New capital for Europe
At the beginning of the 1950s there was a lively debate in Europe about the headquarters of the future European institutions. Numerous existing cities applied, including Saarbrücken, The Hague and Brussels. Another approach was taken by a French painter and a German journalist: A new capital for which the name "White Castle - Bourg Blanc" was proposed.
Their idea was born immediately after the Second World War, after fate had let their paths cross under dramatic circumstances. They decided to give the unifying Europe a capital in the city of Wissembourg and to create a meeting place for young Europeans.
The idea of the "Bourg Blanc" came from the French painter Georges-Henri Pescadère (1915-2003) and the German journalist Karl Oswald Schreiner (1894-1972). Both were active in the resistance movement during the Second World War - each on his side - and were arrested by the Gestapo in occupied France in July 1944. The Parisian artist Pescadère was known as a personality in the French Resistance and a lieutenant in the Corvette task force at the time of his arrest. Karl Schreiner, doctor of economics, had already worked as a diplomat in the German Consul in Ethiopia. After the Nazis seized power, he turned away from politics and went into business. At the same time, during the war, he was firmly involved in the resistance, for example by helping numerous Germans to flee abroad. Since he knew his way around nursing, he was used as a nursing service for fellow prisoners during his imprisonment. This is how he got to know the exhausted and critically ill Pescadère, whose life he saved.
After overcoming an initial scepticism, an even deeper friendship developed between the men in times of extreme need. Together they survived their way through the concentration camps Dora-Nordhausen, Bergen-Belsen and Buchenwald. When the prison camp in Bergen-Belsen was liberated in April 1945, Pescadère again saved his friend's life by hiding him in his closet. Although Schreiner was a deportee - at that moment he was considered an enemy as a German. Immediately after the war, Schreiner wanted to put his idea of reconciliation between France and Germany into practice and further developed his plans together with Pescadère.
For the reconciliation between Germany and France, Karl Schreiner found his birthplace Wissembourg and the Southern Palatinate "in the heart of Europe" perfectly suited. According to his vision, a neutral UN state should be created there, which would make it possible to finally put an end to the centuries-old conflicts between the neighbouring states. The nucleus was the Geilweiler Hof near Siebeldingen, which Oskar Schreiner had temporarily rented and at which construction work on a UN building was to begin in the summer of 1946. The UNO had been founded, but did not have a permanent seat in the first phase. There was only a provisional headquarters in London, the later headquarters in New York had not yet been decided (the sketch for the building, which also appears in the later concept for "Bourg Blanc", resembles amazingly the UN headquarters actually established later in New York). Together, Karl Oswald Schreiner and Georges Henri Pescadère developed specific ideas for implementation. The place where they discussed their plans is the small house "Maison Dippacher" in the old town of Wissembourg, which can still be found within sight of the town hall today (10, rue de la République).
Already at the beginning of 1946 the plans for the "UNO-State-Wissembourg" were finished. The two men met with open ears with their idea - both on the side of the French occupying powers, and with the current mayors of the city of Wissembourg and Landau. Quite soon, however, it became clear to those involved that the French occupying power could use the project for its own purpose, namely to separate the Palatinate from Germany. Unlike its mayor, the city council of Wissembourg hoped for a very large area consisting of its French territory and a large part of the Palatinate up to the Queich (including Landau), as it was presented to the council on the 21st of September 1946. Due to this irresolvable conflict of interest, Karl Schreiner's support for his plans was withdrawn on the German side. A few years later Schreiner tried again to realize his idea...
Although they were unsuccessful with their idea in 1946, the men did not give up. They met regularly after their regular working hours at the Geilweiler Hof or in Wissembourg. After long considerations they started the movement "Le Bourg Blanc - the white castle - Die Weisse Burg". The idea was to create a neutral, economically independent area in which all Europeans would be recognised, free from nationality, nationalist ideas and state interests. This "immune zone", which was linked to historical origins, was to be realised between Wissembourg and Bad Bergzabern.
For this purpose not only content-related concepts were forged, but also plans for the design of this new capital city were drawn up. It was particularly important to them to create a common place for the young Europeans. It was therefore not surprising that young people from different nations were the first to take up the plan. They wanted to turn the "White Castle" into a home for European youth, a building site for Europe that radiates its attraction across the continent. Detailed plans were also drawn up for a youth hotel, the "House of European Youth". It was to be built on the northern outskirts of Wissembourg, roughly where the hospital is today. Here, too, the construction plans of the two buildings are astonishingly similar. The mayor wanted to provide the land free of charge. There were also plans for an organisation centre to host congresses and youth meetings, a publishing house and a college to bring together scientists and experts for summer courses on European issues. In the longer term, a film studio would be added, a stadium for the European Youth Olympics and an international Pestalozzi village for homeless children.
