The History of Lorraine, France
The region of Lorraine, which lies in the France’s North East has historically been a place of overlapping spheres of influence. Bordering three other countries (Belgium, Germany, and Luxembourg), Lorraine and her sister region of Alsace have been hotly contested areas and have changed hands many times since the fall of the Roman Empire. This back and forth ownership of the region has led to interesting cultural traits in the inhabitants of Lorraine.
Organized civilization as we know it today began in Lorraine during the early days of the Roman Empire in the early part of the first millennium A.D. Part of the region the Romans called ‘Gaul’, Lorraine was to be pacified by the Roman Legions, and brought under the control of Rome. One of the aims of Rome was to ‘civilize’ the ‘barbarians’ in the outlying regions of their empire by constructing roads for trade, towns, farms, and aqueducts. The Roman drive for development created the infrastructure that would come to serve Lorraine for the millennia to come.
When the Roman Empire collapsed, the Christian Catholic Church (which Rome had adopted as the state religion) filled the vacuum in Lorraine and the entire Romanized world. Though much of their overt power was gone, the local Christian officials found that they could still exercise a great deal of power. The Church was often superseded, however, by local authority (be it aristocracy or monarchy) when it came to affairs of state.
Charles, King of the Franks (known now as Charlemagne) came to power in the proto-France region about 770 A.D., becoming a religious sovereign for many of the regions that would make up France. In 843 A.D., however, a treaty signed in the city of Verdun (one of the large cities in Lorraine today) known as the Treaty of Verdun parceled out the remnant of Charlemagne’s empire into several areas. ‘The Middle Kingdom’, a region which included modern Lorraine, was given to Emperor Lothaire. The Treaty of Verdun was soon superseded by The Treaty of Meersen of 870 A.D., in which ‘The Middle Kingdom’ was further divided into smaller regions (Lorraine included), and Lorraine came under the control of smaller Frankish Kings (Frankish being equivalent to French at the time).
Thus entered Lorraine into a period of back and forth struggle between France and Germany for control of the region. Many times, the region was never fully under the control of either power, instead one country would have control of the majority of the region, with the other country retaining control of a few towns and cities on the border. Also, Lorraine was actually largely under the rule of Dukes, who were formally aligned with France but not under direct French control. This period lasted between 1473, and 1632. During the Thirty Years’ War, Duke Charles IV of Lorraine being forced to cede much of Lorraine to King Louis XIII(13). Lorraine was to remain under French control until the nineteenth century. In the Treaty of Frankfort in 1871 (the treaty which ended the Franco-Prussian War in which France was defeated), France ceded much of Lorraine to the German Empire.
The twentieth century began with the Great War, in which nearly every country in Europe found itself on either side of a massive war between the Central Powers and the Allied Powers. Germany, honoring their mutual protection treaties with Austria-Hungary, declared war on Russia. In addition, Germany declared war on France and invaded the neutral country of Belgium. Great Britain responded by declaring war on Germany. The German invasion of France came through Belgium, and was stopped at the First Battle of Marne. The Allies and Germany settled in for a long, protracted war of attrition conducted through trench warfare.
The Western Front ran nearby the Lorraine city of Verdun, which was an area of heavy fighting. In 1916, Germany launched a massed attack at Verdun, which was met by even more heavy French resistance. General Petain is recorded as saying ‘They shall not pass!’ in an attempt to help rally his troops. Germany gained several thousand yards at the cost of over 300,000 lives, but after nearly a year, France had regained the territory at similar cost in life. The Battle of Verdun became one of the most powerful symbols of the horrors of war. Verdun is currently home to a large memorial and cemetery of the soldiers who died in the battle.
Another major World War One battlefield in Lorraine is the Argonne Forest. The Argonne Forest was an area famous for its impenetrable German fortifications and defenses. Never the less, Allied high command decided to attack through the Argonne anyways. Three battalion (two American, one French) were sent into the forest. All met heavy resistance and the two flanking battalions were forced to retreat. Despite the fact that the flanking units had been routed, the American General on the scene ordered the middle unit to advance without telling them the situation. The central American battalion found themselves quickly surrounded by German forces, and cut off from support. In one of the most famous situations of the First World War, the so-called ‘Lost Battalion’ held off German attack after German attack while a second Allied attack was launched to rescue them.
