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Battle of the Nations: War spectacle to replay French emperor Napoleon's defeat at Leipzig
Frank Samson, a 46-year-old Parisian lawyer and war-gamer (R), dressed as Napoleon Bonaparte, stands by other war-gamers in the opening event of the reenactment of the Battle of the Nations (Voelkerschlacht) in Leipzig, eastern Germany on October 16, 2013. A monument was completed in the year 1913 for the 100th anniversary of the battle also known as the battle of Leipzig, commemorating Napoleon's defeat. In October 2013, festivities to celebrate “The 200th anniversary of the Battle of the Nations and the 100th anniversary of the inauguration of the Monument to the Battle of the Nations” will be held in and around the monument in Leipzig. AFP PHOTO / DPA / JAN WOITAS.

By: Celine Le Prioux

LEIPZIG (AFP).- Thousands of war-gamers will re-enact the "Battle of the Nations" outside the German city of Leipzig on Sunday, 200 years after French emperor Napoleon suffered a critical defeat there.

In front of nearly 30,000 spectators, some 6,000 history buffs from across the continent will act out the battles of October 1813, which were among the bloodiest in 19th century Europe.

At the time, the Prussian monarchy with allies Austria, Russia, Sweden and Britain dealt another major blow to Napoleon's forces, who were already weakened by their disastrous Russian campaign.

Nearly 100,000 soldiers were killed out of the 600,000 who were mobilised for the battle from October 16 to 19 that year.

However, the re-enactment on Sunday is dedicated to the "reconciliation" of people, said Michel Kothe, a member of the Battle of the Nations Association which is organising the event.

"Contrary to what happened at the time, people from 28 nations will peacefully camp together before the battle," he said.

The star of the show will be Frank Samson, a 46-year-old Parisian lawyer who specialises in traffic offences and has already regularly assumed the mantle of the French emperor since 2005.

Like all the extras, this 19th century aficionado is a volunteer.

"It has sometimes been suggested that I get reimbursed, but for me it's a hobby," he told AFP. "In Leipzig I pay for everything."

According to him, the uniform he will wear as Napoleon cost between 1,000 and 1,500 euros ($1,300-2,000) but some other military outfits are more expensive at around 10,000 euros.

Just like Samson, who takes his wife and two sons to almost all his Napoleonic adventures, many of the rank and file extras have also convinced women and children to participate in the show.

To perfect his role, Samson has spent a year and half learning Corsican, Napoleon's mother tongue. "I never speak English on a battlefield because Napoleon didn't know the language," he said.

He has also practised horse riding for seven years. As a lawyer, he said, he is used to "role-playing".

He says that to impersonate Napoleon, he has learnt to play a man who is "irritable and choleric" and walks so quickly "that the officers are constantly running after me".

He said Napoleon was often yelling at his officers, for which he was "worshipped by the soldiers".

Samson is at 1.72 metres (5.6 feet) is two centimetres (0.79 inches) taller than his historic hero, as recorded by the British doctor who performed the autopsy.

The growing enthusiasm for such large-scale battle re-enactments, said Kothe, is explained by the fact it allows people to "relive history" much more authentically than in "a dusty museum".

The victory of Leipzig in 1813 signalled the end of Napoleonic domination of the German states and had a huge impact there.

"It became a powerful national myth," said Martin Schulz, the German president of the European Parliament, who will deliver a speech Friday night in the eastern German city.

Germany, for centuries made up of a multitude of small states, would continue its long march towards unity following the Leipzig battle. This culminated in 1871 under Prussian leadership after France had again been defeated.

If Samson took "pleasure to gallop in the snow at Austerlitz", one of the great Napoleonic victories, in 1805, he is also looking forward to re-enacting Napoleon's final defeat, which will have its bicentennial two years from now, at Waterloo in Belgium.

© 1994-2013 Agence France-Presse

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