TRIER--Founded in 16 B.C., this is the oldest city in Germany--and the birthplace of Karl Marx (1818).
Trier (pop.100,000) lies on the banks of the Moselle River in a valley between low vine-covered hills of sandstone. It’s near the border with Luxembourg and within the important Mosel wine region; another charming city with impressive ruins.
After arriving in time for lunch (we never miss a meal!) we have a lecture on Trier’s Roman origins (they defeated Assyrian colonizers who’d settled here around 2000 BC). The city later became the capital of the Roman province of Gallia Belgica and Roman prefecture of Gaul. Within its walls, as many as 70,000 may have lived.
Our guide, a local teacher who has discovered numerous artifacts (especially Roman coins from the river bed), leads us on a walking tour beginning at the Porta Nigra (180 A.D.), said to be the best-preserved of all Roman city gates worldwide. This gate to the old Roman city also is the beginning of the present-day pedestrian zone. As an unpaid volunteer, our guide also helped go through the excavated earth from the major Roman site in the middle of the town square, above which an impressive glass-walled building has been erected.
The Basilika, Emperor Constantine’s throne room, is the largest surviving single-room structure from Roman times. Going to the public baths was an important part of Roman life and Trier had three large ones. It also had an amphitheatre that is still used today for occasional concerts.
Leaping forward to the end of the Napoleonic Wars in 1815, we learn thatTrier passed to the Kingdom of Prussia. As part of the Prussian Rhineland, it developed economically during the 19th century. The city rose in revolt during the revolutions of 1848 in the German states, although the rebels were forced to concede. Trier became part of the German Empire in 1871.
During WWII, over 60,000 British prisoners of war, captured at Dunkirk and Northern France, were marched to Trier, which became a staging post for British soldiers headed for German prisoner-of-war camps. Trier was heavily bombed and bombarded in 1944; 40% of the inner city was destroyed.
At dinner, our tour leader Joaichim treats us to a bottle of wine out of his own pocket at a wine bar across the street from the Karl Marx House museum, where the author of The Communist Manifesto (1848) and Capital (1867–1894), both co-written with his friend and fellow German revolutionary socialist Friedrich Engels, was born.
The house’s significance went unnoticed until 1904. After working hard to buy it, the Social Democratic Party of Germany succeeded in 1928. After the Nazis came to power in 1933, the building was confiscated and turned into a printing house. In 1947 the building was opened as a museum of the life and works of Marx. About 32,000 visit every year, 1/3 of whom are tourists from China, for whom it is one of the main attractions in Germany. This is why several large Chinese restaurants are situated nearby, according to Joaichim, who says many Chinese tourists won’t eat anything but Chinese food.
Little is known about Karl Marx's childhood. Born into a wealthy middle class family of Jewish ancestry, he was privately educated until 1830, when he entered Trier High School. The school employed many liberal humanists as teachers, angering the government; police raided it in 1832.
In 1835, the seventeen year-old Marx entered the University of Bonn to study philosophy and literature. But his father insisted on law as a more practical field of study. He was able to avoid military service because of a weak chest. Young Marx was more interested in alcohol (he was co-president of the Trier Tavern Club drinking society) and socializing than studying law.
Due to his poor grades, his father forced him to transfer to the far more serious and academically oriented University of Berlin, where he became interested in the philosophical ideas of Hegel and in 1836 became engaged to Jenny von Westphalen. Marx also wrote both non-fiction and fiction for his own enjoyment. In 1837, he completed a short novel, Scorpion and Felix; a one act drama, Oulanem; and some poems; none of which were published in his lifetime.
Following the completion of his studies, Marx became a journalist in Cologne, writing for a radical newspaper. In 1843, he married Jenny and moved to Paris, writing for other radical papers. In 1845, he became a leading figure of the Communist League, moved back to Cologne, and founded his own newspaper. In 1849, he was exiled and moved to London, where he and his family lived in poverty, and Marx continued writing and formulating his theories about the nature of society.
On the way back to our hotel from dinner, Joaichim tells me that Marx had an affair with Engels’ wife, and Engels tolerated it. Talk about to each according to his needs! I wonder how different the world might be today if they had never written anything.