Brandenburg: A Glimpse through History

Historical reflections of Brandenburg from Prussia to the DDR and beyond

Before visiting a new country or area, researching some facts about historical events is certainly worth the effort. The history of a place accumulates through multiple perspectives and facts that help piece together the events that have led to what we see today.

The state of Brandenburg holds the scars of long human history. One of the most notable histories that played a pivotal role in the development of Germany as it stands today is that of the Preußen (Prussian) kingdom. Beginning in the Margraviate of Brandenburg, known in short as the ‘Mark Brandenburg’, the kingdom developed out of a union between the Duchy of Prussia and the Hohenzollerns of Brandenburg that served as a starting point of the Prussian reign that lasted from 1701 to 1918. When powers were transferred in 1918 following the First World War, the kingdom of Prussia was dissolved in favor of a republic leading to German unity. The ‘Free State of Prussia’ became a state of Germany from 1918 up until World War II. By 1947, The Free State of Prussia was officially disbanded and the land that made up the eastern territories of Prussia was integrated into both Poland and the Soviet Union.
The current state of Brandenburg can thus be historically referred to as the ‘Mark Brandenburg’. It is imprinted with a fascinating story of the rise and fall of the Prussian Iron Kingdom that heavily impacted Germany and the formation of Europe as we know it. Today, Brandenburg is made up of a collection of administrative districts. When it comes to travel, Brandenburg also has 12 regional travel districts created for quick identification of areas sharing historical backgrounds and relevant attractions mentioned here.

After World War II when Germany was decentralized, Brandenburg was a part of the East German sector located in the Soviet occupied zone and governed by the DDR (Deutsche Democratic Republic − aka GDR). The DDR regime was founded in 1949 and lasted until 1990. A physical division of the Eastern and Western German sectors manifested itself in the construction of the Berlin Wall that took place in 1961 and lasted until November 9, 1989. A lengthy 155 kilometers (96 miles) of the wall isolated West Berlin, occupied by the western allies, in the middle of the East German sector and was heavily guarded. The continued inland combination of gates and walls bordering the east German sector stretched a zigzag path of 1378 kilometers (857 miles), physically separating East Germany from West Germany making it difficult to cross from one side to the other.
After the reunification of the east and west in 1989, many privatizations were pushed ahead, and the people of East Germany were then able to travel and privately own property. This put an end to a situation that stifled opportunities for the people to pursue sustainable and varied life and career options.

Trabie DDR Germany
Photo by Marcus Lenk

During the existence of the DDR, a rather large deficit accumulated affecting the DDR economy. Due to this deficit, most towns were denied planned renovations and fell into disrepair. It wasn’t until the 1980s that the Socialist Unity Party (SED) of the DDR started to reflect on the importance of maintaining historical elements of the cities. This thought process eventually lead to the formation of the private initiative founded in 1985 known today as the Deutsche Stiftung Denkmalschutz (The German Foundation for Monument Protection). Preservation, restoration, education, and promotion of active community assistance on the upkeep and care of the monuments are the main goals. A historical monument that is deemed to be protected under the Monument Protection (Denkmalschutz) does not necessarily have to be a statue, castle, or cultural art piece. This protection can also be bestowed upon houses, churches, archaeological sites, and certain buildings with facades revealing eras that used specific unique materials.

Historically House in Neuruppin, Brandenburg
This door and facade is under Denkmalschutz and can be found in Neuruppin, Brandenburg

When something is deemed a historical monument by the foundation and is placed under the German historical monument protection, there are a number of mandatory legal historic preservation obligations that dictate how the owner will be able to carry out any renovations and what materials can be used. Any kind of renovation becomes a process that requires a specialist with strong historic architectural knowledge. This specialist must also take materials and historical purpose into account to uphold the strict rules of the monument protection while also renovating the building to the highest standards of today.

My sister-in-law just completed her studies with a focus on historical architecture and interior design. The journey that she went through to get this training ended with a master’s degree in historical architecture. It was fascinating to learn all about the Denkmalschutz through her experience. The rules and regulations that must be followed for renovations to occur on a property carrying a Denkmalschutz are certainly more complicated than meets the eye.

There are many cities throughout Brandenburg that have buildings with a Denkmalschutz on the façade, doors, or on the entire site. When you drive through some of the older towns, it can make for a really fun road trip to see if you can spot which buildings are under historical protection or not. Each Denkmalschutz is notated on the outside of the building with a small sign from the foundation indicating that legal historical preservation obligations apply. To this day, cities all over Brandenburg have managed to retain memories of this varied past while building toward a historically respectful future of possibility.




Recommendations in Brandenburg

To learn more about the epic history of the Prussian reign, pick up the detailed book titled Iron Kingdom: The Rise and Downfall of Prussia 1600 – 1947 by Christopher Clark. It provides a descriptive take on the rise, the reign, and the end of a kingdom to remember and learn from. The Brandenburg-Preußen (Prussian) Museum in Wustrau, Brandenburg is also certainly worth a visit to learn more from a local perspective.

For those wanting to learn more about the DDR in English, I recommend the book titled The House by the Lake: One House, Five Families and a Hundred Years of German History by Thomas Harding. It provides an interesting perspective, touching on a variety of related historical subject matters. Although it is rather difficult to find compelling and all-encompassing books about the DDR in English, I would recommend reading books or articles with varying perspectives to be able to grasp what actually happened in East Germany and why it was such a unique time period in German history. The DDR Museum in Berlin is also a fun place to visit that is full of memorabilia, exhibitions, and historical artifacts from the DDR regime explaining the life and times of the people who experienced everything firsthand.

I would also recommend a fun German film titled “Friendship!” directed by Markus Goller. It describes a story based on true events that takes a comedic look at the crazy adventure of two boys who grew up in the DDR and traveled to America for the first time for a deeper purpose.

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May the above information provide a better mental grasp on the history of the area bringing about an incentive for further exploration in Brandenburg. Till we meet again in the next blog!

2 Responses

  1. It is so interesting to read how you, as a newcomer, see my beloved Brandenburg and its harsh people. I am already looking forward to read more. How long are you planning to stay?

    1. Thanks 🙂 ! This is my memoir that all actually happened a few years ago. Each monthly blog will reveal more of my story and is based on my memories and journal entries written when I was going through this time in my life. Eventually, I will catch up to today. I do plan on going back to Brandenburg in the next couple years for a more extended stay though :).

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