April 27, 2023

Woodgrain and chrome: primitive-futurist materials for America's defining design style

Some recent posts have explored how the American Empire's distinctive culture is different from those of the Early Modern Euro empires that perished in WWI, and indeed how the culture of the only one to survive -- the Russian Empire (under the USSR) -- was highly similar to that of America in the aftermath of the World Wars. Scandinavia also resembles these two empires, so it is more about being excluded from the Early Modern Euro empires club, and therefore taking a wholly different approach to cultural creation.

First was a review of realism in drama for the literary arts. Then ornateness vs. Block Symphony in architecture, followed up by a cross-sectional comparison of state capitol buildings around America, and a review (the first I'm aware of) tying together America's contribution to world religions (Mormonism) and architecture (Block Symphony).

Now we turn to "design" in a broader sense, having already looked a bit at architecture. Furniture, consumer household products, interior decoration, and a little industrial design too, like cars. I'll save the images for a gallery / appendix at the end, rather than comment on each one in detail or use specific images to prove a specific point.

* * *

This all started when I kept hearing the audience of several streamers haranguing the poor girls to "buy the Herman Miller chair already!" as though it were obligatory to sit in an Aeron chair for an online-related job. Aside from being over-hyped and overpriced since their explosion in the Dot-Com Bubble Nineties, they just don't look American -- or Japanese, or Swiss, or name some other member of the recent / ongoing cultural elite. They're all-black, made mostly or entirely of synthetics, are too curvilinear in outline, and are too light / airy / meshy.

So I started looking for examples of chairs to suggest to the girls (perhaps I can do that in detail in the comments section). And then it really hit me how different the aesthetic has become since the Early Modern Euro empires, other than Russia, bit the dust in WWI, ushering in a mostly American-led zeitgeist, although strikingly similar to Soviet aesthetics, and joined by the neutral Scandinavians.

This began with the American strains of Art Deco in the '20s, crucially being independent of and in many ways contradictory toward European modernisms such as Bauhaus in design or cubism in painting and sculpture. Bauhaus only had the modern / progressive / futuristic tone, not the juxtaposition of that tone with the trad / reactionary / primitivist tone, which has always defined American aesthetics (since they began, in the late 19th C.). Cubism's blockiness was destructive, evoking the shards of a shattered mirror, whereas American blockiness was constructive, building various scales of blocks into a pleasing -- not dissonant -- rhythmic gestalt.

The American movement peaked creatively during the so-called Midcentury Modern era, after WWII but before the neoliberal era of the '80s and beyond. Midcentury Modern has rarely gone totally out of fashion, so there have been influences, copies, and revivals at various points since -- like crazy from 2005 to 2019, epitomized by the set designs for Mad Men on the sincere side and Austin Powers on the campy side (the original core James Bond movies being prime examples of Midcentury Modern design).

Perhaps the single best expression of the new era, in which America more or less dominated, is its choice of materials. The materials not only convey something about their origin and production -- making finished things from raw ingredients -- but also influence the color and texture and other purely visual aesthetic properties.

By far the prevailing theme for materials was "primitive meets futuristic" -- so it had to include a very old, pre-historic kind of natural material. Something right out of the Stone Age -- wood, stone, even a whole animal skin for a rug or blanket (in lieu of a more civilized item woven from threads of wool).

But it also had to have something very new, industrial, something that only precise machines could manufacture -- not just metal, which is thousands of years old, and may look rough and crude to begin with or patinated with age. Metal that is bright, gleaming, smooth, mirror-like in its reflection of light -- therefore, chrome, or as close to that ideal as a silver-toned metal can get.

Depending on the functional needs of the object, it could have included some plastic as well, in a nod to modern chemical production processes, as long as it too had a glistening, smooth, reflective, uniform surface. And although any color dye could have been added during the production, the main choice was black, followed by white, perhaps imitating the neutral colors of stone materials. Vivid blues, reds, or greens would have looked too unlike raw stone, and ruined the "somewhat trad, somewhat mod" feel.

And of course, all of these choices in materials would still be subject to the constraints of blockiness rather than ornateness.

