|German Civil war reenactors (hobbyists) at the Country Music Messe in Berlin. Photo (c) Ruth Ellen Gruber|
By Ruth Ellen Gruber
There have been a couple recent U.S. media pieces about Germans who reenact U.S. Civil War battles from the Confederate side -- a phenomenon that is closely linked with other hobbyists who populate Europe's Imaginary Wild West, some (many?) of whom adopt the Stars and Bars flag and other "Rebel" symbols as an evocation of freedom, independence, anti-establishmentism and rebellion. The Rebel flags, in fact, is one of the most striking of all the striking visual images of the wild west scene in Europe. It is used on its own or in tandem with the American flag, the Stars and Stripes. It’s found as decoration, on T-shirts, pins, jewelry, backdrops, logos, you name it.
One of the recent pieces on Confederate reenactors was a blog in the Atlantic.
If the German reenactors actually "model their characters in the reenactments after...German immigrant soldiers," as they explained to the reporter that they do, then those who wear gray have their work cut out for them. Less than 10 percent of the Germans immigrants in the United States, scarcely 70,000, dwelt in the entire territory controlled by the Confederacy at the outbreak of the war. Many fled north, with perhaps 2,000 joining the Union Army. Hundreds of those who remained petitioned the consuls of German states for protection from the draft. There were certainly some ardent secessionists, and even a few slaveholders, and between 3,500 and 7,000 Germans may have served in the Confederate Army. But of that number, many were conscripted, a large number deserted, and some mutinied. "The German minority of the South," one scholar concluded, "was all but insignificant politically, economically, and militarily during the American Civil War."It was a comment by Yoni Appelbaum on a piece on PRI Radio by Caitlan Carroll.
There are Civil War hobbyists in other countries, too -- the Czech Republic, for example. The great Czech author Josef Skvorecky even wrote a novel, The Bride of Texas, about Czech immigrants involved in the conflict.So for those at the reenactment, it is appealing that the U.S. Civil War took place in another country, in another time. It is safer, even romantic. A lot of fantasies have built up around the Confederacy, thanks to the movie, "Gone with the Wind;" it is a staple of German popular culture.On the other side of camp, the Confederate soldiers are busy preparing for the battle. More people want to be on the Confederate side, so the Union troops sometimes have to recruit local reenactors from the American Revolutionary War. Chris McLarren plays a confederate captain from Texas. He is actually an American. He said the Germans are totally immersed in the history."The Germans like to do things 110 percent sometimes," McLarren said. "They are perfectionists in many ways and they want to do this the way it was then."
I've been harrangued by Stars and Bars-wearing (or bearing, or selling) hobbyists about the Civil War and its meaning, and I've written in the past and posted many photos about the Rebel Flag phenomenon, which also goes far beyond Germany -- I've posted pictures from France, Austria, Cz, etc:
One of the most striking of all the striking visual images of the wild west scene in Europe is the frequent display of the Confederate (Rebel) flag, the Stars and Bars or Southern Cross. It is used on its own or in tandem with the American flag, the Stars and Stripes. It’s found as decoration, on T-shirts, pins, jewelry, backdrops, logos, you name it.
For most country music fans in the scene, the flag seems to represent pure “rebel-hood” or the anti-Establishment, rather than to have a direct link with the Civil War, Confederacy, or slavery, i.e. connotations that it evokes in the United States. “They don't now much about the history of the southern cross and for them it's not important, it’s a link to freedom and rebellion against the establishment and their normal life,” one German member of the scene, a former employee of one of the Pullman City wild west theme parks and a close observer of hobbyist and other behavior, told me. Rockabilly fans also use it as a symbol of their favorite music -- album covers often feature the image.
In France, Alain Sanders uses the Rebel Flag as the logo of his country music fanzine, “Country Music Attitude.” Country music feeling, he told me when we met in 2004, is a kind of attitude toward life. “It's rebel attitude,” he said. “Don't believe everything because it's printed. We don't like kind of world where you have the good and the bad. It's grey, like the uniform of the confederate soldiers. And we explain to people also that when you are country, when you have a country attitude, it's not once a month or once a year when you come to a festival. It's every day. You think country, you sing and you think country -- that's what we try to explain.”Nonetheless, outside the country scene per se, some skinhead and neo-Nazi groups also use the flag -- as a symbol of racism, to link them to the Ku Klux Klan and other extremists.