August von Kotzebue


Karl Ludwig Sand

A German writer (b.1761, d.1819) and the student who killed him (b.1795, d.1819)

In the Hauptfriedhof in Mannheim there are two graves that are connected to a dramatic event in German history. The first one belongs to August von Kotzebue. He had a distinguished carreer in the Russian civil service (though at one time the Russians deported him to Siberia for his political views, but the czar pardonned him) and also wrote comedies. In 1816 the czar sent him to Germany to report on the state of local literature and public opinion there. In his weekly magazine "Literarische Wochenblatt" he mocked liberals, people asking for a constitution , the freedom of the press (among other things) and especially the German student fraternities (the "Burschenschaften"), which were known for their fanatical nationalism and wish for German unification. One student was so enraged by this endless satire that he traveled to Mannheim, went to von Kotzebue's house and stabbed him to death.

This student was Karl Ludwig Sand, a Bavarian who studied Theology in Jena. He was the founder of a Burschenschaft in Erlangen (Bavaria). He saw von Kotzebue as a traitor to Germany and a Russian spy and thus decided to kill him. He travelled to Mannheim and stabbed von Kotzebue in his own house, shouting "Here, you traitor to the fatherland!". Then he tried to kill himself, but the wounds were superficial. Two months later he was sentenced to death and beheaded outside one Mannheim's city walls. He was buried in the same cemetery as von Kotzebue and their graves are about 200 metres apart. In reaction to the killing of von Kotzbue, the German Confederation passed the so-called Karlsbad Laws, which imposed censorship on the press and contained measures against radical students, professors and Burschenschaften. Only in 1848 were these laws revoked. They didn't crush nationalism and the wish for German unification though and in 1871 unification was at last realized (but maybe not in the way Sand and his friends had wished...).

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