* * *

For historical context, what did the American-led style *not* look like? Not like the Bauhaus '20s zeitgeist. For example, Breuer's Wassily chair, which does have tubular steel with a reflective finish, but no wood, and whose black leather straps also look too modern rather than trad (smooth, uniform in color, no grain, etc.). It's also deconstructed or analyzed into components or broken down, rather than being a harmonious unanalyzed holistic gestalt. It's also too light and airy, owing to its deconstructed nature -- you can see right "through" it in many places.

Likewise the Barcelona chair by Mies van der Rohe.

Le Corbusier's furniture is somewhat more in the American vein, probably because he was Swiss and not part of the Early Modern Euro empires club by upbringing. (Breuer was from the collapsing Austrian Empire, and Mies van der Rohe from the collapsing German Empire). There's no single work he made that combines all the key elements, but his club chairs are hefty and blocky, he used highly figured cowhide for upholstery alongside tubular steel (but in a deconstructed and airy "sling" chair), although he never used much wood.

Nor did the American style resemble the various national incarnations of Art Nouveau (Modernisme in Spain, Jugendstil in Germany, etc.). Those were all rooted in Early Modern Euro imperial styles, going back to Baroque and Rococo -- no futuristic / industrial / machine-age suggestions, curvilinear rather than rectilinear, light wispy forms, highly ornate.

Let alone did the American style resemble earlier stages of the Euro imperial cultures. Back East in America, there is more Olde Worlde Euro-LARP-ing, but that's not America's own style, which was born in Chicago and spread toward the western frontier. Even in its revival of European styles, America is far more comfortable resurrecting styles that were not made by America's imperial rivals during its rise. Romanesque (i.e., Frankish and pre-modern French), Byzantine, Roman, Ancient Greek, Egyptian, maybe Gothic at the tenuous latest. And generally those have more massive volumes, more straight lines, and less ornate ornamentation compared to Rococo.

* * *

What's the first major example of the American style in design? As far as I can tell, it's one of the most iconic -- the Eames lounge chair and ottoman, released in 1956. The cushions are wrapped in sleek black leather, and the metal supports have a chrome finish, much like earlier Euro modernist approaches. However, what sets the Eames chair apart is the wooden shell behind and underneath the cushions. Originally, and for decades after, made of Brazilian rosewood, this highly figured wooden component gave the whole piece a wild and primitive tone that none of the progressive / futurist Europeans could have ever dreamed up.

Figured woodgrains had been staples of European furniture for centuries -- but the Eames' veneered it over bent plywood, giving it an industrial-age feel instead of a strictly hand-worked process. And none of those earlier European uses of figured woods paired them with futuristic chrome or sleek black leather. It was a uniquely American combination of materials, for a novel effect. And true to the American blocky volume approach, it was not light or airy or deconstructed, but solid and blocky -- with a few gently rounded corners.

Even simpatico European designers, like the Dane Arne Jacobsen, couldn't quite make this leap in the immediate wake of the Eames revolution. His Egg and Swan chairs, from the late '50s, don't have woodgrain anywhere. And if Danish Modern used wood and/or leather, it didn't also include chrome or other bright silver-toned metal, as prominently as the American style did. It took until the '60s and '70s for European designers to adapt the American approach, especially through the Swiss firm Stoll Giroflex, whose lounge chair and ottoman pair is a slightly curvier Euro refinement of an earlier American invention.

The most prolific, influential, and iconic designer in the American style is Milo Baughman, who used the woodgrain + chrome combination for chairs, sofas, tables, credenzas -- anything. And his lines were more rectilinear and in tune with American Block Symphony from architecture, compared to the Eames' somewhat more playful and curvier lines. Baughman was also more quintessentially American in not only being based in California (as the Eames' also were) but converting to Mormonism.

From the large and expensive design objects -- furniture -- the style emanated out to the smaller and less expensive objects. By the '70s, it was hard *not* to find this mixture of materials -- or their simulation -- in a receiver, television, telephone, lamp, desk sculpture, electric guitar, alarm clock radio, car dashboard, car outer body, tobacco pipe, and any other kind of consumer product.

