When Henryk Nitschmann was born in 1826, Elbląg had been a town in the administrative district of Prussia (which was divided into East and West Prussia only later, in 1878) for more than fifty years. The first years of Nitschmann’s life fell in the so-called Vormärz, a time before the March Revolution and the Spring of Nations. Elbląg, which together with Koenigsberg was a bastion of liberalism, was the scene of many events characteristic of that period. There were many associations promoting progressive ideas, especially the Wednesday Society. The beginning of the nineteenth century was for Elbląg the time of acute crisis caused by the Napoleonic wars. The movement of troops, military tributes and the Continental Blockade impoverished the Elbląg region and led to the collapse of maritime trade, which had previously been one of the city’s most important economic sectors. However, in the 1820s and 1830s, the city began to recover, mainly because of the developing sugar, oil and textile industries. In 1828, a steamship was built in Elbląg, the first ship of its kind in East Prussia. In 1837, F. Schichau opened a factory that initially built and repaired machinery, a milestone for the town. During Nitschmann’s time, Elbląg also experienced rapid urban development. Since the end of the eighteenth century, the city center shifted to Friederich Wilhelm Square (today Plac Słowiański). Before the middle of the nineteenth century, several public buildings were also built, including the Municipal Theater (1846).
1. The factories of F. Schichau, the view from the bank of Elbląg river. A postcard from the end of the nineteenth century. The collections of the Museum of Archeology and History in Elbląg.
2. The Friedrich Wilhelm Square (today Plac Słowiański) in Elbląg in 1837, after T. Lockemann, Elbing, Berlin 1926.
3. “Fulda”, a first locomotive built in 1869 in the factory of F. Schichau. Figures 3 and 4 are from 100 Jahre Schichau 1837–1937, Elbing 1937
4. “Borussia”, a first steamship in Prussia, of iron construction and screw propulsion, built in the Schichau shipyard in 1855.