In a café in central Aachen a few years ago, I found on the bookshelf a two-century-old tome,
the name of which I forget, which was a (British, I might add) guide to the countries of the
world. In the section on Germany, where for other countries the capital was listed, the author
hedged a bit before settling on Vienna. (The story of whether Austria was or should be part of
Germany between the advent of Napoleon and the mid-twentieth century is a fascinating one, which
I might reserve for another blog post if anyone is interested.)
Which raised the question of how Berlin came to be the capital, if it was Vienna then. (One
might also add that Aachen was itself the capital in the time of Charlemagne.) The answer turns
out to be that because a unified Germany was driven by Prussia (and in particular the Prussian
Prime Minister Bismarck), the capital of Prussia became the capital of Germany.
But this only pushes the question one level further back: how did Prussia come to dominate
Germany? I'm not going to go here into how Prussia grew and ate up smaller German states during
the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries; I'll skip back to its origin in the seventeenth century
in the personal union (through marriage) of the Margraviate of Brandenburg, of which Berlin was
the capital, with the Duchy of Prussia, which until that point was confined to the Baltic region
and outside the Holy Roman Empire.
So now our question about Berlin shifts to the origin of Brandenburg, at which point I abandon
Wikipedia and take you with me on a couple of bike rides. Whilst looking for interesting places
to cycle to last September, I noticed a Jaczo Tower on the map. Having already cycled along a
Jaczostraße nearby, my interest was piqued, and I turned to Wikipedia, where I read that Jaczo
(a.k.a Iakša or Jaxa, meaning James) of Kopnik (today Köpenick, part of Berlin) was a Polish
prince who in 1157 fought a German leader called Albrecht the Bear for possession of Brenna
(today Brandenburg). Jaczo was defeated, and escaped by fleeing down a gorge to the river Havel.
Wikipedia says the capture of Brenna is generally regarded as the beginning of the Margraviate of
Brandenburg. The tower is located at the head of the gorge Jaczo fled down.
I was intrigued to have a look at it, and here it is, pointed out by an admirer of
Albrecht the Bear:
( Collapse )
On further investigation, however, it transpired the tower, which marks the route Jaczo used to
escape to the Havel, only dates from the start of the twentieth century and was built by an
industrialist called Beringer, whose family claimed descent from Albrecht the Bear. I found this
interesting, because -ing meaning "people of" or "descendants of" is something you get a lot in
English placenames (e.g. Birmingham, Washington) but I haven't otherwise seen in Germany.
Nine months after this bike ride of mine, I discovered while making another one that the story
continues further. Jaczo had shaken his followers off by plunging into the river, but the Hafel is
750m wide at that point, and his horse didn't have the strength to get across. When Jaczo's cry
for help to the Slavic god Triglav ("the Three-Headed") found no answer, he promised in his
distress loyalty to the God of his enemies, if He would let him reach the eastern bank safe and
Then, says the legend, it seemed to him as though a hand took hold of his raised shield, and
held him above water until the prince and his horse finally reached a tongue of land on the far
side. There Jaczo, in gratitude, hung his shield on an oak and recognised the Christian God.
I've been cycling along Schildhornweg for almost a year now, but never until now realised why it
was so called (partly because I didn't realise that „Horn“ in this context means "monument") until
I reached this monument (dating from 1845) on the peninsula where Jaczo reached the shore:
( Collapse )
(In case it wasn't obvious, that's a shield hanging halfway up the monument on the far side; but
the only clear line of sight from the other side involved photographing into the sun, so I stuck
with this shot.)
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