After the end of the First World War, the Treaty of Versailles exacted a large number of reparations from Germany. In addition to large monetary reparations, France received full control of the Lorraine region.
Fearing another war with Germany (which seemed inevitable due to the brutal surrender treaty that had been forced on Germany), France began construction of a static line of defense against future German aggression. This Maginot Line was a series of bunkers, turrets, and infantry and armor obstacles, all connected underground with long stretches of rail tunnel. Lorraine was one of the regions that received the most significant concentrations of fortifications. Unfortunately for France, the Second World War saw very little use of the Maginot Line into which so much money and labor had been poured.
One of the fatal flaws in the Maginot Line strategy was the fact that by investing so much in an impenetrable (and immobile) wall, the whole thing was worthless as soon as one sector was breached, and the enemy could simply bypass the whole complex. Secondly, the Maginot Line encompassed nearly the entire France-Germany border, but France did not erect any defenses on the France-Belgium border (which is interesting, knowing that in World War One, Germany invaded France through Belgium.) The French had counted on Belgium as being a sufficient buffer in the event of a second invasion.
Germany got around the Maginot Line by using their Blitzkrieg strategy and tactics of a lightning fast Panzer invasion through Belgium, and a few concentrated points of attack along the weaker sectors of the Maginot Line. Nearly the entire Maginot Line was rendered ineffective. Their primary obstacle to France bypassed, Germany proceeded to quickly conquer France.
The region of Lorraine owes a great deal of its culture to the historically dynamic nature of their controlling countries. Not only is Lorraine on the French-German border, but has also been under the control of Germany for many years, leaving a distinctly German tinge to many of the culture and traditions of the region. French is, of course, the dominant language in Lorraine. However, German is very common due to the proximity to the German border, and the periods of time Lorraine was a part of Germany. Much of the land area of Lorraine is agricultural, which explains much the pastoral tradition in Lorraine culture. The traditional culture of Lorraine is very folkish (or volkish in Germany).
One of the modern traditions in Lorraine is the ‘Night of the Blues’, which is an annual April festival in the city of Sarreguemines where local Blues players can perform their music, as well as see some famous players from around the world. Another exciting local festival is the Biennial World of Ballooning festival, which is a thirteen day festival in August of the hot air balloon. This festival can put a very large concentration of hot air balloons in the sky, and is quite a sight.
Certainly, everyone has heard the story of Joan of Arc, who was born in Lorraine. But there is another Lorraine native that has played a large, if somewhat unknown role in the twentieth century world. That man is Robert Schuman.
Robert Schuman, the French Foreign Minister during the post-World War Two period, was tasked by the British and United States secretaries of state to answer the question ‘What do we do with Germany?’. That question became the defining question of Schuman’s career. Schuman had to figure out how to bring Western Germany into line with the rest of Western Europe, both to prevent the mistakes after the First World War, and to fortify it against the much feared spread of Soviet communism across Europe in the post war vacuum. Schuman’s proposals were adopted, and Germany was successfully integrated into the European community. In addition, the agreements on coal and steel that Schuman put forth were approved by other European countries. These agreements formed the basis of the European Union, which was to become the greatest force for European unity in history. The legacy of Robert Schuman is one of a unified Europe which is finally free from the cycle of war that has shaped the past millennia of European history, and a Europe in which Western values have triumphed.
Agriculture and Industry
While a great deal of the native food is prepared with the aid of wine in neighboring Alsace, much of the traditional food in Lorraine is created with various beers. Lorraine owes a great deal of its beer heritage to its German roots. One of the most famous recipes from Lorraine is the Lorraine Quiche.
Two of the fanciers products to come out of Lorraine is the famous Baccarat crystal, and the Embroidery de Luneville. Baccarat crystal began during the 18th century, which King Louis XV(15) granted the Duke of Metz the right to construct a glassworks in Lorraine. The glassware that followed was of very high qualitiy. Bacarrat crystal did not become internationally well known until the World Fairs began, and then its popularity among the elite around the word took off. Bacarrat crystal is always in high demand because of the relatively small supply. The embroidery of Luneville is a dying art. Intricate and beautiful, the beaded and spangled patterns and decorations of Luneville embroidery were prized pieces of art. Now, there is but one company still producing the embroidery, and the practice has all but disappeared in Lorraine.