Napoleon defeated the Prussian army in the twin battles of Jena and Auerstedt, 210 years ago. Hundreds of re-enactors are now gathering to recreate the battles. Some of them have been marching for days to get there.
Oliver Schmidt, alias "Sans-Souci," and Maximilian Koch, alias "Pas-Perdu" are marching through the state of Thuringia, headed for Jena. They're dressed like Napoleon's soldiers - with blue tunics, white vests, and cocked hats. Schmidt and Koch are history buffs. They'll soon gather with other re-enactors at the sites where the battles of Jena and Auerstedt actually took place.
Their costumes attract attention. One local resident calls out: "Aren't you guys a few years late?" A boy asks, "Who are you supposed to be?" Schmidt hands the lad his musket - and points out that although it looks like a real gun, it's not.
The event has been organized by a group called "Arbeitsgemeinschaft Jena 1806." Up to 800 re-enactors are set to attend. Group spokeswoman Claudia Behnke says that most of them will be dressed as infantrymen, as they march across the field to the roar of cannons and the thunder of horses' hooves. Behnke adds that the participants come from Germany, France, Belgium, Italy, and Poland. Napoleon will be portrayed by Mark Schnieder, from the US.
Visitors will be able to experience a 19th-century battle, and see what life was like in the soldiers' camps. There'll also be a memorial service for the tens of thousands of soliders who were killed here.
Behnke says the re-enactment is not intended as a glorification of conflict, but as a way to bring people from different countries together. Over the years, many of the re-enactors have become friends. Schmidt and Koch say it's not so much about actually recreating the battle; it's more about putting on a uniform, travelling to the site, and getting set up. It's an adventure, and a game where everyone wins - unlike the original battles.
The uniforms and equipment have been reproduced as accurately as possible. But Schmidt and Koch know that their experience will be nothing like that of the French soldiers in 1806. Schmidt says: "Fortunately, we don't have to worry about being killed. We've got enough to eat and drink, and we have nice, friendly officers." The two Germans have been coming here for years, because it's such a special event.
On October 14, 1806, an estimated 100,000 French troops took the field at Jena and Auerstedt against more than 120,000 soldiers from Prussia and Saxony. The battles are said to have raged for several hours. The French suffered nearly 7,000 casualties, compared to 38,000 for Prussia and Saxony.