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By Robert A. Selig

“Welch eine Wendung durch Gottes Führung—What a Change through God’s Guidance” was the catchphrase that lid up the Brandenburger Tor in Berlin every 2 September since that memorable day in 1870 when Prussian forces had won the Battle of Sedan and taken French Emperor Napoleon III and over 100,000 French soldiers prisoners. The roar of Prussian artillery had signaled the end of the Second French Empire. On 4 September Léon Gambetta announced the creation of a Government of National Defense in Paris, the first government of the Third French Republic. Out of the victory at Sedan arose the German Empire, proclaimed by Otto von Bismarck on 27 January 1871 in the Great Hall of Mirrors in Versailles. The newly proclaimed German Emperor Wilhelm I refused to declare 2 September an official holiday, but Germans celebrated it anyway, up to the year 1919. By September 1919, 48½ years after its creation through blood and iron, Wilhelm’s and Bismarck’s empire was gone again, vanished in the trenches of the First World War. There was nothing left to celebrate in 1919. Neither is there a reason to celebrate in 2020 France’s defeat of 1870. In 2020, 75 years after the end of World War II, and almost 60 years after President Charles de Gaulle and Chancellor Konrad Adenauer signed a treaty of friendship between France and (then West) Germany on 22 January 1963 at the Élysée Palace in Paris, Germany and France are friends. But Sedan, the Hall of Mirrors, and the Franco-Prussian War of 1870/71 are historical realities, and the 150th anniversary of these events deserves a look back at what happened when, to whom, and especially: why?

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