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“I want to pave the way for an unencumbered debate”


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“I want to pave the way for an unencumbered debate”

WORLD: Mr. Prince of Prussia, you have something to say, but you didn't tell us what it was before this interview. So now we are very excited: What is it about?

Georg Friedrich Prince of Prussia: Since reunification, my family has been in talks with the state about how open questions of ownership of more than 10,000 works of art can be finally clarified. The question of whether my great-grandfather, Crown Prince Wilhelm of Prussia, "encouraged" the National Socialists through his behavior is relevant for the assignment of around 4000 objects. If he had, my family would not have the right under the Compensation and Compensation Act of 1994 to get those artworks back. I've come to the point that it can't be right to take this issue to court. The process would probably take at least ten years. Therefore, as head of the House of Hohenzollern, I forego the works of art and compensation payments from this complex.

WORLD: That is surprising.

Prince of Prussia: It's my personal decision, which I made regardless of my chances of success. With the end of the procedure, I want to clear the way for an unencumbered debate.

WORLD: What exactly is the dispute based on?

Prince of Prussia: There are three main themes: Firstly, permanent loans from my family's private art collection, i.e. the part of the assets that remained in the Federal Republic and West Berlin after the Second World War. Secondly, there are 4000 objects that were in my family's properties in the then Soviet occupation zone, which were expropriated in the period from 1945 to 1949 without a court judgement. And there is also a third set of other artworks that have never been expropriated and that I understand belong to us.

WORLD: Where does your change of heart come from?

Prince of Prussia: In the case of the second complex, i.e. around 4,000 pieces from my ancestors’ art collection, a possible return is subject to the condition that the owner at the time must not have “encouraged” either the GDR regime or the Nazi regime. However, due to a complicated inheritance contract between Kaiser Wilhelm II and Crown Prince Wilhelm, it is not entirely clear who was actually the owner at the time of the expropriation. According to the inheritance contract, the former crown prince was only the so-called "pre-heir", while my grandfather Prince Louis Ferdinand was the "post-heir".

WORLD: "Fostered" - that is a problematic formulation, because it is open to many interpretations.

Prince of Prussia: Yes, and in relation to my great-grandfather's biography, it becomes even more difficult. There are many other people in my family who have played a far clearer role in all directions than the previous Crown Prince, who was certainly a Nazi sympathizer. Opinions differ as to whether he “encouraged” them to do so.

WORLD: How do you want to keep the debate going?

Prince of Prussia: We have invited to a historians' podium at the federal press conference on March 9th, where it is not only, but also about this topic. Among other things, a digitized collection of sources on the political work of my great-grandfather, which Professor Lothar Machtan compiled on my behalf in the course of extensive research, is to be presented to the public there. This event could perhaps be the prelude to a larger symposium on the political positioning of my family in the 20th century.

WORLD: Why are you doing this now?

Prince of Prussia: My grandfather, Prince Louis Ferdinand, died in 1994, one day before the Compensation Act was passed. At the time, he himself had submitted many of the applications that are still at stake today. He had always refused a dialogue with the GDR leadership, which had offered the return of expropriated properties and works of art even before reunification. As my grandfather's successor, I inherited these topics almost 30 years ago. But despite this long period of time, we are actually only now at the beginning of a legal process that would probably drag on for a long time. However, I am not prepared to conduct proceedings over the next ten years - with the focus on my great-grandfather's possible Nazi involvement - if there is the possibility of possibly reaching an agreement on the other two complexes that are also still to be settled. Without the court proceedings, there can finally be an unencumbered debate about the historic role of the House of Hohenzollern. So I think it's a good time to make this decision.

WORLD: That cannot have been easy for you. Did you carry this decision with you for a long time?

Prince of Prussia: I can still well remember a very intensive conversation with my grandfather Prince Louis Ferdinand. I was 16 at the time, and he asked me, with unusual seriousness, whether I was aware of the tasks that awaited me as his designated successor and whether I was ready to take on them. In fact, I had no idea what was waiting for me – after all, there is no manual on what a head of the House of Hohenzollern has to do.

WORLD: True.

