Exhibit Review, November 2005



How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love Prussia

Narratives of Hohenzollern history in the exhibits: “Luise’s Paretz – ein königlicher Landsitz um 1800,” permanent exhibit in Schloss Paretz; and “Lange Kerls: Muster, Mythos oder Maskerade,” in Schloss Königs Wusterhausen, July 3rd to October 3 rd, 2005.

Reviewed for H-German by Eva Giloi, Department of History, Rutgers University, Newark

The Stasi may be gone; the Fernsehturm and its surveillance equipment may lie dormant. But today another kind of gaze troubles the heart of Berlin. It comes from Frederick the Great, scowling at tourists on Unter den Linden. I do not refer, here, to the equestrian statue of Frederick that dates back to the mid-19 th century, and that, erected on a middle island of this spacious thoroughfare, is never close enough to give one much of a fright. No, I speak of the enormous bust of Prussia’s illustrious monarch, ten times larger than life, that glares out from the shop window of the award-winning Buchhandlung Berlin Story at Unter den Linden 40. Nor does Frederick’s reign end at the shop window: inside the store, Frederick busts and portraits hold court among the usual selection of Berlin souvenirs – t-shirts and teddy bears, Ampelmännchen and miniature Trabis. Most tellingly, however, he joins his fellow Hohenzollerns on a poster showing the “Family Tree of the Hohenzollerns,” hanging on a column above a football-sized piece of the Berlin Wall (the latter priced at an optimistic 500 Euros). This juxtaposition in particular gives us a sense of how much the fortunes of the House of Hohenzollern are changing these days, for it is a pairing that would have been unthinkable before 1989. The Berlin Wall was itself so potent a piece of material culture, so over-determined in its symbolism, that it crushed efforts (in the West) to celebrate a pre-Nazi German past. The Wall was the ever-present reminder of the German Question, that is, of the need to divide Germany into two impotent halves lest yet another war find its origins on Prussian soil.

That the Hohenzollerns, so roundly blamed for having turned Prussia into “an army with a state” rather than the other way around, can now be positioned without irony above a symbol of the outcome of their military mindset is evidence that Berlin’s identity is in flux. The older identity, which understood West Berlin’s isolated position as much as an act of atonement for Nazi crimes as an outpost of Western freedom, is being supplanted by an identity that seeks to incorporate the Prussian past. But this past is still a problematic past. Not all historical figures – and certainly not all Hohenzollerns – lend themselves equally well to this project. With the ascendancy of the revisionists of the 1960s and the subsequent Sonderweg interpretation of German history, the origins of the Nazi regime were traced back to what was considered the unique, feudalistic and militaristic ethos of the Prussian state. Moreover, so the argument went, this militarism was directly promoted by the Hohenzollerns – by Friedrich Wilhelm I and Frederick the Great in their privileging of the army over civil society; by Friedrich Wilhelm III in his refusal to grant a constitution; by Friedrich Wilhelm IV in his suppression of the 1848 revolution and its democratic potential; by Wilhelm I in his approval of Bismarck’s manipulation and undermining of the German liberal movement; and by Wilhelm II who, with his delusions of grandeur (as captured in his Weltpolitik), plunged Europe into the First World War. Based on this view of history, one would expect a relatively poor prognosis for the potential of Hohenzollern history to act as a medium of identification, let alone enjoyment, of the Prussian past.

