Movie, All Quiet on the Western Front

“All Quiet On The Western” was made in 1930 after the 1928 novel by the same name, 12 years after WWI ended. The film depicted the lives of young German soldiers, from their recruitment to their eventual deaths on the battlefield. In the beginning the young men were full of national pride, hope, the belief that it would be a short war that would bring them glory afterwards. They eventually realize the war was not what they had fantasized about after hearing their schoolteacher’s speech. The film goes on to portray the horrors of the trenches and of military life at that time. The film also shows the audience how returning soldiers who expressed discontent with the war were often called cowards by their countrymen and that out of place in their civilian society, as seen when Paul is on leave to visit his hometown. To Paul life back at home wasn’t as real as life back in the trenches, much like Mak observes on his travels, “To them, that war was often more real than the rest of their lives”(pg. 101). Another topic in the film was whether the war was a necessity. To the men it seemed the war was between the monarchs and their lives seemed frivolous to those in charge. However, it was also seen as inevitable to them, like “a fever spreading throughout Europe.” Most countries attempted to stay out of the war as long as possible, yet were brought in due to their allied relationships.
The subject of war is the main theme of the film. War transformed people. Those who were once compassionate and and gentle, such as Paul, needed to become more selfish and hardened in order to try to maximize their chances of survival. Life in the trenches was difficult both on the body and the mind. There was a lack of food, clothing, clean water and sanitation like in most wars. Another theme is that there is no beauty in war, just atrocities, pain and death. Paul’s desire to find any shard of beauty is evident when he shares a night with a young French woman and tells her that being with her makes him feel like he is not in a war and “like a miracle.” His love of beauty and innocence eventually leads to his death, when while in the trenches he reaches out to touch a butterfly, exposes himself, and is then killed by a sniper.

“We used to think you knew. The first bombardment taught us better. It’s dirty and painful to die for your country. When it comes to dying for your country it’s better to not die at all. There are millions out there dying for their countries, and what good is it?” -Paul

Jenna, Mayra


Mak begins the chapter with the realization that the Great War has not yet faded away in Verdun. Yet, he makes the prediction that “within the next ten years,” with “the third and fourth generation” the memory and emotion of the war will slowly begin to slip away (Mak 106). He describes the distance in which 260,000 people were killed in the late summer of 1916 as occurring “between two exits” (Mak 107). I t was in this place that German chief of staff Erich von Falkenhayn wanted the French to literally “bleed to death” in the place of which they held “a special symbolic significance” (Mak 111).  Verdun became the place of which the Germans called ‘Gericht’ meaning it was the place of execution for the French. This distance is now remembered through signs trailing the motorway. It is here Mak states that the war has officially entered its next phase: tourist attraction (Mak 108). Within this place one can smell the gas, where “chlorine gas actually does smell a bit like bleach, mustard gas a little like mustard” and relive the lives of the soldiers and know how they died (Mak 107). Yet, by the battle site becoming a tourist attraction its grandness and importance is somewhat lost. The extent of people, horses, and supplies that inhabited this area once resembled an “big anthill” (Mak 108). And even though Verdun was home to “the most horrible war memorial,” the town proved peaceful (Mak 111). Verdun is the gateway to France, which is why it was so important for the German’s to break through the front lines. Through the bloodiness and destruction of the war, the land was barren for decades. Yet after years of healing is now littered with trees once again. (amd379, bro24)


