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John Riceburg: A Prussian palace?

Berlin needs a palace to honor the ruling dynasty of Brandenburg and Prussia: the Hohenzollern. But who were these Hohenzollern people? John Riceburg took a trip to the Brandenburg-Preussen-Museum to find the answer.

Image for John Riceburg: A Prussian palace?
The Königsschloss (1852). Courtesy of the British Library

Just last week, the roof was completed on the Berliner Schloss. I can’t help wondering: Why does Mitte need a brand new palace? Will that new building include affordable apartments? It seems unlikely. But no, Berlin needs a palace to honour the ruling dynasty of Brandenburg and Prussia: the Hohenzollern.

Who are these Hohenzollern people, you might ask? I took a trip to the Brandenburg-Preussen-Museum to find the answer. The quaint Brandenburg village of Wustrau, just 50km outside of Berlin, houses a small, private museum about the dynasty that ruled the kingdom of Prussia (not to be confused with Russia, ruled by the dynasty of Putin) for hundreds of years.

When you think of the Prussian kings, who also served as the German emperors starting in 1871, you might think of the guys who started some World War. But the museum, set up by a banker and amateur historian, informs us helpfully: the Prussians were actually really, really great.

Take slavery, for example. Did you know that in contrast to the monstrous Americans, the Prussians outlawed slavery? (Of course, they did set up a slave-trading colony, Groß-Friedrichsburg, in modern-day Ghana in 1683, and kidnapped at least 20,000 Africans over 35 years, but somehow the museum totally overlooks that.)

Do you think of the German Empire as an oppressive place? As we learn in the museum, it was apparently a real workers’ paradise, with health care, retirement insurance and a prohibition of child labour – things that don’t exist in the USA even to this day. (For some reason the museum forgets to mention how workers’ political parties were persecuted by the Kaisers.) 

Sure, Prussia might have had a three-tiered voting system, which gave the majority seats in parliament to the rich, but a sign explains that this was much more democratic than the British system at the time. And the Prussian king dictated a very enlightened constitution.

Even World War I, you will learn in Wustrau, was started by greedy England in order to stop the peaceful rise of splendid Prussia. Poor Germany, forced into the war, tried to end it in 1917, but it was needlessly prolonged by evil New York bankers.

Now, some might call this museum historical revisionism or even jingoism. But it can’t be, because it’s in a museum, right?

All sarcasm aside, after visiting this exhibition, one wonders: If Prussia was so great, why aren’t the Hohenzollern around anymore?

The exhibition limits this important information to a tiny card: The Kaiser resigned on November 9, 1918 – but why? The museum refuses to say. Let me fill in this gap: There had been uprisings across Germany calling for a republic. The head of government knew the emperor had to go. Wilhelm II refused, so his government simply announced he had resigned. The monarch fled to Holland and finally abdicated a month later.

The museum’s exhibition ends with a picture of the current head of the House of Hohenzollern, Georg Friedrich, Prince of Prussia. They somehow skip over the Hohenzollerns who were active in the Nazi party.

Do the people behind the museum belong to Germany’s rather silly monarchist scene? They don’t say. But there are plenty of people who want a king to move into that otherwise useless new palace.

If you ask me, I support Martin Sonneborn’s demand to blow up the Stadtschloss as soon as it’s completed. There’s even a party planned for the 100th anniversary of the first demolition, scheduled for 2050. While we’re at it, we could blow up that museum too.