• News From the Hohenzollerns: How the “Wild” Glienicke Branch Lived

  • News from 21.09.2016

    The Prussian Secret State Archives has acquired part of the estate of Prince Friedrich Leopold junior of Prussia (1895-1965), including nearly five hundred letters. They are the personal correspondence of the Prince Carl – or “Glienicke” – branch of the Prussian royal family, which was established by Prince Carl (1801-1883), the third son of King Friedrich Wilhelm III. Responsible for cataloging this large new acquisition is archivist Anke Klare, whose great-grandmother served at the court of the House of Hohenzollern in Glienicke.

    Prinz Friedrich Leopold junior mit seiner Mutter Prinzessin Louise Sophie (1911)© GStA PK / GStA PK, BPH, BS 2 Slg. Krüger, Margarethe, Nr. 114

    Mrs. Klare, Prince Friedrich Leopold of Prussia was already known to you in a personal way before you worked at the Secret State Archives. Can you tell us how that came about?

    I knew the prince’s family from the stories told by my great-grandma and my grandma, because my great-grandmother Margarethe Krüger, née Griesbach, worked from 1902 to 1912 as wardrobe mistress to Princess Friedrich Leopold senior, the mother of the individual who made the bequest. 

    What impression did the tales of the Glienicke court leave you with? 

    The family in Glienicke was always described as friendly, respectful and generous , but also as a very unconventional and less regimented in their court life, which was continually leading to difficulties with the Kaiser and causing a stir in social circles. 

    Which of the five hundred letters did you pick up to read first?

    I actually started with the letters that lay on top, and made a lovely discovery straight away. I happened upon a letter from Luise Margarethe of Prussia (who married a member of the British royal family), which she had written to her grandfather, Prince Carl on his birthday when she was a girl. She enclosed a four-leaf clover that her younger brother, Friedrich Leopold senior, had found on Böttcherberg hill in Klein-Glienicke. 

    Do you have the impression that more interesting material about Prince Carl could be discovered when these letters are studied? 

    Without a doubt. I think we have a real treasure trove here. In addition to the letters, we have purchased a relatively complete bundle of documents from the period from 1858 to 1865, which seems especially promising. It includes handwritten memos from the Court Secretary of Prince Carl, Mr. Bachmann, who wrote almost daily from the palace on Wilhelmsplatz in Berlin to a court official in Glienicke. These notes contain interesting details about the refurbishment of the hunting lodge in Klein-Glienicke, which was purchased for the prince’s son, Friedrich Karl, such as the chair upholstery or building alterations to the so-called “Swiss houses”. The bundle is also interesting because it gives us a glimpse of Prince Carl’s life at court in Berlin, including parties and visits to the theater. 

    The estate of your grandmother included a photograph of Princess Louise Sophie and Prince Friedrich Leopold junior, taken in England in 1911. It testifies to a particularly close relationship between mother and son. Do the letters confirm this impression? 

    Yes, absolutely. Even the ways in which they address each other in the letters are very affectionate, and in some of them they use childish terms of endearment even as adults. For example, the mother addresses her son as “my dear, sweet, little child”, or uses the English word “darling” and always hopes to see him again soon. The son addresses his mother as “my dearest Mummy” and usually ends his letters “with fondest kisses, your baby”. He was indeed the youngest of the four children and in contrast to his two older brothers, who followed the military tradition of the family, he was very sensitive, with artistic interests and abilities. The relationship between mother and son became even closer in later years, because her three older children died at relatively young ages and her husband died in 1931, leaving the two of them as the only surviving members of the family.

    In 1939, the memoirs of Princess Louise Sophie were published in England under the title: “Behind the scenes at the Prussian Court”. Her strained relations with Kaiser Wilhelm II as the head of the Prussian royal family are revealed at many points in it. Can similar statements be found in the letters? 

    It is known that the Kaiser imposed fourteen days’ house arrest on the prince’s family at Glienicke in 1895, because he disapproved of their unconventional and lavish lifestyle, and in 1917 he filed proceedings for Friedrich Leopold junior to be placed under a guardian, so as to end his life of luxury in Munich. There was another incident, which is mentioned in the memoirs and is referred to in a letter. Apparently, in 1903 the Kaiser had the two oldest sons of the family sent to officer cadet school in Naumburg against the will of their parents. The sister of Friedrich Leopold senior, Luise Margarethe, who had married into the British royal family, wrote a letter to her sister-in-law, Louise Sophie, in which she shows herself deeply saddened “that you can never live on amicable terms with his Majesty!! and that distress is always being caused to you.” She also expresses the hope that peace may soon return to the family. 

    When Wilhelm II gave up the imperial crown of Germany in 1918, he also brought the Prussian monarchy to an end. How did this watershed change the lives of the prince’s family in Glienicke?

    The end of the monarchy naturally brought about a fundamental and permanent break. The family fled from Glienicke to Lugano in Switzerland, traveling via Munich, the residence of Prince Friedrich Leopold junior since 1917, and the family estate of Imlau near Salzburg. The compensation that they received after 1918 did not suffice to continue living in their accustomed style. After the father’s death in 1931, they also had to give up two villas on Lake Lugano. The son, Friedrich Leopold, lived at Imlau from then until his death, while his mother, Louise Sophie, returned to Klein-Glienicke. Since it was not possible for her to reside in the hunting lodge once more, she lived in a former restaurant, known as Haus Glienicke. In the correspondence between mother and son, they repeatedly discuss their constant financial worries and their loneliness. In May 1933, shortly after the seizure of power by the Nazis, Friedrich Leopold junior tells of damage and looting at Schloss Glienicke, in particular the Casino building, and remarks that “to me it all has the look of a job done to order!” 

    Prince Friedrich Leopold himself became a victim of the Nazi system of terror. In 1944, he was imprisoned in Dachau concentration camp, from where he and other prominent prisoners were deported to South Tyrol as hostages by the SS. In late May 1945, they were liberated first by German and then by American soldiers. Are these tragic events mentioned in the letters?

    So far I have not found any specific allusions to this terrible event. However, there is a note in the margin of a letter from mother to son of January 1950, in which she refers to the subsequent career of the theologian Martin Niemöller. Niemöller had been one of the prominent figures imprisoned alongside Friedrich Leopold junior in Dachau; after the war he often found himself in the public eye in West Germany after expressing his opinion on political issues. 

    What do you find especially fascinating about cataloging personal correspondence?

    In contrast to official administrative papers, personal correspondence gives an insight into the thoughts and feelings of the people who wrote them. The experience of social upheavals, in particular, is thus conveyed more vividly. In the case of the newly acquired estate, we may even expect to gain fresh insights into life at court in Glienicke. 

    The interview was conducted by Ingrid Männl