History of the Stiftung Preussischer Kulturbesitz

The Stiftung Preussischer Kulturbesitz (Prussian Cultural Heritage Foundation) was founded in the Federal Republic of German in 1957. The background was the final dissolution of the State of Prussia ten years earlier. The issue of the ownership of its significant public collections had to be settled anew. These collections were transferred to the Foundation’s ownership by the law that established it. The Foundation was supposed to preserve, cultivate and add to the Prussian cultural assets transferred to it until it would be reorganized after the reunification of Germany. Under the German Unification Treaty of 1990, the Foundation also took over the former Prussian holdings that had been held by institutions of the German Democratic Republic.

The Prussian Collections after the Second World War

When the Second World War ended, Prussia’s public art collections and library and archive holdings were dispersed across various sites inside and outside of Germany. This was a consequence of evacuation of the holdings for safekeeping during the war. Some of them were now in Polish territory. Considerable holdings were transported by the Red Army to the Soviet Union. The Prussian cultural assets found in the three Western Occupation Zones were initially brought together at various Central Collecting Points.

On February 16, 1947, the Allied Control Council ordered the dissolution of the State of Prussia. The federal states of Hesse, North Rhine-Westphalia and Baden-Württemberg, as Prussia’s successor states, took responsibility for holding in trust the Prussian public holdings of cultural objects that were now in their territory.

The Founding of the Stiftung Preussischer Kulturbesitz

The newly founded Federal Republic of Germany made a national task of bringing together Prussia’s cultural heritage. The German constitution – passed in 1949 – gave the federal government the opportunity to resolve separately in its predominant interest issues concerning the property of states that no longer existed. Article 135 (4) was the legal grounds for the creation of a foundation for “Prussian cultural heritage.”

On July 25, 1957, the Bundestag passed a law – known as the Errichtungsgesetz, or “Founding Law” – to found the Stiftung Preussischer Kulturbesitz and transfer to it assets of the former State of Prussia. Ownership and administration of the Prussian cultural assets were entrusted by the Federal and State governments to a public foundation responsible directly to the federal government. Several of the states and the Bundesrat initially considered this solution irreconcilable with the constitution and brought a case to the Federal Constitutional Court. Its judgment of July 14, 1959 affirmed the constitutionality of the law that established the Foundation.

On September 25, 1961, the Stiftung Preussischer Kulturbesitz began its work. On that day, the Foundation Board, its political management organ, met in Berlin for the first time. It elected Hans-Georg Wormit to be the Foundation’s first president (though until 1967 his title was Curator). When he assumed office in March 1962, the Foundation became fully operational.

In 1974 the federal government and the eleven federal states at the time concluded an agreement on joint financing for the Stiftung Preussischer Kulturbesitz.

The Prussian Holdings in a Divided Germany

After the Berlin Blockade of 1948–49, West Berlin tried to have the collections returned from the other federal states, initially unsuccessfully. The overwhelming majority of the holdings and individual objects were, however, ultimately returned to the western part of the city by the mid-1950s. Only the cultural assets that could not be transported initially remained in the western part of Germany. Charlottenburg and Dahlem were the first locations for housing the collections and also for the administration of the Stiftung Preussischer Kulturbesitz. Beginning in the 1960s, the Foundation created an additional site for its museums and libraries at the Kulturforum.

In the eastern sector of Berlin, the museums on the Museumsinsel (Museum Island) and the Staatsbibliothek zu Berlin (Berlin State Library) in the building on the boulevard Unter den Linden were operated again shortly after the end of the war. They housed the collections that had remained in Berlin or in the Soviet Occupation Zone. The museums in the eastern part of the city were brought together as the Staatliche Museen zu Berlin after the German Democratic Republic (GDR) was founded. The buildings, which had been heavily damaged during the war, were partially reconstructed and re-opened.

In 1958 the Soviet Union returned to the GDR significant portions of the holdings of public cultural institutions in Germany that had been taken by the Red Army. Moreover, various holdings that had been evacuated to eastern parts of Germany during the war were returned to the Staatsbibliothek in East Berlin. They had been in the possession of Polish institutions after 1945.

As a result of Germany’s division, the collections were arbitrarily divided up between East and West Berlin. Holdings that belonged together had been torn apart. This made research within the context of the collections difficult or even impossible.

Bringing the Prussian Collections and Institutions Together Again within the Foundation

The German Unification Treaty of 3 October 1990 assigned the Stiftung Preussischer Kulturbesitz the task of bringing together the Prussian collections from both parts of Berlin and from Merseburg and other locations in the former GDR. On January 1, 1992, the organizations of the museums and the two state libraries were merged. Now the holdings and documentation of the collections could be appreciated in their entirety. A fundamental reappraisal of the holdings became possible.

The agreement between the Federal and State governments to jointly finance the Stiftung Preussischer Kulturbesitz in 1974 was now joined by the five new federal states. This federal sponsorship of the Foundation demonstrates that all of those involved regard and accept the preservation of Prussian cultural heritage as a task for the entire nation.

Timeline of the Stiftung Preussischer Kulturbesitz

1957

Law to Establish a Foundation of “Prussian Cultural Heritage” and to Transfer Assets of the Former State of Prussia to the Foundation

1961

Beginning of the Foundation’s activities with the first meeting of the Foundation Board

1962

Beginning of the term of Hans-Georg Wormit as President of the Stiftung Preussischer Kulturbesitz
At this time, the Stiftung Preussischer Kulturbesitz consisted of the Staatliche Museen zu Berlin, the Staatsbibliothek zu Berlin, the Ibero-Amerikanisches Institut, and the Staatliches Institut für Musikforschung

1963

Integration of the Geheimes Staatsarchiv Preussischer Kulturbesitz into the SPK, the GStA PK had in 1946 been made the main archive for the files of public offices and was administered by the State of Berlin until this time

1975

Agreement on joint financing for the Stiftung Preussischer Kulturbesitz by the Federal and State governments

1977

Completion of the return of the holdings of the Staatsbibliothek from Marburg to Berlin, which had begun in 1964
Beginning of the term of Prof. Werner Knopp as President of the Stiftung Preussischer Kulturbesitz

1990

Assumption of trusteeship by the Stiftung Preussischer Kulturbesitz of the Prussian collections in the eastern part of Berlin, Merseburg, and other locations in the former GDR under the provisions of the German Unification Treaty

1992

Entry of the five new federal states to the Stiftung Preussischer Kulturbesitz

1996

Signing of an unlimited agreement on joint financing of the Stiftung Preussischer Kulturbesitz by the premiers of the federal states and the Federal Chancellor

1998

Official activities of the President of the Foundation conducted temporarily by Vice President Norbert Zimmermann

1999

Beginning of the term of Prof. Klaus-Dieter Lehmann as President of the Stiftung Preussischer Kulturbesitz
Passing of the Master Plan Museumsinsel (Museum Island Berlin)
Museumsinsel Berlin added to the UNESCO World Heritage List

2008

Beginning of the term of Prof. Hermann Parzinger as President of the Stiftung Preussischer Kulturbesitz

2011

Admission of the Stiftung Preussischer Kulturbesitz as a member of the Deutsche Forschungsgemeinschaft (German Research Foundation, DFG)

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