Pickelhaubes and Propaganda


The map presented in this critique is a propaganda map whose creation is credited to one Walter Trier of Berlin, crafted in the dark days leading to the outbreak of the First World War, possibly sometime between the assassination of Archduke Franz Ferdinand of Austria-Hungary on June 24, 1914 and the Italian declaration of neutrality on August 1, 1914.

Some sparing concessions towards cartographic standards are made. Lost in the scenery are markers representing major capitals and cities of Europe. Bodies of water and nations are identified and marked. The outlines of national boundaries and coasts, though not intended to provide an infallible representation of the landscape, nevertheless convey to the mind of the casual observer a sense of shape with which to associate the European theater. Being a tool of propaganda, a map of this sort is typically far less concerned with painstaking accuracy of fact than it is with raising the morale of its intended audience and demonizing the enemies of the state. Using the prevailing states of political affairs as a foundation, the end result is necessarily a product of spin and embellishment.

Here then is seen the creative aspect of cartography in full force, a striking example of the possibilities of artistic expression, albeit in such a loose and unorthodox sample.  The cartographer and his sponsors wish to use caricature to magnify the righteousness of their cause even as they demean and demonize the character of their foes. Laid out for the beholder to see is the heady nationalistic pride of the Germanic folk, placing front and center the valor of combined German and Austro-Hungarian arms beleaguered by a host of hostile entities, ranging from the decidedly unassuming in the Serbians, depicted here as swine, to the menace of the Russian’s yawning maw threatening to devour the sons of Berlin and Vienna.

For a 21st century observer, there is little this map offers save for a quaint glimpse at the mindset of Germans facing the prospect of war and a smirk or two at the comical, antagonizing depictions of their rivals. Considering the times and circumstances that this map was made in, however, it would have served considerable utility. To the man on the street, it gives awareness of the enemy and pride in the Fatherland, and to the state, a means to raise an army of hearts and minds.

2 comments on “Pickelhaubes and Propaganda

  1. I take special notice of this map as this is within my competency and research interest. As the student pointed out, this map clearly reflects the state of affairs in Europe through the eyes of the central powers at the time of the great war.

    I understand that the purpose of the essay is the critique of the map and not the map itself. In the reading of the map one might be curious on the reason or reasons behind the choice of the figures used. A lot of interesting points were raised in the accompanying article form which the student took the map. On why Britain is depicted on a skirt standing on a ship and on why italy was a man with hands on his pockets.

    I actually tried to search for an exhaustive explanation of the map but unfortunately i couldn’t find one. If I have the luxury of time i would be very interested on the “deconstruction” of the meaning/s behind this particular map.

    • I’m glad to see you share my interest in the topic of this map, sir! I first came across it while casually browsing a forum thread on the First World War and Serbia, and I found it memorable enough that I sought it out in particular for this class several months after first seeing it.

      The allegories that Mr. Trier used as inspiration for this map were probably specific to popular culture in early 20th century Germany, and I imagine few people in the age of the Internet would be both knowledgeable of the context and able and inclined to share their knowledge. The writing on the bottom of the map would almost certainly lend some insight if translated. I wish you the best of luck should you ever find the opportunity to pursue a deeper understanding of this map!

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