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The red Becker - from enemy of the state to imperial politician

Hermann Heinrich Becker was the only mayor of the last two centuries to leave his library to the city of Cologne. The private library, which originally contained 15,000 volumes, contained mainly law, political and economic literature, corresponding to Becker's educational and professional career. He also collected many works on German history, Westfalica and brochures on 19th century politics. With the exception of around 600 volumes, which were placed under the shelfmark "BECK", this large collection has been incorporated into the arrangement system of the City Library, which today is part of the UCL.
Becker, who was born on 15 September 1820 in Elberfeld, grew up in Soest, Westphalia. After his secondary school years in Soest, Dortmund and Duisburg, he studied law at the universities of Heidelberg, Bonn and Berlin until 1847. He completed his studies with a doctorate. Becker moved from Berlin to the Bonn Regional Court and from there to the Cologne Regional Court in 1848. He  found himself in the midst of the struggle of the democratic movement, which was particularly active in the Rhineland. One of the lawsuits brought against Becker in the following years was the sensational "Cologne Communist Trial". Whereas he had previously been able to obtain acquittals through brilliant defensive speeches, he was sentenced to five years in prison. Becker was not allowed to resettle in Cologne after serving his sentence. His political career led him to Dortmund, where he was able to move into the Prussian House of Representatives as a member of parliament in 1862, before becoming mayor of Dortmund and member of the Prussian Manor in 1870. In 1875 he was appointed Lord Mayor of Cologne. One of the most important events of his ten-year tenure was the removal of the old Cologne city wall. Hermann Heinrich Becker died of tuberculosis on 9 December 1885. He was buried at the Melaten cemetery in Cologne.

The nickname "the red Becker" was coined by the Lord Mayor of Cologne thanks to his red hair and his communist past. In the 1840s, Becker belonged to the circle of radical democrats and national revolutionaries. He also worked as a correspondent for the liberal "Deutsche Allgemeine Zeitung" in Leipzig. After his arrival in Cologne, the political engagement of the court assistant began at the Cologne Regional Court. He joined the "Verein der Arbeiter und Arbeitgeber" (Association of workers and employers) and became a member of the "Kölner Bürgerwehr" (Cologne Civil Defence). In the revolutionary year 1848 he was arrested for the first time. He founded the "Westdeutsche Zeitung" in 1849/50, the successor to the "Neue Rheinische Zeitung", which was banned under the editor Karl Marx. He was soon dismissed from Prussian service for "blameworthy leadership". In 1851 Becker published a volume "Gesammelte Aufsätze" (Collected articles) by Karl Marx. In October 1852 the main trial against eleven members of the Communist League who had been in prison for months began. Marx' " Manifest der kommunistischen Partei" (Manifesto of the Communist Party) was fully read in the courtroom and became part of the indictment. However, the accused were able to largely refute the accusations made against them. Before the end of the trial, a forged "Original-Protokollbuch" (original protocol book) of the "Party Marx" was presented to the court. Whether the falsification was relevant for the verdict is controversial. Instead of already obvious acquittals, draconian punishments were ultimately imposed. H. H. Becker was sentenced to five years imprisonment in a fortress. He served his sentence from November 1852 to November 1857 in Stettin and in the Gdansk fortress Weichselmünde. Karl Marx condemned the Cologne Communist trial in his "Enthüllungen über den Kommunisten-Prozess zu Köln" (Revelations about the Communist Trial in Cologne) of 1853. Hermann Becker's career could take place only after his change of attitude to a liberal politician - he joined the German Progressive Party - under the new Prussian ruler Wilhelm I. Although he had demanded brutal hardship from the Berlin barricade fighters in 1848 ("Kartätschenprinz"), he condemned his brother's prejudice towards the "faithless" Rhinelanders.

After the victorious war against France the district restriction of the Prussian fortress Cologne (since 1815) had been given up. The area in front of the city fortification was now free for construction. For this reason, from 1881 onwards, the enormous city fortification, which had been continuously expanded and rebuilt from the Middle Ages to the beginning of the 19th century, was blown up and demolished. Only a few wall remains (Hansaring, Sachsenring), three large gate castles (Eigelsteintor, Hahnentor, Severinstor) and some towers (Bayenturm, Bottmühle, Ulrepforte, Weckschnapp) have survived. After the wall along the Rhine had already been demolished in the years 1850-1860, the first breach was made on the land side at the Gereonshof. The newly constructed ring road was built in front of the former moat. The main line of defence consisted of the forts on the military ring road was built in the same year. "Was unsere Altvorderen bauen mussten, damit Cöln groß würde, das müssen wir sprengen, damit Cöln nicht klein werde." (What our ancestors had to build to make cologne grow, we have to blow it up so that cologne doesn't grow small)  (From the speech of Lord Mayor Becker before the first blasting on June 11/1881.)


Quellen: Beßelmann, Karl-Ferdinand: Hermann Heinrich Becker (1820 - 1885), in: Kölner Sammler und ihre Bücherkollektionen in der Universitäts- und Stadtbibliothek, Köln, 2003; Herres, Jürgen: Der Kölner Kommunistenprozess von 1852, in: Geschichte in Köln. Zeitschrift für Stadt und Regionalgeschichte, 50/2003 Onlineversion. (PDF-Datei; 103 KB), Kühn, Walter: Der junge Hermann Becker, Dortmund, 1934, Melis, Francois: Zur Geschichte der Neuen Rheinischen Zeitung und ihrer Edition in der Marx-Engels-Gesamtausgabe (MEGA), Magdeburg, 2012.