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Prussian royals seek return of confiscated artifacts

July 13, 2019

Descendants of the last German Kaiser are demanding the return of thousands of valuable paintings that were confiscated after the monarchy's downfall in 1918. Some of the works are currently on display in public museums.

Georg Friedrich Ferdinand
Image: picture-alliance/dpa/R. Hirschberger

The heirs of the former Prussian monarchy are locked in a battle with the German state over the ownership of thousands of artworks and historical artifacts.

The Culture Ministry confirmed Friday that the Hohenzollern family has been negotiating with the federal government and the eastern states of Berlin and Brandenburg "for several years" — and apparently in secret.

According to Der Spiegel news magazine, the aristocrats are seeking to reclaim tens of thousands of valuable paintings, sculptures, coins, books and furniture, as well as the right to live at one of several grand estates.

But an agreement may be a long way off. Monika Grütters, the government's commissioner for culture, said, "the positions of the negotiating parties are still very far apart."

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Rheinfels Castle on the banks of the Rhine River
Georg Friedrich lost a court bid last month to reclaim Rheinfels CastleImage: picture-alliance/dpa/T. Frey

Complicated history

The restitution campaign is being led by Georg Friedrich Ferdinand, the head of the Hohenzollern House and great-great-grandchild of Wilhelm II, the last emperor and king of Prussia.

Authorities seized the family's property in November 1918, shortly before the end of World War I, when Kaiser Wilhelm abdicated and went into exile.

Although they weren't initially compensated, the royals later struck an agreement with the state on the confiscated assets in 1926. But that situation changed under the Soviet occupation of Germany at the end of World War II and the communist regime that subsequently governed East Germany.

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Works of 'considerable value'

The Culture Ministry said the latest negotiations center on "legal ambiguities in the (1926) agreement," as well as "legal positions that have changed as a result of the subsequent historical events, in particular, the measures of the Soviet occupying power and the government of the German Democratic Republic."

The ministry added that many of the artifacts in question hold "considerable value and historical meaning," and are today part of collections at the Prussian Foundation of Castles and Gardens in Berlin-Brandenburg, the Prussian Cultural Foundation and the German Historical Museum.

The Tagesspiegel daily reported that the family was also seeking the permanent right to reside either at the Cecilienhof Palace in Potsdam, where Allied powers met after World War II to decide Germany's fate or at two other manor houses. But according to the newspaper, the government has knocked back the request.

Last month, a court in the western city of Koblenz rejected a bid by Prince Georg Friedrich to reclaim the Rheinfels Castle on the banks of the Rhine.

Hohenzollern Castle

nm/sms (AFP, dpa)

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