The author, Mak, allows the reader to visualize the setting of where Cassel is located. “Late in the afternoon I drive to Cassel, just across the French border. The sun is hanging low over rolling fields, a huge orange ball about to sink into the ground.” (Mak, In Europe,98) With this image, it sets the tone for a peaceful country side, but as Mak continues to discuss Cassel there is an image that overlaps that of the peaceful one. An image of the Great War, where men ran over the fields of trenches, being slaughtered in great numbers.
Discussion of how the officers would hang in the back and care little about their men. Some of the officers Mak would state would refuse to be told how many of their men were killed because it would on be a “distraction”. Little remorse was felt by the officers as they sent these men into the field. This war as described as being strictly fueled by a sense of nationalism and pride. Great Britain and France even at a point combining their economies to help fuel their efforts according to Mak. This being a step towards modernisim as we see today.
Cassel today still has remains of the war at that time. “Even the tranquil garden has remained unchanged, including the sign inviting one to ‘come into the garden and forget about the war’ (Mak,In Europe, 101).
Men that fought in the war the author states were often driven to fight in the war to feel like they contributed to the cause, that they took pride in their nation. The quote that left one thinking about the determination of these men was of a man who was shot, “What a waste! All of those months of expensive training, and I haven’t even fired a shot!” (Mak, In Europe,102) Pure determination was in the mind of these men, to prove themselves worthy of the fight. Mak states that family’s, neighbors, and people of the same village would volunteer together, as well as going over the top with them. This shows the bond these people felt during the Great War, even as those same people were being killed before them.”
As the chapter winds down, the author talks of Generals stating that the men were not afraid of going over the top and being killed, but were afraid of killing. To end the chapter Mak tells of a man who killed a German Soldier with his bayonet, and how it still haunts him leaving him with sleepless nights. Cassel now lays in a peaceful state, but a history of men being killed over pride lays in it’s remains.

Ypres – A Fortified Medieval Town

This chapter discusses the role of the Dutch town Ypres and it’s role in World War I.

“Ypres is the heart of this rebuilt past. During the First World War, the fortified medieval town was a striking, vulnerable promontory along the front (Mak 88).

“Served key military interests” (Mak 88).

“Even today, Ypres has something unreal about it. It resembles a normal old town, but it is obvious: everything here has been reconstructed” (Mak 89).

Ypres was a central piece to the First World War. A place dominated by trenches, blood, and dead men from all sides of the war. Today it is a place where the “soil continues to vomit up grenades… and the war never ends” (page 97). The old city itself may still resemble its distant past but It will never truly be the same after the events that took place, the battles that happened, and the lives that were lost.

As much as the city of Ypres has been rebuilt and is a thriving city, the war rages on for the city. It was so much a landmark of World War I there is little that can be seen within the city that cannot be traced back to World War I. The city was one of the main trench sites between the British, French, and the Germans throughout the war. When the war began “the Belgian Army had 200,000 soldiers. A little more than two months later, at the first battle on the Yser, only 75,000 of the, we’re left” (90). The French, British, and Germans also suffered great losses. The British were largely unprepared to fight a full scale war in Europe as they had been focusing so long building up there empire. By August 1914 the war had frozen into a battle of trenches and foxholes throughout Southern Belgium and Northern France. The Germans used Belgium as a way into France but the Belgians put up more of a fight than the Germans had expected. It was also in these trenches that the term “shell shock” came into being. “The troops suffered from mental problems as well, something mentioned in every war diary” that had been found and read (93). German Lieutenant Ernst Jünger “likened the permanent fear of death to a sense of being tied up and having someone swing a sledgehammer past your head again and again, knowing that your skull could be smashed at any moment” (93). Each of the armies had a name for these mental conditions and it is the English phrase which stuck. Overall, the area around Ypres saw some of the worst of World War I.

Vienna: The beginnings of The Great European War

The chapter begins with the recollections of Irfan Orga as he describes the idyllic life his family enjoyed in Constantinople. The happy life soon changed as talk of “the war in Europe” began. (Mak 75)
The war started small, but quickly grew “with the participation of every major Western industrialized nation”. (Mak 75) “It was a war that sloshed back and forth like waves in a basin. The trigger lay in the East, the escalation in the West, but the greatest destruction occurred in the East”. (Mak75)

