Cold and warm winds of history — emerging obscurities and certainties
Having been known for many years as Avenue de la Liberté, in the Grand Duchy of Luxembourg's Capital, this major, (today) one way thoroughfare in Luxembourg City, dating from the beginning of the 20th century, has also been known officially by other names. All these names are illustrative of periods of the country's history.
The Avenue stretches over 0.8 kilometres between the Adolphe Bridge (built from 1900 to 1903) across the Pétrusse Valley and Luxembourg City's Station, at Place de Paris. There are several, notable buildings on this route, including the ornate structure, dating from 1920, known almost universally as the ARBED building (1). The Avenue is used for military displays, particularly on Luxembourg's National Day, when the reigning Grand Duke traditionally reviews troops, and representatives of other national institutions, from a stand in front of a suitably decorated ARBED building.
It is a number of years since I visited Luxembourg City, but I have included a photo, below, dating from December 2020, which depicts reigning Grand Duke Henri in front of the ARBED building, together with other dignitaries, at the inauguration of a new tram service along Avenue de la Liberté.
At times the Avenue has been known by names in both French, Létzebuergesch (the national language) and German, it is the names in French and Létzebuergesch that tend to predominate.
Interestingly, its names in French and Létzebuergesch are not simple translations or transliterations of each other.
In fact, its current French name (used, with a break during World War Two, since 1925) replaced another name in French — Avenue Adolphe — used since the Avenue's inception.
In Létzebuergesch, however, the name used since the Avenue's inception — Néi Avenue (i.e., New Avenue) reflects the name used for the Adolphe Bridge in Létzebuergesch — Néi Bréck (i.e, New Bridge). This name, in turn, reflects the popular distinction between the Adolphe Bridge and the Passerelle (or Viaduc or Vieux Pont; Létzebuergesch: Al Bréck), which also spans the Pétrusse Valley.
Remembering — and transcending — the heritage of Grand Duke Adolphe
The Avenue — and indeed the Bridge to which it connects — were thus until 1925 named for Grand Duke Adolphe, who reigned from 1890 until 1905. Luxembourg has had its Grand Dukes or Dukes since the Middle Ages; so why was Grand Duke Adolphe regarded by Luxembourgers as so special?
Before seeking to answer this question, one can maybe usefully describe a characteristic of several areas of Continental Europe which were for centuries ruled by monarchs of other countries, holding their authority locally by another title.
Thus, for example, in Schleswig-Holstein, in present day Germany, the King of Denmark ruled, not as King, but as Duke. (This state of affairs led to the complex series of the 19th century events known as the Schleswig-Holstein Question.)
Thus also — from the Middle Ages until even today — the ruler of France (a Republic) jointly rules as Co-Prince — at least theoretically — together with the Spanish Bishop of Urgel - over the Principality of Andorra.
Thus also, in Luxembourg, between 1815 and 1890 the Dutch monarch ruled, not as King (in the days of the Salic Law) but as Grand Duke.
To emerging events, enter in 1890 the highly pragmatic Luxembourg government led by Prime Minister Paul Eyschen: when the male, monarchic line became extinct in The Netherlands and the Salic Law was set aside in favour of the Regency of Queen Emma, Monsieur Eyschen and the legislature — for a few years, at least — asserted the continuance of the Salic Law. Thus the succession in the Grand Duchy passed to Adolphe I of Nassau-Weilbourg (1817-1905).
Within the acute perception management of Luxembourg's astute political class, here, then, was a representative of a truly national Dynasty, bearing an ancient, Medieval title, in whose name authority and patronage could be wielded. When a great engineering project — what is known still as the Adolphe Bridge — was undertaken, its name in French, and the French name of the Avenue which led from it to the railroad station, seemed strongly to suggest itself.
On the succession of Grand Duke Guillaume in 1905, the perception of a truly national, home grown Dynasty seemed thus to be reinforced, in terms of what Monsieur Eyschen and the ruling political class wanted and the people of Luxembourg seemingly could be very reliably and quiescently deemed to want.
But there were some at first somewhat obscure issues, which were soon to rear their heads. Within a few years, the whole situation of Luxembourg's recently home grown, national Dynasty drastically changed: this was for a combination of internal and external reasons.
Internally, on the succession of Grand Duke Guillaume, all on the surface seemed well, with regard to the esteem of the latest Grand Ducal monarch in the eyes of the political class and the people.
Taking into account exclusively these superficially calm waters would have been to reckon without the Grand Duchess Consort. Marie-Anne de Bragance (1861-1942), soon to be the Dowager Grand Duchess, served as Regent during both a significant part of ailing Grand Duke Guillaume's relatively short reign from 1905 until 1912 and then subsequently into the reign of her daughter Marie-Adélaïde (1894-1924), when Marie-Adélaïde was still in her minority. (Yes, indeed, the highly pragmatic Luxembourg political class, having recently asserted the Salic Law, fairly soon set it aside, in order that Guillaume's eldest daughter could reign.)
During Marie-Anne's Regencies, her own family background came into sharp focus. While her husband Grand Duke Guillaume was a Protestant, Marie-Anne was the Infanta from the deposed Portuguese Royal Family known for its very conservative Roman Catholic convictions. (Interestingly, by a prenuptial agreement, Guillaume and Anne-Marie had ostensibly agreed that any sons that were born of their union would be Protestant and any daughters would be Roman Catholic. However, no less than six daughters were born to the family and no sons: Roman Catholic their daughters indeed became... I have supplied a photo, above, from 1920, depicting the Dowager Grand Duchess with her six daughters, including, Marie-Adélaïde, seated, right, and Charlotte (1896-1985), seated, left, who reigned successively).
