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Die 99 besonderen Seiten der Stadt

Rita Dadder und Florian Russi

Saarbrücken, Landeshauptstadt des Saarlandes und unmittelbar an der deutsch-französischen Grenze gelegen, ist eine Stadt mit vielen Reizen. Es hat eine lange und wechselvolle Geschichte. Von Goethe wurde es besucht und beschrieben und von Kaiser Barbarossa teilweise zerstört. Heute ist Saarbrücken eine moderne Metropole mit Universität, Museen und vielfältiger Kultur. Hier lebt man nach der Devise: »Wir wissen, was gut ist«, ist gastfreundlich und lässt sich gerne »entdecken«.

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Florian Russi:

Alids Traum

12 Einhorngeschichten

Mit diesen Geschichten entführt Florian Russi in die Welt der Einhörner und der Götter, Menschen und Tiere, denen sie begegnen.

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Sébastien Le Prestre de Vauban [en]

Sébastien Le Prestre de Vauban [en]

Christoph Werner

Translated by Christoph Werner (Weimar, Thuringia), edited by Michael Leonard (Petaluma, California) USA

Soldier, Military Engineer and Commissary General of Fortifications

As long as there are people on earth, there will probably be evidence of mankind’s history of war. This evidence is provided, mainly, by the fortifications and defenses man created, and by the devices invented to overcome them. Human inventive genius and engineering reached fascinating heights in a field that by rights should be the cause of anguish and regret.

Sébastien Le Prestre de Vauban (1633-1707), whose life-span covers roughly that of his royal employer, Louis XIV (1638-1715), can serve here as an outstanding example.

In the 14th century gunpowder (a mixture of 75% saltpeter, 14% charcoal and 11% sulfur) was adopted for use in firearms in Europe, after it had probably been first used for military purposes by the Arabs. This had significant consequences for the construction of fortifications. The old town and castle walls began to lose their effectiveness as bastions of defense. From then on the ramparts of towns and fortresses had to be adapted to the new possibilities of siege and destruction. They had to be low in order to make the target for the siege guns as small as possible. They were best built in the form of a star and constructed so that their own guns could defend them. These basic demands were met in an outstanding way by Vauban.

As a young officer he fought on the side of the Fronde against the absolutism of Louis XIV. However, he was soon won over to the cause of the throne by the king's chief minister Mazarin and in 1678 became commissary general of fortifications, in fact the chief engineer of all French fortresses. Finally, despite his humble origins, he became a marshal of France.

His achievements are nothing less than spectacular. In the course of 50 years he engineered the "ring-wall of the house of France", a belt of fortifications around the whole of France. The northern and north-eastern borders were made particularly strong. Vauban built or reconstructed about 120 fortresses. He became the leading military engineer of his epoch in Europe.

Sébastien Le Prestre de Vauban
Sébastien Le Prestre de Vauban

The wars and the accompanying political measures of Louis XIV were a heavy burden for the French economy. This caused Vauban to write a memorandum to the king during the Spanish War of Succession (1701-1714), in which he suggested equal taxation for all French citizens in order to distribute the financial demands more evenly. With this he fell out of favor with the king and was retired.

It was said about Vauban that he hid his friendliness and his willingness to help other people behind a martial appearance and an unpolished manner. On the battlefront, his concern was always to save soldiers' lives, and he often let other officers take the credit for the fruit of his own courageous efforts. The Duc de Saint-Simon, the outstanding memorialist of the reign of Louis XIV, who never squandered praise, described Vauban as “the most honorable and virtuous man of his age . . . incapable of lending himself to anything false or evil.”

The city of Saarlouis in Saarland, a Land (state) in the southwestern portion of Germany, and in particular Vauban Island in an old arm of the Saar river reminds the visitor of the work and outstanding mastership of Vauban.

Siege craft and the construction of fortifications had without doubt culminated during Vauban’s time, but lost their importance altogether with the mobile warfare and open field battles of Napoleon. The idea of fortifications and defenses, though, had a kind of late, macabre resurrection with the Siegfried Line (Westwall) and the Atlantic Wall of Hitler Germany, which did not hinder the allied invasion of France but did cause senseless bloodshed.


Recommended Reading:
Vauban, Sébastien Le Prestre de. Encyclopædia Britannica. Encyclopædia Britannica Deluxe Edition. Chicago: Encyclopædia Britannica, 2012.

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