We used to look back on that era as "the woodgrain era", but that's only half of the picture. Wood, even highly figured wood, has been popular forever. What distinguished that zeitgeist, and set the standard for American design ever after, is its mixture of trad, primitive woodgrain right alongside futuristic industrial chrome (and/or smooth gleaming plastic). That look and feel, and that impression, represents a unique American contribution to global cultural history.

* * *

As the American Empire reached saturation / stagnation during the neoliberal era, Bauhaus and other Euro approaches have come back from the dead, as America can no longer rule the whole world, politically or culturally. Sleek black leather and chrome -- but no woodgrain -- has become popular again, as has "blobitecture" in place of blockitecture, especially in Europe itself. Buildings made of only new-age metal and glass, with no stone or wood to reveal their wild primitive alter ego, make us long for even the least aesthetic strain of Block Symphony -- Brutalism. And all-black, meshy, totally synthetic chairs, rounded all over, are the go-to seat for the so-called creative class.

Even the attempts to adapt Midcentury Modern to today miss the mark because they don't have a good intuition for what the originals were doing. For example, during the 2010s it became popular to make tables and desks out of heavy slabs of wood, perhaps "live edges" revealing all the grain, resting on minimalist metal legs -- which are black and usually matte. This attempt fails because "metal" isn't futuristic -- it's been around for thousands of years! And yes, you can use hand tools alone to give it a minimalist shape and surface appearance.

Those metal legs have to specifically have a shiny, mirror-like silver tone to them, since that's what came out of the industrial age for building materials. Otherwise it looks like iron that's been painted black, like there has been for hundreds of years and did not look futuristic even back then. Their conception of "metal" or "industrial" is something coarse, ugly, and dark, as though industry is supposed to plunge us back into the dark ages.

The Midcentury Modern conception was of industry as producing smooth, gleaming, bright things, in a way that no previous manufacturing technique could have done. That was the forward-looking part of the combination. But the manufacturing of wooden components was also done in a futuristic way, like bending the plywood, or keeping it rectilinear -- anything but plonking down a "live edge" with almost no woodwork performed on it at all, as though it were a freshly felled whole tree.

Today's "live edge table with metal legs" leans too far in the primitive direction, in a sign that we are losing our advanced industrial capacity -- and along with those off-shored factories, our imagination relating to them. It's similar to the steampunk aesthetic in fashion, another product of the neoliberal era and our new cultural dark age. Steampunk is just Victorian LARP-ing, plus a few industrial embellishments -- it's not futuristic at all. Midcentury Modern was first and foremost a futuristic movement, even when using primitive materials. It wasn't a Gothic LARP, with some industrial embellishments.

* * *

Appendix / Gallery

I'm just posting the interior decoration examples now, will update with other consumer products later (as I think most people are familiar with those). Note in the Mad Men set, the wooden panels on the wall, along with the silver-toned metal. In today's neoliberal desecration of modernism, there would never be that much wood, let alone with a visible figure and rich stain. Probably would just be glass panes between the metal skeleton.

April 22, 2023

The Tooth Fairy and American ethnogenesis

The first reference to the Tooth Fairy is from a Chicago area newspaper (from the Old Northwest, site of intense Indian wars across a meta-ethnic frontier), after the Civil War & Reconstruction period (1908).

There was no precedent for this practice in European or other world history. Superstitions relating to children's teeth are too vague -- the Tooth Fairy is specifically a diminutive fantastical creature that visits children when they're asleep, leaving a gift for the baby tooth that the child has already left under / near their pillow.

Grown Viking real-life men paying children, while the children are awake and away from their bed, to wear their baby teeth in a good luck necklace lacks all of these elements except the transactional exchange, so that is clearly not related.

The only correlate is a single short story for children by Spanish writer Luis Coloma, "Raton Perez", which has all the elements (only the fantastical small creature is a mouse, rather than a fairy). It was first published in a collection of stories in 1902 (Nuevas Lecturas), then in standalone form, with illustrations, in 1911.

Only the standalone version has a preface explaining the supposed origin as him being commissioned by the Queen to write a story to memorialize her royal son losing a baby tooth in 1894. Just-so embellishment later on, or true story? Either way, the story came out around the turn of the century.