Even into Grand Duchess Marie-Adelaide's majority, the influence of Dowager Grand Duchess Marie-Anne (and perhaps behind Marie-Anne, the clergy) was strongly suspected in 1914 by the more secular members of the legislature — mainly the Socialists, but also to some extent the Liberals — as being behind Marie-Adelaide's marked hesitation to sign a schools bill, which reduced the clergy's influence.
Then, when Imperial German boots hit the ground of the Grand Duchy in August 1914, World War One on the Western Front had begun. The traumas and blood-letting which ensued for millions in Europe also circumstantially left a very young reigning Grand Duchess Adelaide under powerful influences from the Imperial German occupying forces but notably also under the influence of the redoubtable Dowager Duchess Marie-Anne. The Luxembourg government continued to function and (unlike in World War Two) remained in place during the Imperial German occupation, but, particularly following the death of the hitherto seemingly perennial Prime Minister Eyschen in 1916, Marie-Adelaide's relations with the government became increasingly adversarial, and with Monsieur Eyschen's removal from the scene, a succession of 'revolving door' Prime Ministers ensued.
New ideological winds
In 1918 finally came Liberation, not simply with welcomed Allied boots on Grand Ducal ground, but with new ideological winds. A still-born republic was briefly proclaimed in January 1919; resentment was strong in at least some quarters towards the Dynasty's perceived proximity with clergy, at odds with the apparently settled public will through the legislature.
In January 1919 Marie-Adelaide was persuaded by Prime Minister Émile Reuter (1874-1973) — but not inaccurately also by general consent among much of the political class in the face of widespread public resentment — to abdicate. (For good measure, the Dowager Grand Duchess — also politely given to understand that her services within the Grand Duchy were no longer required — duly returned to her beloved home in Germany.)
In a few short years, for a series of reasons, a people and political class which had been highly enamoured of their home grown, national Dynasty were left wondering what had hit them, so to speak.
Thus, after World War One, new ideas were asserted, some of them popularized by Woodrow Wilson's Fourteen Points. Some of these ideas included the increasingly strongly stressed notions of popular sovereignty, a closer look at the relationship between church and state, economic reconstruction and realignment, and a determination to embark on some kind of post-World War One new beginning. A multifaceted referendum thus probed, if not settled, various questions of the day.
(Perhaps obscure at this time, but arguably relevant with the historian's hindsight: in the Wilsonian principles asserted among Allied countries at the end of World War One there may be discerned the beginnings of Neo-Conservative — "Neocon" or "hegemon" — imperialism, if Nancy Soderberg's incisive observations are to be accepted (2).)
One question which was well settled by the 1919 referendum was the reign of Grand Duchess Charlotte (who reigned until 1964), in whose favour Marie-Adelaide had abdicated earlier in the year.
With a vote of massive support, the national Dynasty had survived the brutal transition from an era of supposed reaction to — post-Liberation — what was arguably understood to be an era of liberty.
One can therefore understand how ideological developments informed the renaming of the gracious Avenue linking Luxembourg City's historic Downtown, lying beyond the Adolphe Bridge, with the station neighbourhood. The French name of the major bridge across the Pétrusse Valley, referring to the founder of Grand Duchy's home grown, national Dynasty was, however, retained: a tribute to the national Dynasty, which, following the Referendum of 1919, proved still to be immensely popular.
Thus, in this sometimes bewildering process of transition, something remarkably constant emerged and has continued right up to the present day, that the Grand Ducal Dynasty is truly beloved by the people of Luxembourg. In this respect, the predictions of Monsieur Eyschen and the political class of 1890 have indeed been vindicated.
...and a footnote to a German name
Use of a German name at the Avenue, employed from 1940 until 1944 — Adolf-Hitlerstraße — did not (for obvious reasons) survive the American-led Allied Liberation of Luxembourg City at the end of World War Two (3). In the case of this name borne by the Avenue during these few tragic and sanguinary years, there was nothing obscure about either the disgust caused by its imposition or the relish with which it was abandoned.
February 9, 2021
(1) Formerly the headquarters of the steel-making conglomerate ARBED, the building has subsequently served officially for other uses. It was designed by René Théry and Sosthène Weis, and was inaugurated in 1922; features include mansard roofing and a highly ornate, pillared entrance, with a prominent pediment (see photo, supplied, below).
(2) See also: Nancy Soderberg, The Superpower Myth: The Use and Misuse of American Might, (Foreword by Bill Clinton), Hoboken, NJ: John Wiley and Sons, 2005, p. p. 113-114.
(3) Parts of the Grand Duchy were not definitively liberated until 1945, after the Battle of the Bulge.
See also: Gilbert Trausch, Le Luxembourg à l'époque contemporaine, Editions Bourg-Bourger, 1981
Some sourcing: Wikipedia
Also worth seeing
Among the numerous attractions in Luxembourg City are the Grand Ducal Palace, the Pont Adolphe overlooking the scenic Pétrusse valley and the Cathedral, Saint-Quirin Chapel, cleft in the rock in the Pétrusse valley, and many others.
NB: In these blog articles with accounts of past travel at localities, often described within their historical context, I am pausing from including suggestions for travel conveyances and carriers because of the existence of travel advisories and sanitary regulations which may greatly differ from one jurisdiction to another,
MJFenn is an independent travel writer based in Ontario, Canada.
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