1636 The Devil’s Opera – Snippet 07


          The city of Magdeburg in the year 1635 was unique throughout Europe; throughout the world, actually. There was no place like it.

          On the one hand, it was old. The city name originally meant “Mighty Fortress,” and historical records indicated that it was founded in the year 805 by none other than the Emperor Charlemagne. Histories of the Germanies, whether contemporary or from the up-time library in Grantville, mentioned the city often. It had many connections with Holy Roman Emperors over the years. It became the See of the Archbishop of Magdeburg in 968, and its first patent and charter was given in1035. It was even one of the easternmost members of the Hanseatic League. And Martin Luther had spent time there, beginning in 1524, which perhaps explained the subsequent dogged Protestantism of the city.

On the other hand, Magdeburg was new. The city had been besieged by the army of the Holy Roman Empire from November 1630 until May 20, 1631. The siege culminated in The Sack of Magdeburg, in which over 20,000 residents were massacred. Over ninety percent of the city was destroyed by fire, and what little wasn’t burned was ransacked, looted, plundered, and pillaged. Magdeburg was devastated; prostrate.

Then came the Ring of Fire, with the arrival of Grantville, West Virginia, from the future. And everything changed.

Gustavus Adolphus, King of Sweden and champion of the Protestant cause, connected with the up-timers from Grantville, and set in motion a train of events which gave birth — or rebirth, if you prefer — to the modern Magdeburg of 1635.

Pre-Ring of Fire Magdeburg was small, by up-timer standards. The area within the city walls was about half a square mile. It was shaped something like a right triangle, with the long side of the triangle running parallel to the river Elbe, and the hypotenuse side running from northeast to southwest. The normal population of the city had been about 25,000 people. That boosted to nearly 35,000 during the siege, as everyone from the surrounding regions who had a contracted right for shelter and sanctuary moved into the city when the HRE army approached.

Magdeburg in 1635 was a very different creature. Gustavus Adolphus, now proclaimed emperor, had decreed that the city would be the capitol of what became the United States of Europe. Otto Gericke was appointed mayor of the city, and was given imperial instruction to make Magdeburg a capitol city of which the emperor could be proud. And things just kind of mushroomed from there.

Instigated by the up-timers, north of the city were the naval yards, where the iron-clad and timber-clad ships of the USE Navy had been constructed. There wouldn’t be any more ironclads in the foreseeable future, and the timberclad construction had slowed down considerably. But the yard was still working and its work force was still fully employed. The Navy Yard’s machine tools and facilities were being turned into the USE’s major weapons manufacturing center and were now working around the clock. In theory, that was to provide the army fighting the Poles with the weapons they needed. But nobody was oblivious to the fact that those same weapons could easily be used to defend Magdeburg itself, in the event the current crisis turned into an all-out civil war.

South of the city was the coal gas plant, surrounded by a constellation of factories which were powered by the plant’s output. All of these operations drew hungry unemployed and underemployed men from all over the Germanies. So, since early 1634, the city had become home to a horde of Navy men, factory workers and skilled craftsmen. Inevitably, construction workers had followed to provide homes for the workforce and facilities for the employers. All this gave Magdeburg a certain flavor, a “blue-collar” spirit, as some of the Grantvillers called it, which was certainly fostered by the Committees of Correspondence. It also made for interesting times.

But workers, and their families, need places to sleep, and food to eat, so rooming houses and bakeries and such began to grow up to the west of the old city. And it turned out that the big businesses along the river side needed smaller businesses to make things for them, so various workshops began to appear in the western districts.

By late 1635, Greater Magdeburg occupied several square miles along the riverside and to the west. No one had a good estimate as to how many people lived in the new city because of the constant influx of new residents, but the Committees of Correspondence had recently told the mayor that they thought it was approaching one hundred thousand. Germans, Swedes, Dutch, Poles, Hungarians, Bohemians, even the odd Austrian, Bavarian, or Rumanian could be found in the city streets or swinging a hammer at the Navy yard.

A population of that size would naturally have a leavening of rough-edged men. Hard men, one might call them, who would be more inclined to follow the ways of Cain than of Abel. Mayor Gericke realized in late 1634 that the city watch of the old city was not able to deal with the influx of these men, so in early 1635 he requisitioned a couple of Grantvillers with police experience from the up-timer units contributed to the USE army to try to mold the city watch into something that could provide up-time style civic protection and police services to the whole city.

The city watch had never been held in high esteem, so there was a certain reservation on the part of many of the citizens and residents to take issues to them. The well to do patricians and burghers of Old Magdeburg could afford to utilize the courts. The workers of Greater Magdeburg couldn’t afford a lawyer, most times, so their recourses were three: take it to the Committees of Correspondence, if the matter was one that the CoC was interested in; handle it themselves or with the aid of their friends; or take it to the newly formed Polizei.

Such was Greater Magdeburg in December 1635: newly born, vibrant, alive, with a spirit like no other city in the world; and sometimes an edge to it that could leave you bleeding.

Such was the city Gotthilf thought of as his own. Such was the city that he and his partner watched over.