Alsace-Lorraine: French or German Originally? Posted by Hichem on Mar 31, 2013 in Geography, History, People, Vocabulary
No region has caused a more serious headache to both France and Germany than that of the Alsace-Lorraine, or as the Germans call it: Elsass-Lothringen.
To this day, some people still wonder: Is it originally French or German?
Starting from the mid-seventeenth century, the Alsace-Lorraine was French, no question about it.
That is, until it was lost to Germany between 1871 and 1919.
The temporary loss of this mineral-rich territory proved to be a rather traumatic experience for many a French person.
So much that it provoked a corresponding temporary loss of sanity of national proportions. This was the pathetic social phenomenon known in French history as “revanchisme” (from the French word “revanche“, meaning “revenge.”)
The root causes of the territorial dispute, however, go way back in time.
The Alsace-Lorraine region was part of a “messy inheritance“, so to speak, between the grandsons of Charlemagne.
Of course, as King of the Franks, Charlemagne, whose realm stretched over the European heartland, can easily be claimed by France.
After all, it was the Franks who gave France its name: “la France“, land of les Francs (the Franks), long before Charlemagne was even born.
But the Holy Emperor can also be claimed by the Germans as one of their own, since the Franks are technically Germanic people, as opposed to the native people of France, who are gaulois, and therefore of Celtic stock.
But wait, ce n’est pas tout (that’s not all.)
Another way to see things, still in a narrow “national perspective”, is to highlight the significance of le lieu de naissance (the birthplace) of Charlemagne:
Neither in modern France, nor in modern Germany, but in la Belgique, in a town called Héristal, not too far from Liège.
Alors, que retenir de cela? (what to retain from this?)
To simplify matters, just remember that both France and Germany come originally from the division of Charlemagne’s empire between three of his grandsons (a fourth one had died in the meantime): Louis, Charles le Chauve (meaning “the Bald“; he just liked to be clean-shaven), and Lothair.
- Louis took the eastern part of the Carolongien empire (“Carolingien” means belonging to Charlemagne), called East Francia, and thus was known as “Louis the German” (or “Ludwig der Deutsche” in Deutsch.) Of course, this territory was the “ancestor” of modern Germany.
- Charles le Chauve, the “bald” of the three brothers, took over the western portion of the empire, West Francia, which roughly corresponds to today’s France.
- Finally, Lothair, who found himself “sandwiched” between the two, ended up taking Middle Francia. This wasn’t so bad of a deal (concluded at the famous Verdun treaty in 843, shown in the picture above), considering that his two brothers had no previous plans of offering him a share in their grandpa’s empire.
Now, back to our main subject.
Notice that the German name of the Lorraine region, “Lothringen“, clearly echoes the name of Lothair (in French Lothaire), which, as some etymological explanations go, stands for “famous warrior.”
But did Lothair (lot-hair), the “loser” in the conflict with his brothers, owe his fame to other things than his capacités martiales (martial skills)?
Like maybe having a “lot of hair“?
If that were the case, one could then argue that West Francia, namely France, would have been better off with him than his “voluntarily bald” brother, Charles.
After all, a huge part of this originally Celtic territory was for long known as “la Gaule chevelue“, meaning “Hairy Gaul.”
Capillary qualities, a symbol of spiritual power, were probably better appreciated there than anywhere else in the Holy Empire.