Coloma's story also has far more narrative action, dialog, and a richer cast of characters than the simple Tooth Fairy folklore.

If we believe that ordinary Americans at the grassroots level somehow were influenced by Coloma's story, it had to have been almost instantaneous, across a major language barrier (few Spanish speakers in America, esp. the Midwest, at that time), and other cultural barriers (we were barely influenced by Spain).

Also, it would require that we not only altered the small detail of the creature being a rat or a fairy, but stripping out all the other richness of the narrative. Coloma's is a proper fairy tale, not just a simple folkloric practice. If American parents were in the mood of telling their children legends or tales, why wouldn't they keep the narrative, at least in part? There's no narrative to the Tooth Fairy, unlike Raton Perez.

So we did not get the Tooth Fairy from Spain. Another possibility is that Coloma independently came up with all the elements of the Tooth Fairy legend, at roughly the same time, and exerted his creative will to come up with this narrative because he was commissioned by the Queen, whose son was losing a tooth at the time.

The stark similarity and close timing rules out an independent origin. If he was commissioned, that would explain his greater narrative detail -- he wasn't just passing on an old wives' tale, but creating a work for his royal patron, deserving greater aesthetic detail.

Another possibility is they share a common ancestor. But there are no other children of this hypothetical ancestor -- only the American Tooth Fairy, and Raton Perez, both born circa 1900. Since Spain and America had been culturally closed off to each other at that point -- not sharing a greater sphere of cultural influence -- then the ancestor would have to go much further back, like Indo-European or something.

But then, it would have produced children in at least some of the other Indo-European cultures that still exist. And yet, no Tooth Fairy in any of them.

By 1900, the Spanish Empire had already been in the collapse stage of its lifespan for nearly a century, whereas the American Empire was ascendant -- both politically, as well as culturally.

As for the ease of acquiring the relevant information, it would be far easier for a single erudite scholar with royal patronage in Europe to learn about American folk customs, than for entire masses of ordinary Americans in the Midwest to learn of one specific recently published story embedded within a larger collection whose title does not indicate anything about it being children's stories, fairy tales, tooth fairy legends, etc.

Therefore, it's far more likely that -- through whatever links of transmission -- the arrow went from America to Spain, not the other way around.

And so, the Tooth Fairy is, like Santa, a uniquely American cultural creation, whose influence has spread around much of the world as the American Empire eclipsed all others, aside from Russia, over the course of the 20th C.

April 13, 2023

German imperial ethnogenesis and Easter Bunny traditions

I'm preparing a long post on the ancient Indo-European origins of several Easter / arrival-of-spring holiday traditions, but in the meantime, a quick look into those relating to the Easter Bunny. It's already known that the Easter Bunny / Hare, who brings eggs as presents to children, and leaves them around the home to be discovered in a hunt, comes from Protestant Germans, some of whom introduced the practice to America. This is a major invention, without analogs in other Indo-European cultures.

What's more interesting is the timing: it's not an ancient Germanic tradition, but probably from the second half of the 1600s (the first reference is from 1682). This post will briefly review my overall theory of ethnogenesis, and then the specific case of the German Empire, whose origins and evolution remain only halfway understood by the public.

* * *

The Easter Bunny / egg hunt fits the pattern I've been establishing for the ethnogenesis of various imperial societies, whereby transformational new cultures arise only after an empire's integrative civil war -- the Thirty Years' War, in the case of the fledgling German Empire. They're not so very German before then -- just as Americans were not very American before the Civil War & Reconstruction, nor were the Romans so distinctly Roman until after Caesar's Civil War, and so on and so forth.

The origins of imperial cohesion and expansion stem from a people lying on a meta-ethnic frontier with a very different Other, who pose a serious threat, and may be an advancing empire in their own right. But if the relationship to the Other were the main driver of cultural evolution within the Us side, why would Our culture need to change at all? It could stay exactly the same, and we would simply feel it, display it, and perform it much more intensely. It only requires more chauvinism, not the forging of entirely new cultural markers. Higher quantity, not necessarily a new quality.