Prince of Prussia: I was only aware that my grandfather Prince Louis Ferdinand was perceived as a person of contemporary history and how he represented the House of Hohenzollern. I think he did it in a very modern and contemporary way. I also remembered that when it came to following up on the applications he had made. That was a matter of course for me. However, I believe that all of us underestimated the kind of discussion that would result from this, especially about my grandfather's father, with whom he had a very bad relationship, which was also a finding from the last few years. I have a duty to my late grandfather to protect the interests of the family. This also includes unresolved property issues. I think my grandfather would have approved of my current decision. That's why I assume that my family supports them.

WORLD: Could it be that many things came together in the failed discussion? There is a large noble house of many names that is making claims for compensation. There is a person in your great-grandfather who had sympathies for National Socialism. Then there is the vague question of whether or not he "aided" the Nazis. Isn't that an ideal breeding ground for opinions of all kinds?

Prince of Prussia: Yes, absolutely. I think that's a pity, especially considering that we were and still are a big family. Despite the end of the monarchy in 1918, we were still in the public eye, even if, in my view, it was far less than one or the other authority claims. Incidentally, I find the legislation of 1994 quite understandable, because at that time they wanted to leave out the descendants of people who had demonstrably prepared the ground for National Socialism or Communism.

WORLD: What does this mean for you?

Prince of Prussia: The discussion about my great-grandfather meant that everything I said was suddenly viewed with caution, and not just by historians: "The family is trying to gain an advantage by doing one or supposedly whitewashed other family members or suddenly turned one or the other into a resistance fighter who wasn't at all?" At some point it turned into a ghost debate.

WORLD: Germans have a certain expertise in ghost debates.

Prince of Prussia: It is absolutely right to take a critical look at Crown Prince Wilhelm, we now have a lot of information about him as a person. And the result, from my point of view, is that it cannot be clearly proven that he gave the National Socialists advantages, even if he wanted to do it himself. But he was clearly looking for proximity to the Nazi regime. And if someone panders to right-wing extremism, then that person cannot create a tradition for our house.

WORLD: That is clear.

Prince of Prussia: Personally, I have no problem at all with critically examining the history of my family. On the other hand, it is important to me that when dealing with one's own family, one does not simply judge ancestors and then erase them from family memory. That makes it too easy for yourself. You cannot draw conclusions and learn nothing. The intensive discussion of the past few years was good, but now we have to make progress.

WORLD: How do you think that would look best?

Prince of Prussia: In my view, dealing with my family should not be burdened by the suspicion of a hidden agenda. Because I think this has created reservations – especially on the part of the state. Although we have been one of the largest private lenders of works of art in Berlin and Brandenburg for decades, today we experience that my family should not be involved in exhibitions. In 2019, in the Brandenburg state election campaign, there was even the completely absurd accusation that my family was trying to cover up their past with regard to their involvement in National Socialism. That hit me particularly.

WORLD: What do you think of these allegations?

Prince of Prussia: Our archive was accessible to historians at all times - even if the opposite was regularly untruthfully claimed. So many misunderstandings have arisen. Another claim was that my family was demanding their own museum with the aim of glossing over their history. That is also not true: the demand for the so-called Hohenzollern Museum came from the state. However, I have always supported this project, especially since there is nothing comparable in Berlin.

WORLD: And now?

Prince of Prussia: I still think such a museum would be a good idea. But whether my family is involved there or not is completely irrelevant to me. However, I am of course very happy to contribute my experience. After all, Hohenzollern Castle, our family's ancestral seat, is one of the most visited private museums in Germany. Two years ago, for example, I suggested an exhibition on the history of palaces in the Weimar Republic and the Nazi era to the Prussian Palaces and Gardens Foundation, in which my great-grandfather naturally also played a role. They had also promised to design an exhibition, but nothing has happened to date. I continue to believe that such an exhibition is absolutely overdue.

WORLD: In connection with all this, you also took legal action against historians and journalists. How do you rate that today?