How to reconcile this, then, with the fact that, as the Buchhandlung Berlin Story’s souvenir tables attest, the Prussian monarchs are coming back into fashion? The bookstore itself provides a clue in a triptych of murals that grace its façade on Unter den Linden, and that are intended to sum up the new Berlin identity. The first portrait depicts the actress Franka Potente, from the 1998 film Lola rennt (Run Lola Run), who, as a caption to the mural explains, “runs through the new Berlin, making it known throughout the world and contributing to a young, creative image of the city.” Lola is alternative (as a member of the techno scene), resourceful and clever, and has a rich daddy whom she roundly rejects as self-centered and authoritarian (read: the German government now settled in Berlin); she is the ideal icon of the Love Parade generation. The second mural seems, at first sight, to stand in jarring contrast to this young, hip self-image, for it depicts Queen Luise. Yet, despite the initial sense of dissonance, the two women are in fact presented in very similar terms in the two murals. Like Lola, Luise is portrayed as a young and “charming woman” (as the caption tells us); she, too, was running, in her case from the Corsican conqueror, as she was forced into exile from 1806-1809. And Luise, too, is presented as a proto-feminist figure, in that, as we are told by the caption, she “became a strong woman who stood up to Napoleon when he occupied Prussia.” The third mural, finally, centers on the ubiquitous Frederick the Great, who, according to the caption, “turned Prussia into a European power. The enlightened monarch was a friend of Voltaire, played the flute and composed music.” Through a clever, albeit no doubt unintentional, sleight of hand, one is led to believe that it was through his wise and gentle, artistic ways – and not his armies and the ruthless devastation of his wars – that Frederick made Prussia a power to be reckoned with. Together, the murals give a guide on how to stop worrying and enjoy Prussian history: the Hohenzollerns can be integrated into the image of the ‘new Berlin,’ as long as they are limited to Frederick and Luise as symbols of art and culture, feminist determination and feminine charm.

This, at least, is the implication of the Buchhandlung Berlin Story’s iconography. But to what extent is this same strategy used in official circles, and in particular by the Stiftung Preussischer Schlösser und Gärten Berlin-Brandenburg (hereafter SPSG), the administrative authority responsible for the restoration and exhibition of the Hohenzollern palaces? The question is not an insignificant one. In its position as guardian of the Hohenzollern palaces, the SPSG has a direct hand in determining how Prussian history is perceived by the general public (as represented by the two million visitors who troop through its palaces every year). One might say that the SPSG occupies a bridging position between academia, which is still on the whole suspicious of Prussia, and the public, some members of which seem eager to find a more positive, unproblematic connection to the German past (hence their willingness to purchase Hohenzollern souvenirs). Moreover, the SPSG has found itself in a uniquely influential position in that so many dilapidated palaces, in need of extensive rehabilitation, have fallen into its hands as a result of reunification. Some of these structures had already undergone preliminary renovations during the last years of the GDR, when the East German government was searching for ways to shore up its legitimacy in the face of disastrous economic policies. Erich Honecker apparently hoped to give his government a veneer of respectability by styling it, in the 1980s, as the legitimate heir to the highlights of German history (from Luther to Frederick the Great). But as curators working for the SPSG explain [1], due to the prevalent use of gray plaster, the GDR’s renovation efforts gave the old Hohenzollern residences a “gloomy and unfriendly appearance.” The “political turning-point” of 1989 allowed the SPSG to give the palaces a brighter façade. Did it also allow them to give Hohenzollern history a more cheerful gloss?

When it comes to Frederick the Great, the answer is close at hand. Even a brief glance at Schloss Sanssouci – the SPSG’s crown jewel, as it were – reveals that the palace lends itself quite naturally to the same kind of aesthetic and philosophical emphasis evident in the murals of the Buchhandlung Berlin Story. Nor is this an entirely anachronistic view, if one considers Frederick’s own relationship to the palace. Frederick intended Sanssouci to be a place “without cares,” replete with precious materials and luxury arts, but far from the brutality of the battlefield. [2] As such, the palace was dedicated to the splendor of royal representation as well as to aesthetic, intellectual and (not least) culinary pleasures. From the outset, Sanssouci’s statuary depicted Pan and Bacchus, Athena and Apollo (as representations of the sciences and the arts), not scenes from Frederick’s battles. Nor does the present-day visitor readily discern that some of the flooring in the Marble Hall is made of Silesian marble, which represents only a “subtle hint of the power of the King” (as the SPSG’s guide to Sanssouci notes).[3] In Sanssouci, Frederick is readily represented in the same guise as he appears in Adolf Menzel’s famous paintings König Friedrichs II Tafelrund in Sanssouci and Flötenkonzert Friedrichs des Grossen in Sanssouci – an image to which Menzel’s own, recent rehabilitation as 19 th century Germany’s master painter has no doubt contributed.

