On this date in 1849, the German revolutionary Friedrich Neff was shot at Freiburg.
These stirrings for political liberalization and national unification in the loose 19th century German Confederation, which comprised dozens of duchies and principalities left over from the dissolved Holy Roman Empire, were just the sort of thing to inspire student radicals like Neff.
Neff‘s Heidelberg was an initial center of the movement, led by Friedrich Hecker* and Gustav Struve. (All links in this sentence are German Wikipedia pages.) Though Hecker and Struve were established lawyers who most certainly had something to lose, they led rebel guerrillas into the field against the troops dispatched to crush the republican stirrings. They didn’t have much success, but it’s the thought that counts.
On September 21, 1848, Struve unavailingly proclaimed a German Republic in Baden, an event that is known as the Struve-Putsch and whose defeat four days later closes the first chapter of the 1848 revolutions (at least in Baden).
As a Struve-Putsch supporter (and an open advocate of political violence even before that), Neff had been obliged to flee to Switzerland and onward to Paris. That positioned him perfectly when the 1848 revolution scheduled an 1849 comeback to be the man to muster a legion of Baden exiles who would attempt to topple the duchy.
“This legion was the wildest band which the revolution brought forth,” this history of the revolution recounts. “It was commonly called the Legion of Fugitives, because composed largely of political refugees from Baden, who had fought under Hecker and Struve … There were also in the Legion many daring adventurers, some of whom were still wearing the red trousers of the Algerian Foreign Legion of France.” But these, too, were easily crushed, and Neff was arrested fleeing into exile. His last letter urged his mother to “remain firm and steadfast. I will go to death tomorrow as calmly as I once strolled in our garden — would that I had ten lives to give for the cause.”
Neff is a hero to social democrat types in present-day Germany, and there are public monuments him — like this plaque marking his birthplace in Rümmingen.
(cc) image from Erik Vogelpohl.
* Haberdashers might be familiar with the Heckerhut, a wide-brimmed, high-peaked hat popularized by Friedrich Hecker.