The Walloons and Breslau/Wroclaw

I’m preparing for a holiday to northern Uppland, the “Walloon” iron-making area.

Some of the questions going through my mind:

How many French-speaking Walloons came to Sweden in the seventeenth century?

What parts of present-day Belgium and France did they come from) (Liege and Sedan or elsewhere). Were they all protestants?  How many brought their families with them and how many stayed in Sweden? What exactly were their skills?

What made them come? What role did religion play? What role did economic factors play? State of evidence on these topics. Structure of academic work on the Walloon immigrants and issues in dispute.

The organisation of Walloon labour. Were there conflicts with the employers and how were these resolved? Or were they like Sheffield’s little meisters or “labour aristocrats”. The relationship between the Walloon immigrants and the existing rural population. Their subsequent integration.

Why did the Swedish kings want them to come: What were the technical improvements in iron making in the area around Liege, which were desirable?

Sweden’s need for metal in this period when Sweden was developing into a major power.

The background and motives of the investors/entrepreneurs who came, in particular the originally Dutch/Flemish (?). The relationship between De Geer and the Swedish establishment.

De Geer’s rapid naturalisation and becoming a Swedish aristocrat. Subsequent history of the De Geer family.

Early development of capitalism in the Netherlands. Reasons for investing in Sweden.

Relationship between this early industrialisation and its finance and the subsequent development of capitalism in Sweden and its late industrialisation.

Technical terms on mining and the iron industry in Swedish and English.

Exploring the environments around Dannemora and Lövsta and elsewhere.

My reading about the Walloons has been interspersed with a very interesting book about how the German city of Breslau became Polish Wroclaw, “Uprooted. How Breslau became Wroclaw during the century of expulsions” by Gregor Thum.

I have been fascinated by a long time by cities that have changed nationality, for example, Breslau, Stettin and Königsberg. Unlike Danzig where there was very much both a German and a Polish presence in the pre-war period, the Polish presence in Breslau was thin (it had been a Polish city but many centuries ago). According to Thum, it was not a city that Poland would have expected to receive in the post-war adjustments to the German-Polish border until it was transferred as compensation for Poland’s losses to the Soviet Union in the east (Lwow/Lvov etc). The expulsion of the German population and their replacement by people coming not just from Poland’s lost territory in the east but from many parts of Poland in the immediate post-war years meant that the city was repopulated by people with no relationship to the city nor in many cases to other incoming Poles. Some people of mixed parentage who were Polish and German speaking were allowed to remain but that was a rather thin layer of “heritage folk”.

What made matters worse was uncertainty about the durability of the arrangements agreed at Potsdam, whether the border would remain at the Oder-Neisse line in a world where there was great hostility between the Soviet Union and the western powers.

Thom describes the impressive reconstruction of the badly battered city at the same time as the “communist” Polish government made great efforts to stress that the transfer of Breslau to Poland was a justified restoration of a city that was fundamentally Polish and attempt to remove all vestiges of the German city; this led to there being an uneasy relationship with the history of the city, a tiptoeing around an absence not talked about, only alleviated once the German government stated its acceptance of the post-war borders and the collapse of the PCP and its need to stress the importance of the Soviet Union as the guarantor of the post-war arrangement.

The description of the process whereby it was decided to restore many historical buildings rather the prevailing idea at the time (as per Coventry Cathedral) which was not to do so as the result would be false. And, of course, in some ways it is false as the restored old facades are often just facades with a modern structure behind with internal arrangements quite unlike the historic. But it is not just aesthetics and architectural purity which is at stake but the responses of a population that had been subjected to an attempt to obliterate its culture and historical references. When wandering through the restored central streets of Gdansk, I found it pleasant and acceptable and wasn’t overpowered by a Disneyland feeling of artificiality (which I have felt in the Nikolaiviertel in Berlin and at Prince Charles’ extravaganza at Poundbury).

There are some fascinating quotes translated from Polish sources about what it felt like to move into a flat filled with the possessions of the previous German owners who had fled, like guests in someone else’s life.

It’s hard to conceive of the disappearance of a geographical area, not just its people but the knowledge handed down the generations of its culture, history, linguistic features etc. etc. And in the immediate post-war period and for a long time after, there wasn’t much sympathy for the German refugees from the East outside Germany after the horrors inflicted on Eastern Europe by the German army and state.