With Queen Luise, however, the case is rather different. Luise is not linked to aesthetic or intellectual movements as is Frederick. Her historical noteworthiness has instead long been tied to her comeliness, her role as wife and mother, and her contretemps with Napoleon – none of which carry the high-mindedness of Frederick’s philosophical musings or love of the flute. Moreover, as Philipp Demandt has demonstrated, [4] 19th and early 20th century interpretations of Luise’s historical significance often stressed her ability to inspire hatred and aggression, to the point that Luise was used to great effect as a war icon in 1813, 1870, 1914 and 1939. At the same time, 19 th century iconography linked Luise inextricably with her second son, Wilhelm I, who was regarded as avenging her sacrifice to Napoleon in the Franco-Prussian War; this is the same Wilhelm I charged with having allowed Bismarck to manipulate German liberals into giving up their political birthright and adopting a feudalized mentality. These are associations that make Luise, for all of her charm, potentially problematic for full-scale rehabilitation by the SPSG.

A superficial look at how the SPSG handles Luise’s legacy – a look into its museum gift shops – suggests that the SPSG is trying to tap into the same sunny narrative that we encounter in the Buchhandlung Berlin Story’s murals. Not only is there a trivialization (or Verharmlosung) of Luise in the objects on display – Luise napkins and music boxes sit alongside Frederick umbrellas, bonbons and refrigerator magnets – but the books on offer tap squarely into the romantic potential represented by Luise. In titles such as Preussische Liebesbriefe (Prussian Love Letters), Schlösser und Amouren: Preussische Liebesgeschichten (Palaces and Amours: Prussian Love Stories), Geliebte Luise (Beloved Luise), Königin Luise von Preussen: ein Stern in Wetterwolken (Queen Luise of Prussia: a Star in Stormy Skies), etc. etc., Luise is depicted as a lovely and loving queen consort, who, through absolutely no fault of her own, died at a tragically young age at the hands of the nefarious Napoleon. The propagandistic potential of Luise as a “guardian angel” leading German troops into war, which motivated young soldiers from 1814 to 1914, is quietly glossed over. (With no apparent sense of irony, in the midst of all of this anecdotal nostalgia lies Sebastian Haffner’s more critical Preussen ohne Legende (Prussia without Legends).)

But although the romanticization of Luise pervades the souvenirs and popular literature that can be purchased in the SPSG’s gift shops, it is by no means the narrative that guides its exhibition “Luise’s Paretz – ein königlicher Landsitz um 1800” (Luise’s Paretz – a royal country estate around 1800). [5] A permanent exhibition set in Schloss Paretz, “Luise’s Paretz” is refreshingly free from the myth-making that steeps the Luise cottage industry in its saccharine nostalgia. To the contrary, Luise does not emerge very clearly in the exhibit either as a cult figure or as a real, historical person, and one cannot help but feel that the exhibit’s curators are not particularly interested in Luise herself.

Roughly twenty kilometers north of Potsdam, Schloss Paretz served as Queen Luise and King Friedrich Wilhelm III’s summer country home, usually for only two to three weeks at the end of August, until the defeat at Jena in 1806 put an end to these pleasure trips. More a seigniorial manor house than a royal palace, given the modesty of its layout and façade, Paretz allowed the royal couple to escape the strictures of court etiquette and indulge in an elaborate game of play-acting, namely that they were simple gentlemen farmers. It was for this reason that Paretz became the “foundation of the myth of the secluded, bourgeois family life of the royal family” (falsely so, as the exhibit explains). After Luise’s death, Paretz became a shrine to the deceased queen, in the popular imagination as much as in Friedrich Wilhelm III’s treatment of its relics, such that Theodor Fontane could note in 1869 that Paretz was “now only a place for memories and quiet contemplation.” [6]

