2015 Bavarian State Exhibition
Two hundred years after Napoleon’s (1769─1821) defeat at Waterloo in 1815, his final abdication and his exile to St. Helena, the time has come to recount the history of the field marshal and Emperor of France from the perspective of his erstwhile ally Bavaria.
To this day, Bavarians have mixed feelings about the alliance with Napoleon. One the one hand, it led to catastrophe. The thousands of Bavarian soldiers, who lost their lives, above all, in Russia in 1812, have not been forgotten. On the other hand, Bavaria fulfilled its dream of military glory and greatness on the international stage. Napoleon led Bavaria to victory, not defeat like Prussia. The alliance with the Emperor of France brought Bavaria a royal crown, territorial expansion unchanged to this day, and its first liberal constitution. Modern Bavaria was born in those days – and its “midwife” was Napoleon.
It was a difficult birth, though, entailing great sacrifice, especially for the populace. Not only did the Bavarians have to provide soldiers but the kingdom itself also had to endure pillaging, devastation, starvation and fear. Bavaria was constantly being crisscrossed by allied and enemy armies on the move. Vestiges of marauding soldiers, leaving behind bare fields, stables, granaries and pantries often enough, can still be found many places. Bavaria was also the scene of battles between French armies under Napoleon and his opponents, primarily Austria. Hohenlinden and Eggmühl can bear witness to this. Thousands of dead and wounded were left behind after the battles.
The story ends with Bavaria managing to switch alliances just in time: away from Napoleon’s falling star, toward its former ally Austria. Although Bavaria did not take part in the final decisive Battle against Napoleon in which he suffered a devastating defeat, the Battle of Nations at Leipzig in October of 1813, it was on the side of the victors. This enabled it at the Congress of Vienna to retain the territories it had gained through Napoleon.
At the close of this epoch, ushered in so gloriously, Bavaria was bankrupt, its economy was devastated, and it did not recover from its losses until decades later. Nevertheless, the enlarged territory, the achievements on the domestic front and a specifically Bavarian memory of this era endure: the legend of Napoleon à la bavaroise.