Rather, it is the internal dynamic that drives these cultural innovations within Us. Because some of Us lie close to the meta-ethnic frontier with the Other, while some of Us are comfortably far removed from it, there is now variation in how Us-like -- or how opposite of the Other -- the various Us-es are.

And those closest to the frontier will want to prioritize defense and even aggression against the Other, while those farthest from the frontier will say that's no big deal, why waste our resources, time, and delegate local authority to a new central state just to combat something that we barely feel the pain of?

Sooner than later, these internal contradictions within the Us side come to a head, and there is a civil war. But it is integrative, where the winner will incorporate the loser politically, economically, and culturally, as much as possible, into a greater empire, not just let them do their own thing unmolested. Both of the Us-es need to be united in order to take on the Other, so no, the loser cannot be allowed to go back to their comfy isolation.

The most typical cause of this civil war is over how to treat the Other -- should they be militantly resisted, pursued vindictively, conquered, etc.? Or should they be appeased in some way, paid off, given safe passage to bother someone else, etc., so as to not rock the boat too much for any of the parties concerned? When there is an intense meta-ethnic frontier, usually from the Other expanding at the expense of Us, this is not an inconsequential debate.

Those among Us that are closest to the frontier are being unwillingly transformed into leaders of a broader movement against the Other. It's an apocalyptic do-or-die situation for those on the front lines. So to reflect this transformation in political and military roles, they decide to adopt new cultural markers in order to let the other Us-es know who's leading the way, who should be deferred to culturally as a standard for the broad coalition of Us-es.

For, at the outset of this process, there is little variation on the Us side for any cultural domain -- that's what makes Us close together, in contrast to the Other, with whom We have a lot of variation. We speak the same language, albeit with different accents. We eat the same foods, albeit with some regional specialties. We practice the same religion, albeit with minor ritual differences. There simply isn't much in the existing cultural variation within the Us side to amplify or intensify, if one part of Us wants to distinguish itself as the standard-bearer of all the Us-es.

Hence, the urge to forge new cultural markers for the standard-bearing part of Us, which can then be held up as qualitatively distinctive compared to the rearguard or even unwilling part of Us. Of course there is a quantitative ramp-up in intensity after the ball has gotten rolling, but crucially it is not acting on long-standing cultural markers -- but entirely new ones.

* * *

What became the German Empire began with the Duchy of Prussia, a small state centered around the Baltic port city of Konigsberg, which had become encircled by the Lithuanian Empire. Directly to Prussia's east lay the Grand Duchy of Lithuania, which had been expanding since the 13th C., and already by the end of the 14th C. had merged de facto with the Kingdom of Poland, to Prussia's south and west. This encirclement by an expanding empire threw up a meta-ethnic faultline around Prussia, forcing it to cohere intensely to withstand conquest.

Lithuania and Poland represented Baltic and Slavic speakers, and although Old Prussians were originally Baltic speakers as well into the early 2nd millennium, they rapidly abandoned their Baltic language (and other aspects of culture?), and began Germanicizing themselves, in addition to importing heavy numbers of Germans, as well as having Germans within the elite stratum from the region's subjugation by the Teutonic Knights.

Lithuania and Poland were also intensely Catholic -- in that era, as a contrast to the Orthodox churches to their south and east, as the Protestant Reformation had not yet started. However, as Prussian ethnogenesis began, their founding duke Albert adopted Lutheranism in 1525, at the start of the duchy's existence. This was the first Protestant state church. He was originally head of the Teutonic Order, aligned with the Roman Catholic Church, but his encirclement by Catholic superiors provided the motive to adopt a new state church, to heighten the Us vs. Them feeling with respect to religion.

Prussia was still inferior in status, though, and the dukes of Prussia had to pay homage to their Polish overlords.

Duke Albert came from the House of Hohenzollern, who had recently established themselves as the ruling house of Brandenburg (in 1415), and who made Berlin their capital. They gradually acquired the rights of succession in both Brandenburg and Prussia, which culminated in 1618. The next year, the same person (George William) became the leader of both Brandenburg (elector) and Prussia (duke), formalizing their union. But Prussia was still not a fully independent polity, having to pay homage to Poland.

