The Middle Ages and their modern perception

Note: Due to a lot of views from outside of Germany I decided to translate certain articles into English. I hope you like it!

What would come to your mind if someone would ask you what you think how the Middle Ages really looked like? Many people would think of noble knights, fair women and minnesingers. A romantic picture of a night illuminated by a full moon in which the knight tries to conquer the heart of his woman with the promise to fight in her name in the next tournament. Many of todays castles seem to confirm this image and a lot of reenactments and events show the Middle Ages as rough, but romantic times. But did reality really looked like this back then?

This image seems to be very firmly in people’s minds. I myself was surprised during a discussion at university, when some of my fellow students said that they thought that the castle in „Harry Potter“ would be historical accurate. I just could not believe it. But then it occurred to me that this picture of the Middle Ages is not quite new. Most of the castles that still stand today, especially at the river Mosel, were erected in the 19th century. In this time the people saw the Middle Ages as a very romantic time. After the experience of the victory over Napoleon Bonaparte, which was only possible because the different rulers worked together, the people tried to find a common past. In addition to the victory of Arminius over the Romans in 9 A.D. this past consisted of the Middle Ages in Germany. Monarchs like Friedrich Barbarossa were made heroes of the German people, the life in medieval times was idealised. The castles of the 19th century shall mirror this „glorious“ times. One should keep in mind that most of the castles visited today are not very authentic.

Nowadays we should always keep in mind, that all we can see in exhibitions or during different events show us the Middle Ages as we can see them through the eyes of the 21st century. First of all the people in medieval times had a totally different mentality compared to ours. For us modern people it is already very difficult to understand the mentality of our grandparent’s generation. Is it possible for a time so long ago? Well, it is certainly very, very difficult because all the texts and archaeological findings just give us a small insight into this period. One should keep in mind, that death, hunger, violence and illnesses were part of everyday life. People were way more religious than today. And the human-being of this time was exposed to this dangerous world from his birth until his death. All who survived the dangerous time of their childhood were certainly way more resistant than most modern people and they certainly developed a totally different view on the world.

Most aspects of life in the Middle Ages were rougher, more ugly and particulary less flavoursome than they are presented today. A lot of elements that are shown in movies or in shows did exist back then, but in most cases in different forms. The people lived in a very dangerous era. Maybe one should keep that in mind when he or she comes across any kind of presentation of the Middle Ages that is supposed to show how it really was. Smells, personal experiences and impressions just cannot be simulated in a totally authentic way.


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