Prince of Prussia: I see it as a mistake and I regret that I did not seek personal talks earlier and more often, in which many things could have been clarified. I therefore decided to end all open procedures, which has since been implemented. After all, the saying applies: what is legal does not always have to be right. But what I would also like to make clear: I have never tried to restrict scientific work. If that's how it felt, I'm sorry.

WORLD: How much interesting material is still slumbering untouched in the Hohenzollern family archive?

Prince of Prussia: A lot! Something is always discovered. A young doctoral student from Chemnitz is currently doing research there, who is doing her doctorate on my grandfather Prince Louis Ferdinand, whose biography spans almost the entire 20th century. She will put the topic up for discussion on March 9th. For example, it is to be researched whether and what influence Prince Louis Ferdinand had on the development of the young Federal Republic. After all, he was on friendly terms with many politicians, such as the great Social Democrats Willy Brandt and Wilhelm Kaisen.

WORLD: Was your grandfather really moving in the direction of liberal parliamentarianism?

Prince of Prussia: Actually yes. On the one hand, my grandfather Prince Louis Ferdinand was firmly rooted in the tradition of our house, but on the other hand he was a democrat and a convinced European. Even before the Federal Republic was founded, he had been thinking about what a democratic Germany could look like - and that is very close to what we know and appreciate today's liberal Federal Republic of Germany and unfortunately have to defend again and again. In our family archive you will also find many testimonies that are perhaps less of historical relevance, but paint a human picture. People aren't just black and white, they also have their humorous sides, their weaknesses; helping to complete certain images is a nice task that we can also fulfill with this archive.

WORLD: When it comes to people, especially in royal houses, people are all the more interested. The British royals were currently in the headlines a lot, keyword Harry and Meghan. Do you follow this?

Prince of Prussia: Partial, not intense. And I don't get involved. But I am always happy when there is contact at European level.

WORLD: Have you watched "The Crown"?

Prince of Prussia: I have. I thought it was great, but I haven't gotten to the final season yet. When it comes to such productions, Germany is a bit behind after all. I'm thinking of series like "The Legacy of the Guldenburgs" or something like that (laughs). I also watched it with great pleasure as a child, but "The Crown" impressed me all the more. The series gives you the feeling that it comes from people who really know their stuff. Even if the creators honestly admit that not everything corresponds to reality.

WORLD: The British Queen Victoria was the grandmother of Kaiser Wilhelm II, he was her favorite grandson. You are her direct descendant and graduated from school in Scotland. How connected do you feel to Great Britain?

Prince of Prussia: Very. Simply because I like this country very much and I also like being there. I'm also a godfather to a Windsor. An anecdote: I recently got my hands on a book called The Boy's Own Book of Boats, a book obviously aimed at children, intended to arouse enthusiasm for the navy and seafaring. The first page is handwritten: "For dear little Willy to his 6th birthday, Queen Victoria".

WORLD: Did the death and funeral of Elizabeth II affect you?

Prince of Prussia: Yes, very much.

WORLD: When it comes to Prussia, many people think primarily of the reactionary, the goose step and militarism. In your opinion, how do you judge this state fairly?

Prince of Prussia: First and foremost: I am not the lawyer of my ancestors, nor their judge. I am of the opinion that you always have to keep an overall view, which in my opinion is not happening enough. Prussia was also an ultra-modern state, with many things that one would judge positively from today's perspective, for example the social legislation, the introduction of compulsory schooling. But that goes hand in hand with other things that should be viewed very critically, especially in the imperial era. Only the overall picture can lead to a balanced self-image of an entire country. Which of course also requires courage. And a lot of things – good and bad – still have an impact on the Federal Republic today. This does not only apply to the black and white jerseys of our national team.

WORLD: Do you consider it a burden or a privilege to be a Hohenzollern?

Prince of Prussia: In retrospect, as a great privilege. I always emphasize that I grew up as a German citizen, feel comfortable as such, but of course also have the great privilege of getting to know an above-average number of exciting people in my role. Some of these are friendships that I inherited from my grandfather. And it's also a nice feeling for me that, as head of the House of Hohenzollern, I have the task of looking after our family's cultural heritage and being our face to the public - in good times and in bad. And that it's sometimes a bit more demanding, that's just part of it.

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