Instead of fostering these twin narratives of longing, the “Luise’s Paretz” exhibit debunks the former (the myth of bourgeois domesticity) and eschews the latter (the sentimentalization of Luise’s death). The exhibit inhabits only about half of the palace’s rooms – rooms which are devoid of decoration, as restoration efforts were not able to salvage the rooms’ interior décor. Within these relatively bare walls are exhibited items intended to illuminate life at Paretz; few of them, however, feel directly connected to Luise. The dinner menu and gaming chips, sewing basket and Ossian’s poems are more evocative of the everyday social routines of Paretz than of Luise as a person; for the latter to be the case, more textual explanation of the objects would be necessary. And indeed, the exhibit generally offers few descriptions of the events of Luise’s life, the historical context in which she moved, or her historical significance. Napoleon, for instance, plays no part in Paretz’s narrative. More surprisingly (given the preoccupations of Paretz’s gift shop), the exhibit does not dwell on the details of Luise’s relationship with Friedrich Wilhelm III – there are no “Prussian love letters” here. Instead, the exhibit offers some very important correctives to the image of familial bliss that formed the bedrock of the Luise myth. For instance, the exhibit very rightly points out that, much as the royal parents expressed a greater amount of affection for their children than had been the norm in the 18 th century, they still spent only very little time with their offspring. Royal children paid their parents short visits during the day, and were relegated for the most part to the care of nurse maids and tutors. But while the royal children were not always present at Paretz, other court retainers were. Thus the exhibit also rectifies the image of a royal family secluded in the intimacy of its domestic circle. As the menus and extensive seating arrangements attest, Paretz was a busy social forum, one which required, in 1802, seventy-five carriages to carry all of the guests and servants for a two-week stay. Paretz was therefore not a quiet, bürgerliches, family retreat, but rather a pleasure palace in which select members of the court could fancy themselves country squires.

As for the beatification of Luise, to which Schloss Paretz contributed in the 19 th and early 20 th centuries as a self-consciously constructed shrine, the “Luise’s Paretz” exhibit avoids such mystification entirely. The fact that there is virtually no mention of Napoleon has the effect of circumventing the pathos of Luise’s death. The only memento mori that the exhibit offers is the shawl that Luise had worn at Paretz a few weeks before her death; it finds its way into the exhibit by virtue of the fact that Friedrich Wilhelm III had lain it across Luise’s bed in Paretz in her memory, before finally donating it to the local church as a relic. Even so, the room’s explanatory panel emphasizes the tendency for myth-making that surrounded Luise, thus interpreting the shawl as evidence of how myths are created, rather than of the tragedy of Luise’s death. In a further act of demystification, the curators expressly brought over a night-stool from the royal estate on the Pfaueninsel, to place it in Paretz’s Retirade (lavatory); standing there in splendid isolation, the night-stool acts as a reminder that Luise was not an ‘angel,’ as she was styled in the 19 th century, but a flesh and blood mortal, with all of the frailties and follies that that implies.

The true center of gravity in Paretz lies not in the “Luise’s Paretz” exhibit, however, but in the other half of the palace, which contains an (untitled) permanent display of the palace’s interior décor. Unlike in the rooms housing “Luise’s Paretz,” in these rooms the painted wallpaper panels and other decorations have been painstakingly restored. On the other hand, these rooms contain no explanatory narratives to situate Luise or her family in the rooms. Instead, the texts focus exclusively on the specifics of the décor. Likewise, while these rooms contain some period furniture – tables and chairs mostly – they contain few other relics relating to Luise or her family. The true subjects of this, more elaborately constructed half of Paretz are thus not Luise, but the precious wallpaper panels that decorate the walls as examples of the wallpaper industry native to Berlin in the early 19 th century. Indeed, the bulk of the SPSG’s renovation efforts in Paretz – as well as the curators’ palpable enthusiasm – have been devoted to salvaging these wallpaper panels (upwards of 1.5 million D-Marks were donated to this end by the Cornelsen Kulturstiftung Berlin [7] ). To give emphasis to this orientation, four further rooms in Paretz chronicle the restoration efforts, with extensive documentation, including a video presentation, on how the palace was rehabilitated after the damage it had suffered after 1945 (first as school for farm children, then as a school for animal-husbandry), until its opening as a museum in 2001. A modest, tasteful and intelligent exhibit, Paretz is a love letter to the SPSG’s restoration of neglected palaces after the fall of the wall, as well as to the charms of early 19 th century interior décor. It is anything but a nostalgic invocation of ‘beloved Luise.’