The rest of the chapter describes the patriotism exhibited in the affected countries. No one seemed to think that the situation was as serious as it would become. “Back for Christmas became the British motto”. “In Germany, the Kaiser told his soldiers that they would be home again before the leaves have fallen”. (Mak 76) This was followed by examples of the various attitudes that led to the start of the war. In Germany, the belief that Britain “was blocking the development of a young, dynamic Germany” (Mak 78) fostered a hatred towards Britain. Germany was also concerned with “Russia’s burgeoning military power”. France desired revenge for “humiliations that followed the Franco-Prussian war”. (Mak 78) Austria wanted to ” deal once and for all with rebel Serbia”. (Mak78) Russia felt threatened by Germany and Turkey needed German support against Russia. (Mak 79) Britain initially wished to avoid the war but became concerned with Wilhelm ‘s imperial ambitions and the threat to the old balance of power in Europe.
Mak states that “everything is ready for the Great European War, 1914-45″; reinforcing his belief that the Great War never ended. (Mak 83)

Berlin: The Divided City

Berlin is a unique and eclectic city, as Mak discovers on his continuing trip through historical Europe. It is a city “that lurches back and  forth as it moves through time” (Mak 36), one that has faced as many  challenges and obstacles in a span of one lifetime as other cities would have faced in three. At the beginning of the 20th century, Kaiser  Wilhelm II was the leader of one of Europe’s youngest nations, and he was  determined to make the coming century a German one. He wanted to add his “romanticised view of history” (40) to German life and culture in Berlin to make it one of the greatest cities in the world. To accomplish this, he built great buildings,  raised a fantastic army and navy, and adopted a ruling style that was a  “pinch of the very old and a pinch of the very new, and none of it real: pure bread and games” (42). All of this combined made Berlin a  capitol city that would lead the growing sense of German nationalism into the new century,making it a powerful player  in the ever-approaching World War. As Mak travels through  Berlin, he sees the echos of the Kaiser’s attempt to equate Germany’s  capitol with that of other countries in the monuments and buildings from that time. Mak also sees that the Kaiser did indeed make Germany a  powerful influence in the 20th century, although not in the way he had  originally hoped.

Berlin from above, 2009.
Berlin from above, 2009.

At the same time that Kaiser Wilhelm tried to capture in his building projects a nostalgia for Europe’s long history, Berlin became a leading city in new technology. As its population boomed, it became “the world’s major centre for the chemical industry and electrical engineering,” making Germany the “world’s first modern military-industrial state” (43). The military and men in uniform became increasingly powerful, though Mak asserts that a growing military presence was a way to “impose order on [the] young nation” (49). As the military grew, so did the Kaiser’s desire to play more of a role in international politics. The ensuing naval and arms race would create a momentum that Stefan Zweig argues was the “single sensible reason” for the First World War (49). Despite Berlin’s progress, anti-Semitism remained pervasive in the culture. The Berlin stock market crash in 1873 realized many citizens’ fear—losing their moderate prosperity—and caused resounding distrust and dislike of wealthier Jews throughout the subsequent decades. Despite this, Jews played a key role in shaping the city’s “cultural and artistic climate” and the socialist movement (47). Even after the Nazis’ rise to power in 1933, the Jewish community endured, as evidenced by the huge synagogue in Berlin that survived Kristallnacht.

20th-century Berlin was a city constantly in flux: Mak cites the alternately prosperous and devastated states the city was in, “all within the space of one lifetime” (36). Even now, West and East Berlin are distinctly different, two halves that are trying to “become reacquainted, like a couple following a long separation” (44). (ptg6, clo48)

Vienna: No Vienna Without Coffee Houses and The Rise of Anti-Semitism

The chapter begins with the death of emperor Franz Josef I who led the Austro-Hungry monarchy that, “played a crucial role in Central and Eastern Europe” (Mak 51). The emperor’s death was a prelude to Vienna in the 19th century through the cities lack of progression and mindset in the past (Mak 52). Emperor Franz Josef I was against technological innovations in Vienna such as toilets that flush and typewriters in government offices (Mak 58). “Almost everything that prove informative to the twentieth century was already lying dormant with Vienna in 1900” (Mak 61). Vienna became highly populated and catered toward the middle class. Utilities such as clean water and bathrooms were limited and resulted in unsanitary conditions (Mak 52).