In the middle of the preparations for the "White Castle" fell the foundation of the Council of Europe, which got its headquarters in Strasbourg at the suggestion of the British Foreign Minister Ernest Bevin. Was this already a prior decision? Just in part, because only 6 founding members were present. The actual competition for the headquarters of the European institutions - and thus the "capital of Europe" - took place in 1952 and 1958. At first Liege, Saarbrücken, The Hague, Luxembourg, Strasbourg - which enjoyed political support - applied, but also Trier and Aachen, Karlsruhe, Bonn, Dijon, Trieste, Amsterdam, smaller villages at the Lago Maggiore, Lyon etc. The Bourg Blanc initiative also belongs to this series. In 1958 some cities applied again. New were Paris, Brussels, Stresa, Monza, Milan, Nice, Torino, Département de l'oise... At this time the initiative "Bourg Blanc" was already history. What had happened?
In January 1953, an international meeting was organised in Speyer and Wissembourg, where people from different cultures and political interests formed working groups for the project. In May, Schreiner and Pescadère had the establishment of the Bourg Blanc Foundation, based in Wissembourg, notarized. With funds from the Marshall Plan, personal financial contributions from the initiators and the help of numerous young people, the plans of "Bourg Blanc" were officially announced in June 1952. In the same year, over 300 Europeans launched a campaign to draw the attention of both the press and politicians to the project. A programme of action was adopted, which included the following measures: reappraising the history of immunitas, preparing the remains that still existed and putting up tourist signs. The creation of a museum in Wissembourg, where the history of the Bourg Blanc Foundation and immunity are presented through photos, models, etc. The project was also presented in 1953 at the meeting of the Federation of European Youth in Fulda in front of 10,000 participants - in the presence of Chancellor Adenauer and President Spaak - as an example of constructive efforts of the European Youth.
While the plans were being put into practice, the project came to a standstill. Although some supporters had already given the initiative a positive assessment, no official or political side was willing to support it any longer. Since the events of August 1950 at St. Germanshof, the meetings of students and other activists have been monitored by the French National Community Service. Especially from the French-Communist side there was strong criticism. Opponents accused the project of attempting to seize French territory. The project was seen as unreservedly positive almost only by young people from all over Europe and their organisations. In February 1954 the last big meeting took place in Wissembourg, but at the border there were massive difficulties with the identity card control. The enthusiasm was still there, but there was a huge gap between the visionary plans and the financial resources, especially after the Marshall Plan ran out of funds. The American liaison to the decision-makers in Washington who had always supported the project - Toby Rodes - had changed function. He had advocated that the project be financed entirely by the USA. There was interest in the creation of a "European grouping", also in order to be able to control it better. The fear of a growing influence of communist labour movements in Europe was a driving force during the Cold War.
So what happened to the initiative? Looking at the ideas, plans and intentions, it failed. Later, Pescadère himself said that they should have proceeded more modestly, starting more from the existing situation... The ideological head and enthusiastic European, Karl Oswald Schreiner, was deeply disappointed. He retired to the Balearic Islands at the beginning of the 1960s, where he died in 1972. Nevertheless, the European home for young people was realized, not in Wissembourg, not as the center of the European capital "Weiße Burg", but in the same year 1972 in the "secret" capital of Europe, in Strasbourg.
"Because it is located in the heart of Europe, at the fate frontier of the continent, as a scene of old hostilities and new brotherhood. A thousand years ago, Wissembourg was an immunity between the rival powers. In the Middle Ages it was a place of care for the oriental spirit. Its name and emblem symbolize its mission as a mediator and link. Westwall and Maginot Line, the last architectural monuments of the European Brother Twist, have excluded Wissembourg, as if the peaceful destiny of this area should be affirmed for a better future."
Source: Quote from the folding brochure "Bourg blanc - Weisse Burg" by Karl Oswald Schreiner and Georges-Henri Pescadère, Paris & Godesberg 1952
Aktionsgemeinschaft Bobenthal – St. Germanshof e.V.
Am Mühlbach 5