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  • Writer's pictureMeirion Harries

DAY NINETY FIVE Chocolate and Karl Marx

The Race Marshal is convinced that we have arrived at the true Walhalla – the Chocolat Grand Café (slogan: sweet dreams come true!), the stylish prow of Cologne's Chocolate Museum, a wonderful boat-like building sitting in splendour on the Rhine. Given the difficulties of choice, we had the tasting menu of fondants au chocolat, fresh chocolate waffles, chocolate fondues, chocolate crepes. Drinks were less of a problem - obviously it had to be heisse trinkschokolade mit chili, tabasco, tequila und weisser rum. No wonder Germans happily eat 8.6 kilos of chocolate a year per head - only 2.4 kilos less than us.

In earlier times, the German chocolate tradition amongst the bourgeoisie involved training up a 'chocolate maid' whose sole purpose in life was to barista cocoa beans into Meissen cups. No wonder Karl Marx came to Cologne to drive his spurs into the revolutionary sentiments rising in Germany in 1848.

Marx faced an uphill struggle because there was no single revolutionary movement to work with. Nor was there a unified Germany: Napoleon had abolished the multitude of dukedoms and Imperial Cities and reorganised the country's governance into larger blocks. The Conference of Vienna that followed Napoleon's defeat did not restore the medieval status quo ante but instead created the German Confederation – a loose association of thirty-nine autocratic states (that Bismark was to unify under Prussian leadership only in 1870).

The 'revolution' in Germany was like the Confederation itself - fragmentary. Many instances were more protests than popular uprisings but all, interestingly in light of what was to come, were fuelled by an amorphous pan-Germanism, a desire to unify all German-speaking (or, for extremists, all Germanic-speaking) peoples.

Marx had recently inherited some money from his father and in 1848 he spent it in Cologne on printing handbills – the Demands of the Communist Party in Germany – and on establishing a newspaper, the Neue Rheinische Zeitung. The paper was, as Engels expressed it, 'a simple dictatorship by Marx' designed to put a communist spin on the current agitation. Unfortunately for Marx, Cologne was part of the by now authoritarian Prussian state: his newspaper was suppressed and he was banished, going back briefly to Paris, and on to the British Library.

flagons used by workers in the Moselle's vineyards (c)meirion harries

We only have a week or so to go on this trip and I am sad not to be telling you about the homely vineyards along the Moselle or about the plateau above the Moselle where Edgar Reitz filmed his extraordinary story, Heimat - or to take you through the Porta Nigra, the massive Roman gate into Trier.

stones of the Porta Nigra (c)meirion harries

If we had been able to go to Trier, we would also have seen more of Karl Marx. He was born here into a distinguished family that had provided the town's Rabbis since 1723. The details of his life are laid out in a museum and I am delighted to say that we can visit it now with someone who knows it well – Rick Morgan.

Marx's birthplace in Trier (c)wikicommons

“Welcome to the Karl Marx Haus. Originally built in about 1550 and it was substantially altered in 1727. Then it was a two-storey house surmounted with a mansard attic roof and a galleried courtyard, very much in the local tradition of the Saar-Moselle region.

Some ninety years later, on 1st April 1818, the lawyer Heinrich Marx and his wife Henriette Marx took out a lease on part of the property, two rooms on the ground floor and three on the first floor. Not only did the family live in these rooms, but Heinrich conducted his legal practice from them. Just over a month later, on 5th May 1818, Heinrich’s and Henriette’s third child, Karl, was born.

The family did not stay long here and in October 1819 Heinrich bought a smaller house in Simeonstrasse, near the Porta Nigra.

Now, you probably all know the story of Karl Marx, Trier’s most famous secular son (Saint Ambrose being their most famous religious son), so I’ll concentrate on this house, Karl’s birthplace. Many alterations were made to the house over the later nineteenth and early twentieth centuries. The fact that the house had been Karl Marx’s birthplace was forgotten and it was only in 1904 that it was identified through the discovery of an advertisement placed by Heinrich Marx in the Trierische Zeitung of 5th April 1818 announcing his change of address.

After much trouble, the Socialist Party of Germany (the SPD) was able to buy the property in 1928 and from 1930 the house was being restored as much as possible to the original state in Marx’s time, with the intention of establishing a collection of Marx’s works and other memorabilia. However, the Nazi seizure of power in 1933 put a stop to such a politically provocative project (to them) and the house was requisitioned by the Nazis and used as a printing press for a local Nazi party newspaper.

The house was re-established as a museum on 5th May 1947. In 1968 the Friedrich Ebert Stiftung assumed responsibility for the house and after closing for a year for further renovation work, the house reopened its doors on 14th March 1983, the centenary of Marx’s death. In September 1987, Erich Honecker, head of state of the German Democratic Republic (East Germany) visited the house and described it as a “special high point” of his state visit to the Federal Republic.

Since 2005 the exhibition has been extended to cover the history of communism in the old Soviet Union, Eastern Block and China as well as the history of Marxism. There are also regular temporary exhibitions. Please go to the website which will give more information.”

Thank you very much, Rick.

Cologne's chocolate museum (with a look inside the amazing cafe at 4 minutes 45 seconds) -

German public broadcast documentary (in English) about Karl Marx -

A short walk round Trier -

The trailer for Edgar Reitz's wonderful Heimat -

Hot Chocolate live in 1976 -

The youth anthem Malai Malai from Chocklet (in Tamil) -

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Aug 03, 2020

Thanks, Rick and Mei! I never knew this detail about Marx, of whoSe writings I endorse roughly half, ditto Hegel. His critiques have proved brilliant, but his visions dismal, failing tragically time after time, thanks to the fact that each of us is a fascinating human being, different from all fellow humans as a tree in the forest. This is where both dialectical materialism and Hegelian idealism prove dismally inadequate. Stalin was not Lenin, nor Lenin Trotsky, nor was Marxism considerate of all the individuals who perished in the revolutions that infamously replaced one autocrat with another and continue to do so. I wish some utopian genius might even come close to the truth. Thanks again, dear friends. Aarfy

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