In the second half of the 19th century, another kind of traveling becomes increasingly popular among officers: military research trips. With the increasing technologization of the military, that demands scientifically qualified specialists, a phenomenon occurs in which soldiers are increasingly taking over the function of scientists. Within the context of this development, cartography and geometry hold an especially high status in the military. Many officers, especially those from the general staff, are entrusted with traveling to distant regions in order to draw maps of them. These men use this activity primarily as an opportunity to conduct ethnographical and archaeological studies. An early example of this is Major Ludwig von Wildenbruch, General Consul in Syria from 1829 to 1836, whose geographical field studies as an amateur scientist laid the groundwork that enables him to become a pioneer in Palestine studies in Prussia. Many active officers are also to be found among the traveling researchers and expedition leaders that break off into unknown regions. In doing so they fulfill several functions and tasks: while they report their findings for the scientific community, they also, not infrequently, attempt to gather information that could be of use for strategic military interests or for economic interests. This is the case, for example, when the geological trips to the Ottoman Empire also aim to secure mineral resources so that they might be exploited by German businesses. At the beginning of 1910, General Eduard von Hoffmeister undertakes a journey through Armenia in order to trace the march of the ancient Greek commander Xenophon. The scope of this task, stretching between the realms of geography and history, is further augmented by Hoffmeister’s intention to meanwhile assess the Russian-Ottoman border territories from a military perspective. Additionally, the German military instructors that, beginning in 1882, have found themselves on military missions in the Ottoman Empire, are usually able to find sufficient opportunities for travel within the land. Among these opportunities are the regular inspection trips that take men throughout the empire. Lieutenant-Colonel Colmar von der Goltz, who already had proved himself to be a talented writer, uses such opportunities to record his impressions of the land and people in several magazine articles. During the year in which he returns from the Ottoman Empire, von der Goltz publishes his book Anatolische Reisen (Anatolia Travels), an account that leaves out military concerns completely and can be seen as a pure travel book.
Finally during the First World War, in which the Ottoman Empire and Germany are allies, hundreds of officers travel to the Middle East. Even when the service in this region is ultimately compulsory, it is still perceived, as plenty of personal testimonials can attest, as an interesting journey. In addition to the mission of combat and their service obligations, these men have opportunities to investigate largely unknown cultural spaces of the Middle East. A great number of German soldiers are thereby able to reach areas that lie far from the typical travel routes. With this in mind, a German Captain named Wrobel considers to himself: „Who previously, besides single researchers, has been able to get to know the insides of the Orient so precisely?”
A look at the 19th century makes the usefulness of these officers’ travels to the Middle East evident: whether it be ultimately for the good of research and science, or for developing relationships with the Ottoman Empire. Official Prussian-Ottoman military contacts could even arise or deepen through private travels that do not have any military intentions, as in the case of Moltke or Prince August of Prussia. Especially in the second half of the 19th century, many travelers were significantly influenced by research and ultimately fulfilled a double function: the scientific investigation of the Middle East and the expansion of military or economically relevant knowledge from this region.
- Goltz, Colmar Frhr. von der: Anatolische Ausflüge. Reisebilder, Berlin 1896.
- Hoffmeister, E[duard] von: Durch Armenien. Eine Wanderung und der Zug Xenophons bis zum Schwarzen Meere. Eine Militär-Geographische Studie, Leipzig 1911.
- Moltke, Helmuth von: Briefe über Zustände und Begebenheiten in der Türkei aus den Jahren 1835 bis 1839, Berlin 1841.
- Müller, Karl Rudolph von: Briefe und Notizen betreffend Orientreise 1873, Hessisches Staatsarchiv Marburg, Bestand 340 Karl Rudolph von Müller, Nr. 6.
- Wrobel, Heinrich: Acht Kriegsmonate in der asiatischen Türkei. Meine Erlebnisse während des Feldzuges 1916 als Führer einer Kraft-Wagen-Abteilung, Berlin 1917.
Stein, Oliver: Prussian-German officers traveling in the Middle East, 1835-1914 (2015), URL: http://www.mwme.eu/essays/index.html
Translated by Westrey Page (Freie Universität Berlin)