The city never emerged as a highly innovative location for industry or businesses compared to London or Berlin. Architects built The Ring, which consisted of “new and old wealth” apartments, government buildings, and buildings dedicated to the theatres (Mak 53). The Ring symbolizes nobility and the false notion that Vienna is a place for only wealthy individuals. Vienna at this time tries to create an image of high-class nobility where citizens see each other in an imaginary community; in the sense they are a family even though they have never met (Mak 57). The government created an artificial community geared toward showcasing the higher class. The “imaginary community” excluded farmers and individuals of the lower class who exhibited issues of a more severe matter. “The middle-class citizen of Vienna remained a desperate onlooker, a person dying to belong in the “imaginary community” made up of nobility (Mak 57, 59).   The stock market crash created an excuse for the middle class to use the Jews as scapegoats for the hard times to come. Anti-Semitism became prominent during this time. (Mak 64).

Vienna set the stage for anti-Semitism in Europe. The middle class became jealous of the Jews success while having a distain for the Jews cultural characteristics such as freethinking, internationally oriented, and nonconformist – which the lower middle class hated. Anti-Semitic leaders emerged from the growing distain of Jews. Georg Ritter von Schönerer was a very vocal leader in Anti-Semitism; he talked about how Jews should be expelled from professions, institutions and newspapers (Mak, 62). He created an Aryan cult, if a German individual was not ant-Semitic; this person was considered a traitor to the German people (Mak 63). Karl Lüger was another anti-Semitic who claimed, “anti-Semitism will only meet its demise when the last Jew has met his” (Mak 64). The different between Georg Ritter von Schönerer and Karl Lüger’s stance on anti-Semitism is that Lüger supported the physical elimination of Jews whereas von Schönerer supported the Jews depleted status in society (Mak 65). Hitler adopted von Schönerer’s political views and Lüger’s views regarding how to carry out his anti-Semitic political views: “If the words no longer reverberate, then the stone must speak” (Mak 67). (crr64) (dm524).

London: Capital of a Worldwide Empire

After completing his journey to Paris, Mak leaves for London and the site of the passing of Queen Victoria of Great Britain. The English Queen’s death was a paramount issue throughout Europe during the time of her passing in early 1901 (22 January 1901). Considered “almost literally the ‘grandmother of Europe’, or at least of the clan network of European rulers” (Mak 21), her passing brought her grandchildren to a ‘calm before the storm.’ Before The Great War (WWI) the connectivity between Europe and its leaders allowed for free travel. “‘I still relish young people’s amazement when I tell them in 1915, I traveled to India and America without possessing a passport, without actually ever having seen one,’ Stefan Zweig wrote in 1941″ (Mak 20). The travel experience between European countries was a seemingly free one. A passport was unnecessary, and with free travel also came a relatively free flow of ideals including the beginning of the of the woman’s rights movement. Mak discusses the particular case of Emily Davidson, an extremely well educated young woman for her time period, who gave her life in the name of protesting for the women’s rights movement. Davidson, as Mak investigates, was a woman with a diploma, one who had been arrested multiple times in protests, and was considered “generous, enthusiastic and exceptionally cheerful,” (Mak 29). Davidson participated in various protests including political rallies, hunger strikes, and her final act of diving in front of the King’s horse at the race track. Her influence was not unlike the other aspects of British influence sweeping Europe during this time period. The German Kaiser and Russian Czar were sometimes seen in British clothing or copying British political movements; however despite the British influence at the beginning of the century there were also telltale signs on an immediate collapse. With the end of the Boer Wars and although an English victory, it was by a slim margin. Women protesters who would not be held at bay began using terrorist tactics including bombings to make their voices heard and most of all the city of London itself. London’s population boomed “from  2.6 million in 1850…[to] 7.1 million in 1911″ (Mak 24) creating problems including an inadequate sewage systems, and the pretenses of a city that was rotting from the inside out. London, boasted as being the capital city of the greatest European imperial power during the 19th and early 20th centuries. However, the city took on a much different appearance than the magnificent layout and structure of Paris, “devoid of beautiful squares or elegant boulevards, the traffic snarled, the streets were split by puffing steam trains on viaducts… the city’s centre was encircled by endless slums” (Mak 26). Mak describes the city as chaotic and polluted with little to no urban planning but he attributes this to the individual and private rights of the English tradition. As a result of these personal rights, the city developed in a disorderly manner as a testament to the long held political ideology against the absolute power of their rulers.(js2643, sth54)