The next round of Brandenburg-Prussian expansion took place during the ruinous civil war among German speakers, the Thirty Years' War, which began in 1618, at least until the German-speaking sides agreed to the Peace of Prague in 1635.

It is dubious to lump Brandenburg-Prussia with the Habsburgs (ruling the Duchy of Austria, and serving as Emperors for the fragmented and impotent Holy Roman Empire), as though they constituted two "Us" factions within a civil war, as opposed to an external war. Habsburg Austria was in fact undergoing its own intense ethnogenesis, along the meta-ethnic frontier to their south and east, where the Anatolian Muslims of the Ottoman Empire were making deep incursions into Europe through the Balkans. This pressure eventually led them to oversee the defense against the Ottomans alongside the Czech (Bohemian) and Hungarian regions. And as already mentioned, different churches within Christianity can be powerful meta-ethnic markers as well, as when Prussia had become encircled by Lithuania and Poland, or as when Orthodox Russia eventually expanded into Poland and Lithuania.

What is easier to construe as a real civil war is the struggle among the northern German Protestant states to unify around their new religion, to heighten their difference with Catholics such as Poland, Lithuania -- and yes, even their fellow German-speaking brethren in Austria. An integrative civil war eventually unites all of those who face the same meta-ethnic Other, the one who caused them to start cohering in the first place.

Because Prussia and Austria were forced into defending themselves against entirely separate meta-ethnic nemeses -- Poland-Lithuania, and the Ottomans, respectively -- there could be no civil war that would integrate both of those groups together. This fundamental difference in who their meta-ethnic nemesis was, determined the answer to "the German question," i.e. would one nation-state unite all German speakers, or would the schism remain? The solution had nothing to do with intellectual debates about romantic nationalism, language, etc.

And indeed, Prussia and Austria evolved into separate peer empires, with distinct national / imperial cultures, over the Early Modern and Modern periods. Even after their collapse during the World Wars of the 20th C., they remain separate and different from each other, notwithstanding their shared German language.

* * *

This schism among German-speaking proto-empires began during the Thirty Years' War, where in general the major Protestant groups were fighting the major Catholic groups. However, this war also served as a civil war among the Protestants themselves. Their major leader, culturally and politically, had been Saxony, with Hanover after them. And yet Brandenburg-Prussia had begun expanding, so perhaps they would become the new leaders of the northern Protestants. Protestant leadership was up in the air, raising the stakes considerably, and making a civil war amongst them inevitable.

Saxony has never become an empire during any time in history, as they have been safely ensconced in central Germany from every expanding empire that might force it to cohere and develop a new identity. They were not on the faultline against the Romans (that was the Rhine River in western Germany, which seeded the Frankish Empire). They have no coastline and there were no major cities lying on the main river, the Elbe, during the era of Viking naval raids (who instead raided Paris via the Seine and seeded the French Empire). Dresden, which does lie on the Elbe, was not a city until the early 2nd millennium, so the Vikings of several centuries earlier ignored the region. There were several bulwarks in the east against invasions from Steppe peoples, namely Lithuania and Russia (both of whom became empires). And any invasion from Anatolia or the Balkans got bogged down before reaching Germany, such as the Byzantine expansion that seeded the Bulgarian Empire, and the Ottoman expansion that seeded the Austrian Empire (including Bohemia and Hungary).

They may have been incorporated into other empires, like the Frankish, but they did not lie on a meta-ethnic faultline with anyone, so they never cohered intensely and never developed a fierce collective identity that they converted into territorial and cultural expansion.

And so, during the Thirty Years' War, Saxony, ruled by the House of Wettin, preferred to play the role of controlled opposition to the Catholic Habsburgs of Austria. Saxony would defend Protestant rights in Protestant lands, but they would remain within the Holy Roman Empire, not challenge Austria / the Habsburgs politically or militarily, not seek foreign policy contrary to them, and in general serve as junior partners to the Austrians, pacifying their fellow Protestants in the north.

