Concerning the Use and Abuse of a Medieval Statue in Germany from 1920-1940 : The Case of the Bamberger Reiter

In June, 2009 DasErste (Erstes Deutsches Fernsehen), the prominent publicly owned German TV channel, ran a provocative report by Ulf Kalkreuth on the possible membership of the author Dieter Wellershoff in the NSDAP. The report cites Wellershoff’s remark on his attitude toward Adolf Hitler: “Ich stellte mir einen deutschen Führer ganz anders vor—so wie den Bamberger Reiter.” Then Kalkreuth responds: “Der Bamberger Reiter—ausgerechnet! Von den Nazis vereinnahmt, als arisches Symbol schlechthin.” This arrogation of a 13th-century equestrian statue standing in the Bamberg cathedral is the topic of our essay, which is part Forschungsbericht and part analysis of a question: “How is it possible that the image of the Bamberger Reiter, chosen personally by Edwin Redslob, the Reichskunstwart of the Weimar Republic, to decorate legal tender in 1920 as “ein Symbol des deutschen Menschen,” appeared in the same decade on the cover of books on Rassenkunde by Hans F.K. Günther, the favorite of Wilhelm Frick, as an icon of National Socialist racial theory?” Surprisingly, given the wealth of research on the Bamberger Reiter, this question is scanted in scholarly accounts. Here the author sketches the forces at play in the transformation of the Bamberger Reiter from representative democratic citizen to Nazi beau ideal, then surveys the efforts of five intellectuals to promote, and sustain, this metamorphosis. They are Günther, Paul Schultze-Naumburg, Walter Hege, Wilhelm Pinder, and Fritz Hippler. The author, aware that the matters raised here might more properly be treated in a monograph, conceives of this piece as a preliminary study and offers it with the hope that it engenders further research.

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