Like Schloss Paretz, Schloss Königs Wusterhausen represents a major post-reunification restoration project, opened to the public in September 2000. Unlike Paretz and Sanssouci, however, Königs Wusterhausen is linked to one of the less palatable individuals in Prussian history, Friedrich Wilhelm I, the Soldatenkönig (Soldier King), who used the rather unassuming palace to indulge in one of his few passions: the hunt. “Lange Kerls: Muster, Mythos oder Maskerade,” an exhibit in Königs Wusterhausen on display from July 3 rd to October 3 rd, 2005, is dedicated to Friedrich Wilhelm I’s other main passion, the unusually tall grenadiers whom he collected at great expense and drilled, as an honor guard, with great love and diligence. But Friedrich Wilhelm I was nick-named the ‘Soldier King’ not only because he was notorious for spending vast sums of money on his giant soldiers, nor because he was one of the few monarchs who conspicuously, and exclusively, wore a uniform in an age that otherwise preferred the splendor of baroque representation. The designation was also based on more tangible statistics: during his twenty-seven year reign, he increased the size of the Prussian army from 38,000 to 84,000 troops. [8] Perhaps ironically, it was his love of soldiers and drill that made him loath to lose his troops in actual combat, so that Prussia enjoyed an extended time of peace under the Soldier King’s reign. In terms of a rehabilitation of Hohenzollern history, then, the “Lange Kerls” exhibit is significant for the fact that it must deal with the issue of Prussian militarism head-on.

The exhibit is the result of a collaboration between the SPSG and the Geheimes Staatsarchiv Preussischer Kulturbesitz (and the latter’s director, Jürgen Kloosterhuis, in particular). [9] Not only does it offer a physical companion piece to Kloosterhuis’ monumental text Legendäre “Lange Kerls”: Quellen zur Regimentskultur der Königsgrenadiere Friedrich Wilhelms I 1713-1740 (2003), it also benefits, as a result of this collaboration, from a rich amount of documentary evidence from the Geheimes Staatsarchiv. The main parts of the exhibit inhabit the second and third floors of Königs Wusterhausen, with each floor taking on its own agenda. The second floor is geared towards debunking the myths that surround the grenadiers, and, by association, those that equally became attached to Friedrich Wilhelm I. Indeed, Friedrich Wilhelm I is portrayed as the victim of “risqué stories and wrongful accusations,” and the exhibit provides multiple examples of such “incomplete or distorted biographies” in the form of a century’s worth of second-rate books on the king. Breaking from this tradition, the exhibit argues that Friedrich Wilhelm I, unfairly overshadowed by his more famous son (Frederick the Great), deserves recognition as one of the most “effective rulers of his time” because of his hard work. This sense of duty and discipline is given tangible substance in a set of cases containing the hefty volumes of minutes from Friedrich Wilhelm’s privy council; as it turns out, Friedrich Wilhelm I issued an average of sixteen regulations per day. (That this voluminous documentation also speaks of a certain pedantry – as the 19 th century saw it [10] – is not emphasized in the exhibit.)

For the most part, however, the displays on the second floor seek to rectify Friedrich Wilhelm’s image more obliquely, through an examination of his treatment of the grenadiers. Indeed, as already noted, 19 th century (and particularly English) accounts liked to stress Friedrich Wilhelm I’s violent and uncouth ways, noting that his famous tobacco pipes were “such as a billingsgate fishwoman would disdain to use,” [11] or that the “irascible” king “was wont to thrash any idle woman he might encounter in the street.” [12] “Lange Kerls” makes a strong case that – whatever his attitudes towards idle women – Friedrich Wilhelm I’s treatment of his beloved grenadiers was always fair, solicitous, and above board. The documentary evidence comes in particularly strongly here, debunking some legends, while confirming others as based in truth. It turns out that most of the grenadiers were not kidnapped and smuggled into the country by coffin, but were instead legitimately recruited, and, once on Prussian soil, well-treated and well-paid – as their contracts demonstrate. Equally, the hymn books issued to grenadiers attest to the king’s religious care for his soldiers. On the other hand, other documents confirm that the Soldier King set his military hobbies above artistic concerns or even financial interests, as he traded such valuable assets as the famed amber cabinet from the Berlin Schloss to Peter the Great for fifty-five tall grenadiers, just as he traded a set of priceless Chinese vases with King August II von Sachsen-Polen for twelve recruits.