Where Old Meets New: Paris

As Mak continues his journey, he makes a stop in the city known for its sweeping romance, beautiful boulevards, and timeless architectural icons: Paris. At the turn of the century, no city greater embodied the push toward modernization than Paris. Between the flourishing culture and the growing educated elite, the city became a symbol of the exciting future the new century could bring. However, as Mak shows us, the significance of this city goes beyond its simplistic representations. Beneath the surface, Paris was a city ripe with contradictory dualities: the rise of modernity vs. the push for traditional roots, old world values vs. the new generations, globalization vs. national pride. . . He starts his journey by discussing the 1900’s World’s Fair which took place in Paris. The Fair was the height of innovation, and in many ways it represented the modernity and globalization of Paris at the time. However, the World’s Fair was overshadowed by an event which hinted at the underlying tensions within France: the Dreyfus affair. Originally, the small scandal involved a Jewish Army Captain who was accused to passing information to the Germans. However, this affair quickly escalated into a case of rampant anti-Semitism in which affected the lives of everyone aware of the story; “it was as though the whole world revolved around one affair, and in the most intimate feelings and personal relationships, all was disrupted, all was seen through different eyes” (Mak, page 10).
Though the Dreyfus affair introduced the force of public opinion into the daily news and reinforced notions of anti-Semitism in France, it quickly blew over. Here, Mak reveals the truth about Paris: it is a world by which there is “collision between two Frances: the old. . .and the new” (12). Paris became a safe haven for the arts, the center of evolving architecture, a mixture of urban and countryside lifestyle. The city’s streets were a bustling flight of horse drawn cabs, omnibuses, carts and coaches with public fountains dotting the city and its countryside roots could be noticed simply by going to the market. The turn of the century flings Paris into a modern, industrialized era—a city with factories on its outskirts and an intricate web of roads, railways and airports connecting it with the rest of the world. Paris is an iconic city, but Mak asks, “Why?” Why has Paris been a center for culture, food, industry, modernization of the arts etc? And what we ask is, “How has Paris maintained this iconic status throughout the course of the last 100 years?” (ejs98, awe23)

Dreaming of Reality- Amsterdam

In the following weeks we will follow Geert Mak’s footsteps across Europe to better understand the wondrous highs and soul shattering lows that make up the one hundred years of the 20th century. Mak’s travels begin on a cold January morning in 1999 in the city of Amsterdam. Here he sets the tone for the subsequent stories and the tempestuous nature of the 20th century. To Mak, “Holland… was ruled by the wind, the last, untamed force that left its mark in all directions,” a nation shaped by the whim of nature rather than sense (Mak, 3). He juxtaposes the hopeful attitudes that are emerging in Europe at the turn of the 21st century with the optimism that characterized the beginning of the 20th. The testimony of Marinus van der Goes van Naters, or the ‘Red nobleman,’ regarding his experience throughout the century serves to demonstrate the idealism of contemporary people towards a radically different utopian society. The story by Edward Bellarmy in his book In het jaar 2000, which offers a romanticized ideal for the year 2000, helps Mak to understand European’s returning turn of the century desire for a “golden age;” that the “long and sorrowful winter of mankind has come to an end. The heavens have opened to us” (Mak, 5). Living on the opposite end of that century I wish their dreams for a peaceful century had come true. (gkl3, gp244)