And now for something completely different. As we all must assume, Hanover has existed before giving birth to a British dynasty and for reasons completely beyond their current socialist city government’s control, it still carries on existing. Hanover is – contrary to popular belief – not a very small village or market town in the netherworlds of what is today called Lower Saxony. With 510,000 inhabitants, it is one of the larger cities in Germany and the centre of Hanover Region, an administrative unit comprising the city proper and its leafy suburbs. This commonly called “bacon belt” (Speckgürtel) extends to a radius of some 20 miles and is home to 350.000 people, which makes it a total of 850,000 souls living mostly within half an hour by train to Hanover central station due to a rather efficient S-Bahn, U-Bahn and bus system.
Hanover is centrally located in the plains of Northern Germany, at the cross roads of two important east-west and north-south corridors (Amsterdam/Ruhr valley to Berlin/Warszawa and Frankfurt am Main to Hamburg). Thus, it is served by two of Germany’s main east-west and north-south Autobahnen, A2 and A7, the former being extended to four lanes per direction to cope with east-west traffic now (and you will still end up in a traffic jam) while Hanover central station has the sixth largest passenger traffic of the country (about 250.000 passengers per day, or about 91 million per year).
Hanover is not a place known for its glamour or for the latest in fashion. It is though the German centre of organ transplantation with 423 transplantations in 2012 (last available figure) at the hospital of the Medical University (MHH). Hanover is a properly protestant place and can be dullish and bland to the point of dreariness at times (the weather doesn’t help either). It is still verboten to host musical entertainment on the night preceding Good Friday and on the day itself, of course. People living there are mostly pragmatic and under no illusion concerning their station in life: they might dream of New York, London or Paris but they’ve got reality to remind them that they do not, indeed, live there (unlike quite a few Berliners who are notoriously given in to pretentions about living in a “true” metropolis).
Hanover used to be a rather industrious little place when people still made stuff (in the sense of producing er, products), but after an extended slug in the 1970s and 80s (and with white flight setting in a little before that), the city only turned a corner after German unification in 1989, when it could bring its central location in Northern Germany and its excellent transportation infrastructure fully to bear.
Location of course did also play a role when the area that came to be known as Hanover was first populated, probably not before the mid-10th century (at least not to any significant extent). Hanover was first mentioned in 1150 in the Miracula Sancta Bernwardi as a location to ford the river Leine (literally: line) over a length of about 500 yards; the Leine being a small river that is only remarkable for the fact that part of its course is running along the same geological fault line that extends from the Rhône valley in France via the Rhine valley and then continues via the Leine valley towards some fjord in Norway. So this is where Europe will finally break apart, and I doubt the EU can do very much about it, even if it were still around in say 135 million years from today.
There were finds indicative of Roman settlement on what is now the grounds of St Aegidien (St. Giles), from the 1st and 3rd century, but they are all a bit inconclusive and rather thin on the ground as it were. After all it is rather obvious that this part of Germania never came under Roman jurisdiction, though it may be deemed likely that trade took place regardless between the Romans and the native people. The evidence for this is a traditional, but unmarked Roman burial from the times of Emperor Severus Alexander (222 – 235) found on city ground. Apparently, although the political unification of Europe ended in the year 9 AD, trade relations did not (remainers take note).
Hanover was awarded city rights in 1241, which meant its inhabitants could form a council and run their own affairs pretty much independently of what the Kaiser said or did. Hanover then was a small town with only about 2,000 to 3,000 inhabitants. In 1371, the by then city got awarded the “Grand Reich’s Privilege”, which meant they could build defences such as a perimeter wall and determine their own customs and trade affairs under the tutelage of the Counts of Roden, a local gentry, but according to their own council’s terms and conditions. This goes to show that self-government did indeed exist in the Middle Ages and clearly, there was democracy before the EU “fixed” it, however rudimentary it was.
For most of the rest of the Middle Ages, Hanover exported linen cloth to London and Flanders, imported furs from Novgorod and fish oil and pickled fish from Norway and Sweden, respectively. In all this, Hanover was not very remarkable at all and quite typical for any city or town of its time. Things livened up a bit when an assembly on the centrally located Market Square (right next to the old city hall) declared themselves to be Lutheran in 1533, sixteen years after Luther had published his Ninety-Five Thesis.
