First world war: how countries across Europe will mark centenary

From exhibitions and concerts to a movie and football match, a host of events will take place to commemorate anniversary

Germany is lagging behind its European partners in devising plans to commemorate the centenary of the first world war. A press conference in Berlin yesterday has revealed a single concrete event – a small-scale "exhibition" telling the story from 1914 right through to the eastern expansion of the EU in just 26 posters.

The foreign ministry appointed a special commissioner for commemorative events, but the remit of that role lies solely in coordinating the German attendance of events abroad. It remains unclear which ministry is in charge of organising events inside the country.

Angela Merkel's spokesperson, Steffen Seibert, hinted at the reason for her government's reluctance to take a lead in shaping events last week, when he said that Germany did not have a staatliche Geschichtspolitik, a state-approved policy on historical matters. Commemorative events are usually organised at federal level, rather than decreed by Berlin. The only public event scheduled for a German official won't even happen in Germany: the president Joachim Gauck will join François Hollande in Alsace on 3 August for an event to start the commemorations.

Germany's bureaucratic stasis contrasts with a welter of events, official and unofficial, digital, public and private, in the other former belligerent countries.

France has two big commemorations to mark the centenary: the first, involving more than 1,500 exhibitions, concerts, ceremonies, debates and public events to be run by an official body created for the purpose, the Mission du Centenaire ("centenary mission"). For the second it will invite thousands of descendants of war from 31 countries, from Albania to Yemen, to organise marches commemorating the destiny and suffering of their men.

In Italy Giovanni Legnini, under-secretary to the prime minister's office, has been entrusted with the programme, but a more complex array of bodies will be working together, including the ministries of defence, education and cultural heritage. Italy will kick off its commemoration events in Sarajevo. The Italian programme runs on a larger scale, from 2014 to 2018, but is limiting itself to specific war-related stories, to deliberately rein in resources.

To crown it all, an Italian movie provisionally called 14-18, written and directed by Ermanno Olmi, is earmarked to premiere at the 2014 Venice film festival.

Britain's official commemorations will include the centenary of the first day of conflict on 4 August, the start of the Battle of the Somme on 1 July 2016 and further events to mark the battles of Jutland, Gallipoli, Passchendaele and Armistice Day in 2018.

Funds are being distributed to hundreds of groups and communities for large and small schemes, including a grant that will allow the twinned towns of Newark in England and Emmendingen in Germany to recreate the Christmas 1914 football match in which opposing forces from the trenches on the western front came together in an unofficial truce.

Other beneficiaries of funding include, to their surprise, pacifist campaigners who have been allocated £95,800 for projects to raise awareness of the role of the more than 16,000 conscientious objectors.

However, the plans are not without critics, most vocally in the form of anti-war activists who have come together in a No Glory campaign backed by high-profile supporters such as the actors Jude Law and Alan Rickman and the poet laureate, Carol Ann Duffy.

Digital legacies of the centenary will be launched in most countries. In France the links between each family and what was historically the gravest test to the country's existence will be symbolised in a website created by the ministry of war veterans. There will be individual files on every soldier who "died for France".

The Italians are going for a more studious approach by implementing initiatives to create a "virtual memorial" using audio-visual, investigative and documentary elements, aimed at researchers as well as schools.

Some of the five projects that will go into the work around this site will include a sensory reconstruction of life at the front and an interactive map of the 930-mile route between the Stelvio Alpine pass (the border between Italy and the Austro-Hungarian empire) and Redipuglia (at the eastern end of the front of the Italian campaign against Austria-Hungary).

Contributor

Ben Quinn, Antoine Reverchon, Raffaello Masci and Dr Joachim Käppner

The GuardianTramp

Related Content

Article image
Kickabout that captured futility of first world war to be replayed for centenary

Exclusive: Christmas truce matches to be recreated on Belgian battlefield in 2014, with £50m set aside for school trips and exhibitions

Nick Hopkins and Richard Norton-Taylor

08, Feb, 2013 @8:27 PM

Article image
Teaching the first world war: what Europe's pupils learn about the conflict

From British pupils focusing on the trenches to Polish students studying the paintings of Otto Dix, history lessons on the war often seem to have little in common

Jonathan Lisher, Iannis Roder, Fritz Schäffer, Anna Dzierzgowska and Roberto Sandrucci

16, Jan, 2014 @7:30 AM

Article image
First world war centenary: Monday's events

A full list of the events that are taking place on Monday 4 August to mark 100 years since Britain declared war on Germany

Caroline Davies

03, Aug, 2014 @3:25 PM

Article image
First world war centenary marked on Armistice Day
People across Britain, parts of Europe and the Commonwealth observe two-minute silence in honour of war dead

Caroline Davies

11, Nov, 2014 @11:45 AM

Article image
People gather around world to mark armistice centenary
Global commemorations centred on France, where more than 60 heads of state and government gathered at the Arc de Triomphe in Paris

Esther Addley

11, Nov, 2018 @7:01 PM

Article image
Unknown fallen of the first world war honoured in schoolgirl's remembrance

Voices of the young speak out across a century, bringing life to the lost in a solemn Commonwealth service in Glasgow

Esther Addley in Glasgow

04, Aug, 2014 @8:08 PM

Article image
Echoes of 1914: are today's conflicts a case of history repeating itself?

Historian Christopher Clark on drawing parallels with 1914

Christopher Clark

16, Jan, 2014 @12:33 AM

Article image
First world war: memories of the last survivors

In a special project with four other Europa newspapers, we talk to some of the few who still recall those momentous events

Guillaume Perrier, Steven Morris, Anna Günther, Carlo Bologna and Wojciech Bielawa

22, Jan, 2014 @6:15 PM

Article image
Britain's first world war centenary plans show a reluctance to face history | Richard Norton-Taylor
Richard Norton-Taylor: The government seems intent on avoiding any serious debate about the war and its causes

Richard Norton-Taylor

12, Aug, 2013 @6:00 PM

Article image
First world war centenary is a year to honour the dead but not to glorify

Michael Morpurgo remembers the stories of sacrifice and valour that inspired him to write the acclaimed War Horse

Michael Morpurgo

01, Jan, 2014 @7:46 PM