The International Charlemagne Prize of Aachen. Charlemagne as a suitable model for the European Unity?

Seminar Paper 2015 16 Pages

Cultural Studies - European Studies


Table of Contents

1 Introduction

2 he Charlemagne Prize of Aachen
2.1 History of Origins
2.2 Awarding criteria

3 Laureates

4 Charlemagne as a Model for the European Unity
4.1 The Image of Charlemagne
4.2 The Role of Charlemagne in the Speeches of the Laureates
4.3 The Image of Charlemagne in Comparison to the History

5 Conclusion

6 Bibliography

1 Introduction

At this time, the International Charlemagne Prize of the city of Aachen is one of the most significant European awards and the first prize in post-war Germany. Named in remembrance of Charlemagne, the father of the western civilisation, it was established in 1949 by citizens of Aachen and first awarded in 1950.1 The Charlemagne Prize includes prize money of 5000 euros (before 5000dm), the amount being intentionally small to give weight to the ideational background of the prize.2 Beyond the prize money, there is an official document3 and a medal depicting the oldest town seal of Aachen: Charlemagne, the Franconian king.4 The prize, which has now been awarded over 55 times, is bestowed to give credit to teachings affecting the western unity.

As a first step, this seminar paper aims to reveal the history of the Charlemagne Prize and enters on the awarding criteria as well as some abnormalities regarding the laureates, which includes examples of known persons who received the Charlemagne Prize. After that, the image of Charlemagne, the founders, or the society of the prize shall be examined, moreover the role of Charlemagne playing in the speeches of the laureates shall be analysed.

In the chapter “The image of Charlemagne in comparison to the history”, the image of Charlemagne will be examined historically. Finally the seminar paper shall concentrate on the question of whether, and in what way, Charlemagne is suited to being a historical symbolic figure for the European Unity.

2 he Charlemagne Prize of Aachen

2.1 History of Origins

In his speech5 to the literary society of Aachen “Corona Legentium Aquensis”, the founder Kurt Pfeiffer first disclosed his idea of an international and annually awarded prize for commendable personalities and institutions engaging in political, intellectual and economic ideas on western unity.6 At that point he emphasised the special historical responsibility in which Aachen was situated after the long period of war and destruction. He proclaimed that it was Aachen’s obligation to improve the situation of Europe by enhanced economic cooperation. With reference to the English historian Arnold Toynbee, Pfeiffer implies he does not desire Aachen’s history to be regarded as immutable and fated. It is rather important to draw the public’s attention to their historical responsibility. This is what should be achieved through an official awarded international prize. From the founder’s perspective, the acclaim, which originate from such a public honour, could not be overestimated in its ethical and practical importance. Pfeiffer’s idea met a lot of approval and eleven founding members joined him. As a consequence, the twelve founders of the Charlemagne Prize pronounced the public declaration of 1949. It is an official document signed by the founders, which basically sums up Pfeiffer’s idea and marks its coming into effect. Besides including all important information about the prize, it refers to the special importance of Aachen in the history of Europe.7

2.2 Awarding criteria

The criteria, which need to be satisfied for selection are not officially written down as criteria. Regardless, there are fundamental documents, such as the public declaration of 1949 and the constitution of the Charlemagne Prize Society8 from which you can infer the aspects the decision is based on. The public declaration says that the laureates of the prize should serve as a model and need to pursue ideas which are able to be taken up by the public, further they should be imitated and realised. Furthermore it is possible to ascertain two main aspects which have an influence on the decision. On the one hand, the person who will be awarded needs to distinguish themselves in regards to specific achievements in view of political, economical or spiritual relation regarding the unity of Europe or at least the bloc of its countries.9 On the other hand it is obvious that national, racial, denominational and party political aspects are not allowed to carry weight.10

3 Laureates

On the 18th of May in 1950 the first prize was awarded to Richard Graf Coudenhove-Kalergi, the founder of the pan-European movement.11 He, as well as all the following awarded, were chosen by the board of directors of the Charlemagne prize. It selects the most appropriate laureate out of a variety of possible candidates, when possible unanimously. After this process is done, only after the chosen persons acceptance the awardee will be promulgated.12 The awarding of the Charlemagne prize usually takes place at the coronation site of Aachen Town Hall on Ascension Day.13 The mayor of Aachen inaugurates the ceremony with a speech, followed by a laudatory speech of the last laureate and a speech of the new one.

Occasionally, the awarding varies from the routine regarding location and time:

For example the Italian then-premier Alcide de Gasperi could not be awarded before the 24th of September, because he has been too busy.14 The awarding to George C. Marshall, then state secretary of the US, took place in Washington, due to severe illness.15 Even the already first awarded extraordinary Charlemagne prize was not presented to Pope Johannes Paul II in Aachen, but instead in the Vatican ahead of schedule on 24th of March in 2004.16

When looking at the curriculums of the previous awarded persons, you can determine a clearly recognizable overbalance of politicians, especially during the first decades after foundation. Until 1972, 15 of 18 laureates were politicians or political institutions. The remaining three people, beside Graf Coudenhove-Kalergi, also Hendrik Brugmans, former director of the college of Europe and the former French ambassador in Germany François Seydoux de Clausonne had been politicians for a significant time before they were awarded.17

With the awarding to the Spanish author Don Salvador de Madariaga in 1973, the board of directors tried to get away from the image of a prize for politicians, the prize had earned through the aforementioned.18 Even after 1973 however, the prize predominantly remained reserved to politicians.