Altogether, the material evidence on this second floor is judiciously chosen, giving a rich, deep texture to the individual elements of Friedrich Wilhelm I’s style of governance. It also represents a welcome corrective to the caricatures of Friedrich Wilhelm I that grew up around him, especially in the 19th century. Even so, one cannot help but feel that the exhibit errs at times in the opposite direction, as it gives little attention to some of the less attractive sides of Friedrich Wilhelm I’s character. Based on what one sees in Königs Wusterhausen, one can see why a tall grenadier might have considered himself content in his relatively favored position. One finds it more difficult, however, to understand the depth of despair that Frederick the Great, for instance, felt at his father’s court – to the point of plotting to commit the high treason of escaping to England to set up a rival court – if all that Friedrich Wilhelm I was guilty of was indulging in “the enjoyment of strong beer and tobacco” and “coarse jokes and degrading pranks,” but nothing worse than that.

The third floor moves on to another agenda, namely an exact and thorough reconstruction of the military life of the grenadiers. This floor is a military buff’s heaven, with weaponry on display, videos reenacting shooting techniques, and fife and drum music piped in on hidden speakers. More importantly, it also contains extensive documentary evidence chronicling battle plans and maneuvers, army regulations, regiment books, and court martial decisions. The care with which Jürgen Kloosterhuis has researched the topic “grenadiers” comes out most clearly, perhaps, in the display of parish register entries from 1713-1740, which are used in the exhibit to illuminate the social structure of the royal regiments. On a pictorial level, the portraits that grace the third floor’s entry hall give a human face to the grenadiers, turning them into individuals, and demonstrating visually what the documents seek to confirm in textual terms: that the grenadiers were “people made of flesh and blood,” even “self-assured soldiers in a self-regulating military organization,” rather than – as legend has it – “ground down through coercion and drill to will-less cogs in a violent war machinery.” The overall effect is a revision of the traditional understanding of Friedrich Wilhelm I’s military “reform program,” which, in Gordon Craig’s classic account, required “subordinating the total energies” of the Prussian state and its subjects to the maintenance of the army, such that “the institutional framework, the economic activity, and even the social organization of Prussia were determined in large part by the needs of the army.” [13] In “Lange Kerls,” Friedrich Wilhelm I’s reforms are construed as an “efficient expansion of the army to be a guarantor of stability in foreign politics and a significant economic factor” – thus helping to support a peace-time society. One can not help but read a subtle subtext to this exhibit: the image of Prussia as an ‘army with a state,’ as a realm of spineless subordinates (Untertane) and a feudalistic hierarchy, is as much a distortion as the 19 th century caricatures of Friedrich Wilhelm I.

But while the second and third floors’ agendas seem quite clear, it is the exhibition room on the first floor that has the most intriguing and ambiguous intentions. One imagines, from this first floor room, that when the curators were first setting up the exhibit, they were confronted with the prospect that lanky soldiers would, in and of themselves, be unable to pique the interest of those about to enter the upper exhibition floors – that, unless properly prepped, visitors might respond to the idea of tall soldiers with an indifferent “so what?” The first floor room is thus intended to whet the visitor’s appetite for everything to do with “Lange Kerls.” And what a bizarre set of objects are on display here! The poster announcing the exhibition of one of Wilhelm II’s favorite grenadiers at a fun fair in 1914 taps into our own age’s taste for spectacular and freakish entertainment. The skeleton of an anonymous grenadier, which Friedrich Wilhelm I had donated to the royal anatomical theater, makes us suspect that the king himself was drawn to the grenadiers as much for their freakish nature as their military potential. Particularly interesting is the series of commercial objects that utilized the grenadiers’ image. Not only do they give a succinct overview of how legends develop over time, but they also provide a view into the development of a consumer-based economy, in which commodities become ever more trivial, novel, even outlandish, in the attempt to lure buyers. Thus, the tin soldiers and commemorative plates of the 19 th century finally turned, by the end of the 20 th century, into egg warmers shaped like miniature grenadier caps and a brand of extra-long sausages called “Lange Kerls.”

