaria was hatched, and the first group of French Huguenot religious refugees arrived as early as 1688.

Now the symbolism behind the city’s first building – Hugenottenkirche – becomes clear.  Erlangen was spared during the war, so the original church still stands in the center of Hugenottenplatz, formerly know as la place devant le Temple.

The choice of France's colors (bleu, blanc, rouge) for the church tower's clock is no coincidence.

Once completed the church provided French language services and housed a French school for its newly settled population.  French remained the city’s official language for 100 years and it is said that at least two families in Erlangen today can trace their family’s heritage back to the arrival of the French Huguenot refugees.

As you can imagine, there is much more to be said, but at least we have done justice to the French side of the story.  After all, without a proper beginning what History would there be to share?

Related Articles: Is There Life After Paris?

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One Response to “Can You Get More French Than Erlangen?”

  1. Karl September 16, 2010 at 2:59 pm #

    Intriguing. Interesting. Informative.

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