Last kaiser’s descendants try to reclaim family treasures
The House of Hohenzollern, the heirs to the former Kings of Prussia and Kaisers of the German Empire, is also reported to be demanding the right to live in a former palace.
The German media labelled the claims “sheer greed” and an “impertinence to an enlightened society”. German museums warned that some museums could be forced to close.
But relatives of the last chancellor, who was forced into exile after the First World War, dismissed the warnings as “utter nonsense”.
Germany’s culture ministry said talks had been ongoing with the Hohenzollerns for “several years” and the dispute could reach the courts if no agreement was reached.
The claims are understood to be led by Georg Friedrich Ferdinand, prince of Prussia, the great-great-grandson of “Kaiser Bill”, who led Germany until 1918. They include demands for the return of art by Lucas Cranach the Elder, Adolph von Menzel and Friedrich Tischbein. The family also wants the return of the “New Cabinet”, an intricate piece of furniture produced by David Roentgen, an 18th-century craftsman.
The family refused to confirm reports that it was demanding rent-free access to the Cecilienhof Palace (pictured), the site of the 1945 Potsdam Conference. The building outside Berlin is currently a museum with the reception rooms preserved as they were for the conference, including the table where the leaders met and Churchill’s private office in the next room. Churchill lost the 1945 and was replaced by Labour’s Clement Attlee midway through the conference.
“Contrary to various reports, the house’s primary objective is to maintain the collections in existing museums and continue to make them available to the public… Speculation that museums would be forced to close can therefore be dismissed as utter nonsense,” said a lawyer for the family.
Wilhelm II abdicated after the First World War and went into exile in the Netherlands, where he died in 1941. The family was forced to give up its largest palaces.
It retained ownership of several lesser homes and art, which it later lost after the Second World War. It is these assets that the family is trying to recover.
Most of the family’s possessions were in what became East Germany and were seized under Soviet occupation.
The family is pursuing a claim under German laws which mandate the restitution of property seized under communist rule.
But opponents say the former royals are not eligible because of a clause that excludes those who were closely associated with the Nazis.
The Kaiser’s son, Crown Prince Wilhelm, backed Hitler in the 1930s in an attempt to restore the family’s fortunes.
The Cecilienhof Palace. Picture credit: Wikimedia