The memorabilia on display in this first floor room serves a number of functions. On a most obvious level, it shows how bizarre the myths surrounding the grenadiers were, as a precursor to rectifying them in the upper rooms. On a slightly deeper level, it provides us with a reason why we should care about grenadiers: if so many generations of Germans were interested in the soldiers and the legends surrounding them, then surely they must be important. But in its choice of display objects, this introductory room also sets out a narrative that serves as a guide on how to enjoy Hohenzollern history, and Prussian history more generally. It does so by drawing on two historical entities and their relationships to the grenadiers – but here, the two entities in question are not Frederick the Great and Queen Luise. This time, it is Wilhelm II and the Nazis, both of whom are evoked as having abused the grenadier legend – and the Prussian legacy in general – for their own, nefarious political ends. As one panel explains, Wilhelm II staged lavish costume balls and tableaux vivantes featuring the grenadiers as propaganda tools to broadcast his reactionary, anti-liberal and militaristic political worldview (the assumption being that this differed fundamentally from Friedrich Wilhelm I’s worldview?). The same panel goes on to note that “national-socialist propaganda in turn instrumentalized the king and his grenadiers as the embodiment of their understanding of the Prussian “spirit of Potsdam.””

Herein lies the kernel, then, of how to enjoy the history of even such a potentially problematic figure as Friedrich Wilhelm I – one whose coarse gruffness excludes him from the aesthetic celebration that surrounds Frederick the Great, and the romantic sentimentality that suffuses the popular literature on Queen Luise. For Friedrich Wilhelm I, rehabilitation can occur most effectively by deflecting blame onto the two most obvious symbols of German military aggression, Wilhelm II and the Nazis. It is an approach that is, of course, ambiguous in its implications. On the one hand, it fails to address questions of how Friedrich Wilhelm I may himself have contributed to building up a military machine – and more importantly, a military ethos in the state bureaucracy – that Wilhelm II or the Nazis could later draw upon. On the other hand, it frees the visitor from anachronistic interpretations and an unfairly teleological approach to history, one which works backwards from the Nazis to earlier Prussian history to explain how it was that the land of “Dichter und Denker” (poets and philosophers) could become a land of “Richter und Henker” (judges and executioners). Ambiguous as this approach is, it is perhaps necessary if those with an interest in 18 th century military maneuvers – as well as those with an interest in Hohenzollern history more generally – are to be able to pursue those interests without being locked into an eternal examination of 20 th century German guilt. Unless every museum that touches upon the topic of Prussia and/or the Hohenzollerns is to become an overt Mahnmal (hortatory memorial), this kind of distancing might be necessary.

It is a strategy that will become more difficult, however, in future, slated renovation projects – both those of the SPSG, such as Schloss Babelsberg (the summer residence of Wilhelm I, currently under renovation), and that of the Berlin Schloss (postponed until German state finances are placed on a more solid footing). It is more difficult to divorce these two palaces from the devastating events of the early 20 th century, as their inhabitants – Wilhelm I in the former, Wilhelm II as the last occupant of the latter – were much more directly responsible for setting into motion events that laid the groundwork for the turn to the radical right (with all due respect to the historical contingencies that made that turn a reality). What might seem like an inappropriate, teleological charge of responsibility in Friedrich Wilhelm I’s case, becomes a much more legitimate, direct indictment in the case of his late 19 th century descendants.

The SPSG’s gift shops give the visitor a tangible feel for this. There is not – nor can there be, at present – a cottage industry of Wilhelm I or Wilhelm II souvenirs to rival that of Luise or Frederick. And no wonder: the few souvenirs in the gift shops that pertain to the Wilhelms immediately call to mind the difficulty of rehabilitating the later Prussian monarchy. One cannot view the matchboxes that sport the portraits of Hohenzollern kings – and end with Wilhelm II and his famed ‘eagle-eyed’ gaze – without thinking about the obvious allusion about the incendiary, destructive nature of a monarchy willing to set the world on fire with its military adventurism. Nor is it possible to look at the Wilhelm II playing cards without being flooded with a slew of insinuations: Wilhelm as the joker in the deck; Wilhelm as a knave; Wilhelm as gambling with Europe’s future; etc. etc.