Apart from this, it must be mentioned that the board of directors has also made a few “exotic” or unexpected decisions besides the awarding of an extraordinary Charlemagne prize. In 1986, the prize was awarded to the nation of Luxembourg, which means approximately 365.000 people were awarded simultaneously.19

What’s more, two church dignitaries received the prize: In 1989, Frère Roger, the founder and Prior of the Protestant monastic community Communauté Taizé and in 2004 the Pope. 20 Prior to this paper, the prize has been awarded to monarchs two times: In 1982 to King Juan Carlos I. from Spain and in 1996 to Queen Beatrix of the Netherlands. The latter is one of only five women who have received the prize so far. In 2002 the Charlemagne Prize was awarded to the common European currency and had to be subsequently received at the hands of Willem Frederik Duisenberg, the president of the European Central Bank at that time, as the prize initially was not awarded to a person.

On a final note, it should not go unmentioned that there were ten years in which no prize has been awarded. To mention an example, in 1985 the board of directors did not choose a laureate and did not highlight a reason for this case. This could portend that no known person has suitably distinguished oneself, or equally as a silent protest against absent progress with the European agreement.21

4 Charlemagne as a Model for the European Unity

4.1 The Image of Charlemagne

To ascertain which image Charlemagne left behind in the head of the founders, it seems to be important to take a look at the proclamation of 1949, the spiritual foundation of the prize.22 Indeed there are not many direct references about Charlemagne. It is stated that the prize got his name in remembrance of father of the western culture.23 When considering the purposes of the prize, especially the resolution of the unsolved problem of the European agreement, the author Harald Kästner consistently determines that Charlemagne has already achieved this goal if only rudimentarily.24 Hence, we can assume that the founders of the prize ascribe a political, economical and cultural influence to Charlemagne with reference to Europe. This assumption is increasingly affirmed when examining the official homepage of the Charlemagne Prize.25 It indicates the tremendous size of the empire of Charlemagne in his day, which covered a lot of different areas.26 Furthermore, the measures Charlemagne made use of to achieve agreement in the Carolingian Empire are pointed out. This is construed as an inspiration for European unity. Especially elevated are the Christian attitude and behaviour of the medieval sovereign. His idea of a Christian Occident is used by the Charlemagne Prize Society as a principle for the prospective political and economical unity of Europe. A speech of Walter Eversheim, the former speaker of the Board of directors, on the 16th of December in 1999, on the occasion of the 50th anniversary of the Charlemagne Prize, refers to possible current and future benchmarks regarding Charlemagne. He emphasises the influence of Charlemagne's idea of the Christian Occident on the Public Declaration from 1949 and confesses Charlemagne more than just an eponym.

Eversheim holds the same opinion that the Carolingian Empire was an inspiration for the unity and further considers Charlemagne’s function as a model for the European unification process.27

The image of Charlemagne for the Charlemagne Prize society, which is only demonstrated exemplarily within the limits of the seminar paper and limited number of present sources, represents Charlemagne as an exclusively positive, exemplary sovereign.

4.2 The Role of Charlemagne in the Speeches of the Laureates

When examining the role of Charlemagne in the speeches of the laureates, it results in a very similar image of him.28 The description of Charlemagne as a European emperor is nearly already a kind of commonplace in the speeches of the laureates.29 Even constantly recurring topoi are the description of Aachen as a former centre of Europe and the emphasis on the common culture of the Christian Occident, established by Charlemagne.30 Konrad Adenauer proclaims in his speech, that Charlemagne had created a consistent system with regard to Europe and had been more than just a field commander and statesman.31 In addition to this, Hendrik Brugmans appreciates the fact that Charlemagne had striven for a functioning school system.32 Moreover, the Carolingian Empire reached almost the total area of today’s European society.33 The tremendous size of Charlemagne’s empire appears to make him a European ruler. In this sense, the author Don Salvador de Madariaga implies that the stature of Charlemagne can be judged when considering that he had to fight against the heathens in Saxony and against the Muslims in Spain.34

Therefore, the speeches of those laureates, whose home countries did not belong to the empire of Charlemagne, are of peculiar interest. These either declined completely to make reference to Charlemagne in their speech, as the Hungarian foreign minister Gyula Horn as well as Václav Havel 35, or tried to establish a connection between Charlemagne and their home country, as Edward Heath attempted. In his speech, he emphasises that Great Britain was not part of Charlemagne’s empire, but indicates the important role of the British scholars at court of Charlemagne.36