The self-appointed “elite” did not follow through with the popular demand for reformation but it was made a reality nevertheless because the politically disenfranchised masses simply refused to return to the fold, or “the old faith” as they called it. When things heated up a bit more, the city council had to flee to the (catholic) Archdiocese of Hildesheim to save their skin, but mostly their power and privilege, before giving in to popular demand 47 years later, in 1580, when the city indeed declared itself Lutheran (Protestant) with full consent of the city council, in what came to be known as the Formula of Concord of 1577, a piece of paper Elizabeth I was not very fond of, by the way. I include this bit to illustrate that a detached, self-appointed “elite” sooner or (in this instance) later must give in to popular demand if the people making their demands stand together undeterred.
Again, not much changed after Reformation until the House of Welf (also Guelf or Guelph) set up shop in Hanover and declared it their residency, in 1636. The Guelf are of course a chapter of their own but suffice it to say that, being the older branch of the House of Este (in Lombardy), the Guelfs sprang into existence as a dynastical power when they got their Welf I declared Duke of Bavaria in 1070. Through successful marriages, they amassed a sizable portion of what today is Italy (Tuscany, Ferrara, Modena, Mantua and Regio). They were even more successful in setting up the Duchy of Saxony, in the Northern German heartlands, in 1137. This is what became known as the Duchy of Brunswick-Lüneburg. Until in 1636, the Guelf’s residence was moved from Celle Castle to Hanover, by Prince Ernest II of Lüneburg. The next step was Ernest-Augustus’s acquiring the right to be a prince-elector, in 1692. This made him a member of the electoral college of the Holy Roman Empire which was by then a spent force, but his (bought and paid for) privilege to choose the next Emperor immensely increased the standing of the Guelf/Hanoverian dynasty and at last put them on the map internationally.
Now, by virtue of the fact that Ernest-Augustus’s (rather dashing and highly intelligent) wife, Sophia of Hanover (née of the Palatinate as the daughter of Elizabeth Stuart and Frederick V of the Palatinate), was Queen Anne’s cousin once removed, and the Act of Settlement of 1701 stipulating a protestant heir must be found for the British throne, Sophia was heir presumptive. And once Queen Anne had died, the Hanoverians found themselves in line to succeed as British monarchs pretty much against all the odds, or at least their more than 50 (catholic) contenders. In 1714, George Louis, Duke of Brunswick-Lüneburg and Elector of Hanover, got promoted to the job of King George I of Great Britain and Ireland (and regent of a few more bits and pieces). He was supposed to be the figurehead of a sprawling and growing British Empire that obviously reached far beyond the Elector of Hanover’s wildest imaginings (both geographically and metaphorically, it must be assumed). I bet George didn’t see that coming.
And this is Hanover’s claim to fame. The Hanoverians (Guelf) became Kings of Great Britain and (after 1812) Kings of Hanover in personal union, meaning the two jobs were in fact not merged but kept apart, but had to be awarded to one and the same person for the time being. Of course, the Guelf should have spent more time studying and maybe changing their terms and conditions, because unlike the British monarchy, Guelf dynastic law was based on Germanic tribal law (Lex Salica of 507 to 511) and forbade female primogeniture. So what had brought the Hanoverians on the throne of Britain in the first place, rather ironically made them lose the personal union of Britain and Hanover in 1837 (you may still call it a fair downside to their upside though).
Queen Victoria’s ascending in 1837, led to much celebration in Berlin: at last, Hanover was ripe for the taking. Another smallish kingdom was ready to be toppled by Prussian invasion and annexation in the Austro-Prussian war of 1866, one of a series of Prussian military campaigns in the wars of German unification during the 1860s. They included toppling the Danish monarchy in Schleswig-Holstein (north of the river Elbe) and ended in Prussia emerging as the German hegemon of the day after annihilating the French army in 1870/71. By then, Prussia and – by extension – Germany had become pretty much the Continental hegemon. The Second Reich was always intended as a mere extension of Prussia under a different name, much like the EU now is an extension of Krautland by different means. This inherently instable state of affairs (an unchecked, overmighty Germany) could then only be countered by Britain in the West and Russia in the East. And we all know how this ended: with the Great War in 1914 and the USA taking their first steps as a world power.
The material legacy of the Guelfs is a few castles, amongst them a rather beautiful one in Brunswick and the Herrenhausen Gardens in Hanover, only ten minutes by taxi from Central Station. Though not quite as grand as Versailles, they are recognised as one of the best surviving, authentic examples of Baroque garden architecture and are very manageable on a four-hour long visit, preferrably topped with a fireworks display.
© Guardian Council 2018