That those in favor of reconstructing the Hohenzollern Schloss (delicately called the Berlin Schloss by its proponents) are aware of this difficulty is evident in a recent Berliner Schloss – Extrablatt published by the Förderverein Berliner Schloss e.V., [14] intended to raise interest in, and financial support for, the project. Despite the fact that it depicts the reconstruction of the Hohenzollern Schloss as an act of reclaiming Berlin’s history, the Extrablatt accomplishes the staggering feat of not mentioning the Hohenzollerns at all in its entire first half. Instead, the monarchs are wholly relegated to – and so contained within – an article on the kings as patrons of architecture. That this maneuver is not unself-conscious, but rather intentional, is evident in the fact that the article gives one (and only one) Hohenzoller a political gloss, namely Friedrich III: “He was an proponent of constitutional monarchy based on the English model. … Who knows how the history of the 20 th century would have developed, if he had been allowed to act for another twenty years.” [15] But Friedrich III did die before having an appreciable impact, and Prussia was left with the disastrous Wilhelm II instead (whose deeds and character the Extrablatt declines to describe). And thus, in fact, the Berlin Schloss is so deeply implicated in the political events of the early 20 th century – through Wilhelm II in particular – that it is not possible in this case to displace guilt and responsibility elsewhere (as in Königs Wusterhausen). Instead, silence and wishful thinking become all too great a temptation. It therefore remains to be seen what kinds of positive narrative strategies – beyond mere denial – can be utilized to rehabilitate the Wilhelmine palaces and their occupants.


1. Quoted on a panel in the exhibition in Schloss Königs Wusterhausen.

2. 19 th century authors claimed that, when contemplating the relative merits of Sanssouci’s artistic pleasures and the glories of the battlefield, Frederick supposedly chose the former with the interjection: “the devil take military glory.” Paul Lindenberg, Das Hohenzollern-Museum in Berlin (Berlin: 1888).

3. See the SPSG guide to Schloss Sanssouci: Sanssouci Palace (Potsdam: 2005), p. 25.

4. Philipp Demandt, Luisenkult: die Unsterblichkeit der Königin von Preußen (Köln: 2003).

5. For more information on the exhibit, see also the SPSG journal: Porticus, Sonderheft Paretz 2002 (Potsdam: 2002), vol. 8; as well as the SPSG guide to Schloss Paretz: Schloss Paretz (Potsdam: 2005).

6. Quoted on a panel in the exhibition in Schloss Paretz.

7. Porticus, Sonderheft Paretz 2002, p. 20.

8. Karl-Heinz Otto, Die Langen Kerls: Legendäre Garde Friedrich Wilhelms I (Potsdam: 2003), p. 29. Gordon Craig put the increase from 40,000 to 83,000 troops. Gordon A. Craig, The Politics of the Prussian Army 1640-1945 (Oxford: 1955), p. 8.

9. For more information on the exhibit, see also the SPSG journal: Porticus, vol. 11, nr. 2 (Potsdam: 2005).

10. “Königsgeburtstag,” in Der Bär: Berlinische Blätter für vaterländische Geschichte und Alterthumskunde, vol. 10, nr. 26 (22 March 1884), p. 354.

11. A. Asher, A, Asher's Picture of Berlin and its Environs (Berlin: 1837), pp. 30-31.

12. Henry Vizetelly, Berlin under the New Empire: its Institutions, Inhabitants, Industry, Monuments, Museums, Social Life, Manners, vol. 2 (New York: 1968, 1879), p. 155.

13. Craig, Politics, p.14.

14. For more information, see the website: www.berliner-schloss.de.

15. Förderverein Berliner Schloss e.V., Berliner Schloss – Extrablatt, nr. 2 (2005), p. 16.