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Germany and Switzerland

Travels in Germany
« I shall return to France with a fairly good knowledge of what took place in Germany a hundred years ago but without the slightest idea of what people here are doing and thinking today. »
(Letter to Francisque de Corcelle,
August 29, 1854)

For a long time, Tocqueville had hoped to complete his understanding of the European political situation with an in-depth study of the case of Germany. He was certainly encouraged in this by his friend Jean-Jacques Ampère, who was a great expert on the subject. He even shared with Beaumont a subscription to the Augsburger allgemeine Zeitungand then the Kölnische Zeitung, both to improve his knowledge of German and to keep up with the latest news from across the Rhine.
Neither of the two trips he made to Germany, however, really satisfied his expectations. The first took place in the spring of 1848. At this time, Tocqueville, accompanied by his wife, wanted to flee the burdens of the current election campaign, and he was curious to examine the rapid changes taking place in the German political situation. The country was divided between upholding the Constitution that was born of the events of 1848, and the old royalists who were attempting to regain power. Tocqueville predicted "the victory of the Princes" but, after having learned of his re-election to the National Assembly, and especially after learning that Barrot would remain as prime minister, he had to hasten back to France, where he hoped for a ministerial appointment.

« As I drew closer to the border, I was gripped by a profound sadness and a powerful desire to turn back. I had just spent three months in a country that might, compared to ours, be called a land of liberty, and the idea of breathing again the air of a France so servile and so content in its servitude oppressed me. »
(Letter to Gustave de Beaumont, October 1, 1854)

In June 1854, when he crossed the Rhine for a second time, his motivations had changed: he was in the middle of writing
The Old Regime and the Revolution, and he was looking for information on 18th-century feudal Germany, which he found in the very rich holdings of the library of the University of Bonn. He planned to go from Bonn to Dresden and then to Berlin, where memories of the old feudal world were much more vivid, but his wife's health did not permit this. In mid-August, they traveled to Wildbald, a small spa town in the Black Forest not far from Baden-Baden, and abandoned their plans. They returned to France at the end of September 1854, without Tocqueville having been able to deepen his knowledge of Germany as much as he had wished - a country that impressed him as being a haven of freedom in comparison with France under the Second Empire.

Memories of the banks of the Rhine, between Coblenz and Mayence, Pierre Justin Ouvrié

Memories of the banks of the Rhine, between Coblenz and Mayence, Pierre Justin Ouvrié
© RMN/Gérard Blot

Saint Cassius and Saint Florentius Cathedral in Bonn, Germany

Saint Cassius and Saint Florentius Cathedral in Bonn, Anonymous © BNF

View of Coblenz, Germany

View of Coblenz, Germany, Anonymous © BNF

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