“In the current great catastrophe..."

“In the current great catastrophe, when everything is at stake for the fatherland, the strong sense that lifts the nation so high, deserves to be honoured and eternalized with a peculiar (eigentümlich sic.!) monument.” (King Frederick William III of Prussia)

10 March 1813: Today, 200 years and backdated to the birthday of the late Queen Louise, the Prussian national saint, King Frederick William III established the military decoration of the Iron Cross (Eisernes Kreuz) in his Breslau exile on the eve of the Wars of Liberation. The great-nephew of Frederick II was still somewhat in awe of Napoleon and his successes that had reduced Prussia almost to a nonentity in 1805.

The Iron Cross’ designed was referring to the cross pattée of the Teutonic Knights, consciously giving the war the character of a crusade and could be awarded to all belligerents, one the first and the very few military awards of the 19th century that was not reserved for officers only.

Actually, the output time for the decoration was originally limited to the end of the Wars of Liberation, but retained its identity-establishing character for the Prussians. The quadriga on the Brandenburg Gate received one and the 1821 national monument southeast of the city centre gave name to a new quarter of Berlin, Kreuzberg (cross mountain), today a scene hotspot.

The Iron Cross was revived during the Franco-Prussian War of 1870/71 and remained the best-known German military decoration until the end of World War II, during which it was awarded for some of the most heinous crimes in history. Thankfully, the current German armed forces forego its use at least as a badge of honour, even though attempts had been made to reintroduce it in 2008.

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