Resumption of business not quite as usual

It felt good to go into a research library again though there were very few people around at Carolina Rediviva. I returned a book of Romain Rolland’s letters to Elsa Wolff, which I have had since those distant days before Covid-19 (a flashier person than me would have used the word “prelapsarian” here). I didn’t manage to establish whether it’s her signature on a signed book I have but I now know that she had sufficient knowledge of English to be able to read this book. And that it was probably not a present to her from Romain Rolland as the dates aren’t quite right. I’ll have to try to check her signature and see what other Elsa Wolffs I can find in the early twentieth century.

The weather is touch and go just now, unreliable; I decided to risk a soaking as a customer was late with a manuscript and I unexpectedly had time on my hands and badly needed exercise. So off I went on my bike through Luthagen, which is fast becoming part of “my” Uppsala, and past the cemetery, keeping my taphophilia in check (I still have a few calls to make). On my way back, I give into the temptation to buy an ice cream and sit by the river for a while (in principle, I don’t eat when I’m out). It’s a pleasant stretch by the kiosk where there used to be an old toll gate and where the “svart bäck”, the blackspring) tributary flows into the Fyris. Then to my post box where I was pleased to receive Gregor Thun’s “Uprooted. How Breslau became Wroclaw”. I’m fascinated by cities like Königsberg (Kaliningrad), Stettin (Szczecin) and Breslau (Wroclaw) which changed nationality and have wanted to read about the process of changeover. It’s hard for me to imagine what it would be like if Salisbury or Dorchester, for instance, became French.

I’ve spent some weeks reading the Cambridge Companion to the Bible. Not for religious reasons but because I’ve wanted to be able to find my way around the Bible better so that I know what I’m looking at when examining church art (for example, stained glass windows) and can better understand the way of thinking of those choosing the motives. I’ve been dissatisfied for a long time with the rag bag of odd bits and pieces of knowledge that my formal education equipped me with, the spectacular stories Adam and Eve, the Ark, Moses etc., without telling me much about the overall structure and intention of the work. I didn’t read much of the Bible itself – more about the interpretations by, above all German scholars about the age of the various parts, the relationship between history and myth, and the possible intentions and identities of the various editors. It’s an interesting book and the more I know about Christianity, the curiouser I find it. The two testaments seem an odd combination and the Trinity an uneasy device that creates endless problems. I felt I made some progress but by the time I got half way through the prophets I was losing momentum and felt an urge to return to the world of now so I went over to Piketty’s first book (which I thought I’d better read before buying his new book).

I was rather disappointed by Piketty. It’s undoubtedly a serious work with a lot of useful and interesting statistics, especially on the distribution of income, and, unlike much of modern economics, does tackle some important issues and offer a basis for discussion. But I found his analysis of capital fuzzy and he was closer to conventional economics in his values and way of thinking than I’d expected. He’s certainly not the 21st century’s answer (or equivalent) to Marx. It says much about the barrenness of conventional economics that even a modest attempt at a serious discussion in a broader framework than conventional macro confers star status.

I stopped before I got to Piketty’s suggested solutions and contented myself with reading a couple of reviews, which confirmed my thoughts (and, of course, attracted my approval for their stringency…..).

Otherwise, I am reading about northern Uppland, the Walloons and the iron industry in preparation for a trip in that direction later in the summer. Discussions about pig iron and blast furnaces have left me rather cold in the past but I want to get a better idea of what went on and how the mining and refining of iron ore and other activities were connected (and master some of the terms used in the field). It seems an interesting part of Sweden which I’ve hardly looked at (other than what I have seen from the E4 or the railway). I realised the other day that the old spelling of Lövsta, Leufsta, could well be inherited from the Walloons as this would be the Walloon pronunciation.

It feels good to relax my isolation now even though I am continuing to be very careful. I noticed being by myself and focusing on my own planned projects that I tend to float away into my own time zone. I read for too many hours at a stretch, then get tired and sleep too much in the day. The other day I woke up refreshed and ready for my breakfast and the start of the day. After a while, I thought it was a bit dark and realised that it was 00.30 in the morning. And now it starts to feel not so much of a problem that I have to address but as an irritating intrusion, an unwanted intrusion of conventional attitudes into my time plan.

I should probably not be too creative with the circadian rhythm for reasons of mental hygiene; this “problem” will probably right itself once I have greater interaction with other people. I rate the chances of a sympathetic response to my operating on KSNLST (Kendall Standard Non-Linear Subjective Time) as poor….