This weakness of Saxon identity reached an absurd conclusion by the end of the 1600s, when the leader of Saxony, Augustus the Strong, sought the open spot of being king of Poland / grand duke of Lithuania. As a Protestant, he would be required to convert to Catholicism -- and he did! He made this worse by having his son convert, so that the future rulers of Saxony would be Catholic indefinitely, not a one-off era ruled by an eccentric. He did in fact rule as the leader of Poland-Lithuania, as did his son, after a war of succession -- and then that was it. They had jumped onto a sinking ship, as the Lithuanian Empire was already long in the tooth, impotent, and dominated by Sweden and Russia. Within a century, it would cease to exist altogether, carved up by Russia, Austria, and Prussia -- not by Saxony.

Remember that Poland-Lithuania was not just any ol' Catholic polity -- it was the very meta-ethnic nemesis that caused the expansion of Prussia in the first place. This would be like a southeast Italian leader in the 3rd C. BC deciding that, y'know, why don't I also become leader of the Gauls or the Carthagenians -- not to conquer them, but to accept an open spot at the top of their otherwise intact polity and military -- and having to convert to their culture in order to fulfill the invitation! Or if in America of the 1840s, some back-East governor decided to become the head of Mexico, not to conquer it, and having to convert to Catholicism and speak only Spanish in order to do so! Ridiculous, and a clear sign that the region that he ruled would never lead the entire empire after its integrative civil war.

Instead of weakly-held-together Saxony, it was Brandenburg-Prussia who won the internal struggle among the Protestants during the Thirty Years' War. The Saxon goal of appeasing the Habsburgs in order to be left unmolested lost out in favor of the Prussian goal of consolidation of the north and separation from Austria.

Territorially, Saxony added only Lusatia, while Brandenburg-Prussia gained Farther Pomerania, the Duchy of Magdeburg, Halberstadt, Kammin, and Minden. Soon after, Prussia won freedom from Polish vassalage (in 1657), and was more responsible than Saxony for driving out the invading great power of Sweden from the German lands (for instance, by participating in the Scanian War, which Saxony sat out). By 1701 Prussia was elevated into a kingdom, and at the end of the Great Northern War, finalized their possession of much of Swedish Pomerania.

By the mid-1700s, Saxony brought further shame upon itself by siding with the losing French side of the Seven Years' War, while Prussia was a leading member (along with Britain) of the winning side, although there was no change in territory at the end. And from there, Brandenburg-Prussia gradually unified all of modern Germany by 1871, including southern Catholic states like Bavaria. This was only the culmination of several centuries of cohesion and expansion by Prussia -- the struggle for Protestant-led German unification had already been lost by Saxony back in the mid-1600s.

Even during Russian occupation after WWII, and right through the post-Soviet era, the political and cultural capital of eastern Germany -- and Germany as a whole -- has been the Hohenzollern capital of Berlin, not the Wettin capital of Dresden or its cultural center of Leipzig.

* * *

And so, it is no surprise to see that the first reference to Easter Bunnies bringing eggs is from 1682, after the civil war in Germany had concluded, whether that is construed as one including Austria on the internal side or not. At a minimum, it was a struggle among the Protestant powers, which Brandenburg-Prussia won and Saxony lost. But after that was settled, consolidation of the Protestant north of Germany could proceed more or less unhindered by internal contradictions. They had to let bygones be bygones, and develop a new, distinctive Protestant culture in the emerging German Empire -- not only in contrast to Catholic Poland and Lithuania, but their German-speaking cousins in the emerging empire of Catholic Austria.

Far from representing a primordial Teutonic heritage, nor even the cultural status quo of the 1500s at the outset of imperiogenesis, the creations that became the standard throughout Germany were revolutionary inventions to mark the birth of a new people. Not only were they different from Poland, Lithuania, and Austria -- they were starkly different from who they themselves were only a couple centuries earlier, having been tested and transformed by their location along a meta-ethnic frontier with an expanding Other.

A new people need a new culture, and that included both a religious component, like the Lutheran Church, as well as folk rituals like the Easter Bunny and egg hunts to celebrate special holidays like the arrival of spring, not to mention high culture like German classical music (whose seminal early figure, Bach, specifically built up the Lutheran Church's new culture).