The Hohenzollern dynasty returns to haunt Germany, Les Echos Weekend

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Since the end of its renovation that cost 10 million euros last year, it rutile. The Cecilienhof, set in the greenery between a crystalline lake lined with dream villas, home to many German celebrities, and a majestic arm of peaceful Havel, is more than ever a major tourist attraction for the city of Potsdam, some 30 km from Berlin. The castle, built around five inner courtyards, dominated by 55 different chimneys, is filled with the historical role it played at the end of the Second World War. It was there that in the summer of 1945 Winston Churchill, Harry Truman and Joseph Stalin settled the fate of the vanquished powers in what remained in history books as the Potsdam conference.

Since this year, the mansion, built in Tudor style at the beginning of the 20the century, has new reasons to attract the curious. He is at the heart of a long-held secret but today very public guerrilla war between the Hohenzollerns, his former owners, on the one hand, and the German State, the Land of Berlin and the Land of Brandenburg, of the other. The former imperial family made a claim for compensation for its expropriation by Soviet forces after 1944.

Winston Churchill, Harry Truman and Joseph Stalin in the Cecilienhof Gardens, 1945, for the Potsdam Conference, which was held at the castle requisitioned by the Soviet Army © Tallandier / Rue des Archives

Represented by Prince George Frederick of Prussia, 43, the great-great-grandson of the last Emperor William II who abdicated in November 1918, the dynasty claimed money, thousands of works of art exhibited in museums in the Berlin region or elsewhere, for example Cranach, and a residency right at the Cecilienhof – or in other castles. The 1926 agreement between the Weimar Republic and the Hohenzollerns guaranteed them the right to occupy 39 castles and property over their contents.

Opinions differ

The case, revealed in all its magnitude by Der Spiegel last summer, met an even greater echo in Germany in mid-November, after the satirist Jan BOhmermann devoted a lot of air time in his weekly show on the public channel ZDF-Neo. The comedian has not only shot red on Prince George-Frederick, for which was created a flattering hashtag, #prinzdumm (stupid prince), which has some success on Twitter, but he also made available the public, on the dedicated site hohenzollern.lol, the four expertises asked of historians.

The challenge is to know what role the Hohenzollerns, and especially Kronprinz, son of William II, played in the accession to power of Hitler's NDSAP. Because the 1994 law invoked by George-Frederick of Prussia, which provides for the right to compensation for persons expropriated by the Soviet Union, stipulates a strict condition: "That they did not support the Nazi regime. "

View of the Humbolt Forum, still under construction. This Berlin museum, which will open next year, is the identical reconstruction of Berlin Castle, the Hohenzollern's main residence until the fall of the empire © Stephan Falk / BAUBILD

The conclusions of the specialists diverge, it is an understatement. Wolfram Pyta believes that Kronprinz has "Played an active role in the attempts to prevent the arrival of Hitler at the Chancery. After January 1933, he actively refused the National Socialist system and kept close from the beginning of the resistance networks. "

Christopher Clark also exempts the Crown Prince, but in a less glorious way, concluding that "Its inability to act effectively in a complex and ever-changing political environment". Stephan Malinowski and Peter Brandt, on the other hand, recognize the prince as a decisive contribution to the rise of the dictator. According to Peter Brandt, he even fed "The hope of playing an eminent role in the new political configuration".

Few supporters in the opinion

Despite the media coverage of the file, the federal government does not venture to comment. Regional officials, on the other hand, do not hide their irritation. The Social Democratic Prime Minister of Brandenburg (of which Potsdam is the capital) declared that he did not count "To be treated in this way" by the Hohenzollern, believing that their "Way of communicating recently has deteriorated the climate of discussions", which actually started in the 1990s.

In the absence of amicable compromise, even if the heirs of William II have in recent weeks suggested that they could abandon some claims, it is likely that the courts will decide. Georges-Frederic has already lost last June a trial to recover the castle of Rheinfels, built on the banks of the Rhine, not far from the famous rock Lorelei, the Nix of Germanic mythology which attracts by its songs the navigators of the river until 'to their perdition.

Georges-Frederic de Prusse (here with his wife Sophie), head of Hohenzollern © EPP / SPUS / ABACAPRESS.COM

The Hohenzollern, who find (very) little support in the opinion, are also, this time indirectly, mixed up with another controversy, around the identical reconstruction – decided by the federal state – of their gigantic castle historic Berlin. Bombed in 1945, the palace was demolished in 1950 by the East German government which built in its place the famous Palast der Republik, seat of the House of the People, which was in turn destroyed after the reunification – not without hurting the memory of many East Germans. Starting next year, this gigantic space called Humboldt Forum, a tribute to the Humboldt brothers, is to house collections of extra-European art today scattered in smaller, confidential museums.

The project triggered a debate on the origin of these works, sometimes taken by force in African countries such as Benin or Cameroon, and the opportunity to return them. The Germans then discovered new gray areas in their colonial history, long neglected by the Nazi regime and the communist dictatorship. In his satirical program, Jan BOhmermann was surprised that the state could discuss with the Hohenzollern on possible restitution, but does not apologize for the Herero genocide in Namibia, conducted under their reign. While she has just celebrated the 30th anniversary of the fall of the Berlin Wall, Germany has not finished with her examinations of conscience.

The Hohenzollern in five dates

1192: Appearance of the coat of arms in Swabia (south-west Germany).

1415: The younger branch of Franconia obtains the march of Brandenburg.

1701: Birth of the Kingdom of Prussia.

1871: Proclamation of the German Empire.

1918: Abdication of the Emperor William II.





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