Certainly conspicuous is the particularly critical evaluation of the Treaty of Verdun and the associated division of the Carolingian Empire in 843, which seems to be pervade the speeches. At the speech of Graf Coudenhove-Kalergi, lamentations about the unlucky partition treaty of Verdun, which tore the European Empire into a German, a French and an Italian nation are evident.37 Quite similar comments are extolled by Paul Henri, former NATO Secretary-General and laureate in 1957, on the topic. He requires resolving the falsities, which arose from the partition.38 In great measure, and beginning with the Treaty of Verdun, a great number of the laureates believe that Europe has mistaken its heritage since the time of Charlemagne.39

Only Roman Herzog spoke in another way, criticising Charlemagne whilst pointing out that he achieved his goal only by creating blood, sweat and tears. Additionally Herzog reveals that the Empire of Charlemagne already began resolving after his death, indeed during his final years of life. Nevertheless, for Herzog, the Empire of Charlemagne represented primarily unity, peace and wealth.40 Added together it can be inferred, that in the speeches of the laureates, Charlemagne is regarded as founder of the European tradition and the idea of European Unity, who seems to set a pattern for todays policy towards Europe. As a matter of fact, Coudenhove-Kalergi claims to give the name “Union Charlemagne” to Europe.41


1 Cf. Riddle, A History of the Middle Ages 300-1500, p.192

2 Cf. Schulz, Der Aachener Karlspreis, p.13

3 The official documents of all laureates until 1992 are shown in: Reuther, Der internationale Karlspreis zu Aachen, p.26-44

4 Cf. Reuther, Der internationale Karlspreis zu Aachen, p.4

5 Pfeiffer’s speech is to find on the official homepage of the prize: http://www.karlspreis.de/de/der-karlspreis/entstehungsgeschichte/vortrag-von-dr-kurt-pfeiffer (21/07/2015)

6 Cf. Schulz, Der Aachener Karlspreis, p.10ff

7 Cf. http://www.karlspreis.de/de/der-karlspreis/entstehungsgeschichte/proklamation-von-1949 (21/07/2015)

8 It is to find on the official homepage: http://www.karlspreis.de/de/der-karlspreis/dokumente/satzung-der-gesellschaft-fuer-die-verleihung-des-internationalen-karlspreises-zu-aachen-ev-vom-4-dezember-1987-auszug (21/07/2015)

9 Cf. Fn. 8, § 2

10 Cf. Fn. 8, §9

11 Cf. Mathieu, Aachen entdecken, p.111

12 Cf. Schulz, Der Aachener Karlspreis, p.14

13 Cf. Hefty, Der Internationale Karlsbergs zu Aachen p.85

14 Cf. Schulz, Der Aachener Karlspreis, p.33

15 Cf. Schulz, Der Aachener Karlspreis, p.72

16 Cf. Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung, Papst Johannes Paul II., p.1

17 Cf. Schulz, Der Aachener Karlspreis p.19f, p.28, p.107

18 Cf. Schulz, Der Aachener Karlspreis p.119

19 Cf. Schulz, Der Aachener Karlspreis p.169

20 Cf. Reuther, Der internationale Karlspreis zu Aachen, p.249f

21 Cf. http://www.abendblatt.de/archiv/1985/article203387151/Kein-Karlspreis.html (28/07/2015)

22 Cf. http://www.karlspreis.de/de/der-karlspreis/entstehungsgeschichte/proklamation-von-1949 (23/07/2015)

23 Cf. Reuther, Der internationale Karlspreis zu Aachen, p.20

24 Kästner, Die Karlspreisträger und ihre europäischen Reden, p.7

25 The official homepage: http://www.karlspreis.de/de/

26 Cf. http://www.karlspreis.de/de/der-karlspreis/karl-der-grosse-und-der-internationale-karlspreis (23/07/2015)

27 You can find the speech in: Bastert, Karl der Große und Europa, p.4

28 Every speech that this paper refers to is to look up in a shortened version in: Kästner, Die Karlspreisträger und ihre europäischen Reden

29 For example in the speech of Graf Coudenhove-Kalergis, p.21

30 For example in the speeches of Alcide de Gasperi and Antonio Segnis, cf. p. 39, p.122

31 Cf. Kästner, Die Karlspreisträger und ihre europäischen Reden, p.53

32 Cf. Kästner, Die Karlspreisträger und ihre europäischen Reden, p.29

33 Cf. Kästner, Die Karlspreisträger und ihre europäischen Reden, p.211

34 Cf. Kästner, Die Karlspreisträger und ihre europäischen Reden, p.177

35 Cf. Reuther, Der internationale Karlspreis zu Aachen, p.228 or p.234

36 Cf. Kästner, Die Karlspreisträger und ihre europäischen Reden, p.110

37 Cf. Kästner, Die Karlspreisträger und ihre europäischen Reden, p.21

38 Cf. Kästner, Die Karlspreisträger und ihre europäischen Reden, p.68

39 Cf. Fn. 36, for example in the speech of Konrad Adenauer, p.53

40 Cf. Lohe & Müller: Europa gestalten, p.33f

41 Cf. Kästner, Die Karlspreisträger und ihre europäischen Reden, p.23


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Title: The International Charlemagne Prize of Aachen. Charlemagne as a suitable model for the European Unity?