My Own Private Soave

Dear readers,

I have fallen off the face of the earth in the last eight night months but I have very good reasons for it.

We moved to Italy. Then while still staying in a hotel and looking for a place to live, Oxford University Press-USA offered me a book deal. This significantly speeded up the whole process of finding a place to live. I wanted a cosy apartment downtown but my husband insisted that every writer deserves an Italian villa (now we live in an apartment in late 17th century manor house). Then I started to write, putting all my ideas and notes on paper. I travelled to Germany once again. Then I submitted my draft. Now while I am patiently waiting for my editor (who am I kidding!!!), I can take some time and write blog posts more regularly.

10665222_10153260200212564_6506349263223203872_nWhen I was working in the archives in Berlin, I stumbled upon letters from Friedrich (Fritz) von Brühl, Marie von Clausewitz’s younger brother, written from Soave. If you are not a wine aficionado or an Italian historian, the place would mean nothing to you. But to me…. Soave is like my backyard. My heart actually skipped a beat when I saw Fritz’s letters from 1813-14.

Soave (pronounced So-Ah-Vee) is a small town in the Veneto region. If you drive on the autostrada from Venice to Milan, you would see its medieval walls and castle on a picturesque hill and think: “This might be interesting side.” But then the chances are that you’d forget soon about Soave because, let’s be honest, there is so much to see and do in Italy. The time is never enough.

1911653_10153260202622564_653577570975622363_nYet we live in Italy for now, so I have more time for travel on my hands than the usual visitor. And I have developed an enormous appreciation for Soave’s great export, its dry white wine. Hence we regularly visit the local wineries to stock up our rack.

Now you can understand my excitement when I saw Fritz’s letters from Soave. The matter of fact is that his stay in the small Italian town was of little relevance for Marie and Carl von Clausewitz’s life story. Nonetheless, it’s one of these curious coincidences that keep life interesting.

Fritz’s letters are written in French, next to English the preferred language of communication between the Brühl siblings and their English-born mother Sophie. My French is good enough for basic translations but reading handwriting in it, is really out of my league. Hence the most important question–did Fritz appreciate the Soave wine just as much as I do today–remains unanswered.


On a serious note, I found remarks in Clausewitz’s correspondence about his brother-in-law’s time in Northern Italy. “Your poor brother Fritz is really unfortunate,” Carl wrote to Marie in May 1815, “in the year before he was in Italy, when in Germany the things went so well, and this year, when in Italy everything is splendidly going (because everything is coming to an end), he must be in Germany. Send him and mama my regards.”

I researched the issue a bit further and realized that my little picturesque Soave came to play some role in the War of 1813-14. Marie’s brother spent half of his life in Austrian uniform (he transferred to Prussia only in 1828), and this explains his participation in the campaign south of the Alps. George F. Nafziger and Marco Gioannini’s The Defense of the Napoleonic Kingdom of Northern Italy, 1813-1814 provides more context. In Mid November 1813, Soave and its surroundings became the scene of a bloody clash between the Austrians and the French-led troops of Kingdom of Northern Italy (a client state ruled by Napoleon’s step-son Eugène de Beauharnais, Josephine’s first born). Nafziger and Gioannini describe the battle throughout the streets, bridges and medieval walls. Recognizing some of the names, I could feel the hair stand up on the back of my neck. At the end, the French lost 500 men and the Austrians between 1,200 and 1,500. Yet the arrival of more Austrian troops from nearby Vicenza forced the enemy to withdraw to the West, to Verona.



Further in the book, Nafziger and Gioannini mention that in the following months an Austrian post was left in Soave. So, I guess, this explains Fritz von Brühl’s presence there in 1813-14.






The curious detail about Soave remind us that in Europe you can still find so much of the topography of the Napoleonic Wars in general and Carl and Marie von Clausewitz’s very personal story. If you know where to look.

The destroyed walls of the Venetian Ghetto. Madame de Staël’s Château in Coppet.

The Radziwill Palace in Berlin. Marie and Carl von Clausewitz were frequent visitors of the sophisticated and liberal political salon gathering there. Later on Otto von Bismarck made the building on Wilhelm Str.77 his Reich Chancellory. And much later, what an irony, Hitler used the building as his private residence. Now the original spot of Radziwill Palace is just a parking lot.






Before becoming a popular picnic ground, Victoria Park in Berlin was a very visible testament of the Prussian victories, bloodshed, and changing self-image in 1813-1815. Hence the chosen monument on its very top, a cast iron dome, is solemn and church-like (for the many, too many men who lost their lives in the bloody and prolonged Napoleonic Wars); but also carrying unmistakable message of confidence and ambition. Marie and Carl indeed attended the unveiling in 1821.





Now associated with Berlin’s tumultuous history throughout the twentieth century, originally Mariannenplatz in Kreuzberg was a tribute to Marianne von Hesse-Homburg. After the beloved Queen Louise’s death, her sister-in-law Princess Marianne assumed the very public role of mother of the nation. And Marie von Clausewitz, like so many women between 1813-15, followed her call to support the Wars of Liberation.


More info: 

Carl’s letter to Marie from 20 May 1815, in Karl und Marie von Clausewitz, Ein Lebensbild in Briefen und Tagebuchblätter, edited and published by Karl Linnebach (Berlin: Volksverband der Bücherfreunde Wegweiser-Verlag, 1925), 376-377

George F. Nafziger and Marco Gioannini, The Defense of the Napoleonic Kingdom of Northern Italy, 1813-1814 (Westport, Ct: Praeger Publishers, 2002), 82, 92-94 and 160

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