Es lebe die Republik!

Nun wollen sich also auch die Herrschaften des Hauses von Preußen wieder holen, was einmal im Besitz ihrer regierenden Vorväter war. Wie in vielen ehemaligen Herrscherhäusern sieht die jüngere Generation hier eine Möglichkeit, sich Dinge anzueignen, die seit 100 oder 70 Jahren in staatlichen Museen oder Sammlungen verwahrt werden und Eigentum der Länder und der Bundesrepublik als Rechtsnachfolger des Deutschen Reiches sind. Kunst- und andere Historiker durchkämmen im Auftrag dieser Familien die Archive nach Wertgegenständen, die sich nach der mit der deutschen Revolution einhergehenden Enteignung noch im Besitz dieser Adelsfamilien befanden oder deren Enteignung 1918 nicht dokumentiert wurde. Währen die Elterngeneration häufig damit zufrieden waren, diese Objekte in öffentlichen Sammlungen erhalten zu sehen, scheint es ihren ‚adeligen‘ Nachkommen nur um den Profit zu gehen.

Es lebe die Weimarer Verfassung von 1919, in der zu lesen stand:

„Öffentlich-rechtliche Vorrechte oder Nachteile der Geburt und des Standes sind aufzuheben und dürfen nicht mehr verliehen werden.“ (Art. 119)

Im Februar 2011 schrieb ich hierüber schon einmal einen Text für The Art Newspaper:

The ‚Porzellanvertrag‘

The recent ‚Porzellanvertrag‘ (‚china contract‘) between the Free State of Saxony and the heirs of Saxony’s formerly royal family, Wettin, clarifies the ownership of many china objects that for the past sixty years or so have been part of the state’s collections in Dresden. It transfers ownership for all the china objects that between 1924 and 1945 were known to belong to the Wettins, and somehow have made their way into Saxon public collections, once and for all and for the sum of 4.2 mio Euro. „Securing this china for the Staatliche Kunstsammlungen Dresden (state art collections) and the Free State of Saxony is of immense cultural importance, since the china collection of the SKD is able to secure its reputation as one of the most extensive and important specialist collections of ceramics in the world.“ However, this will not be the last contract, as negotiations are already under way to reach a final agreement until 31 December 2012, „for all other objects, like paintings, books, furniture etc.“. And, in „order not to jeopardise these further negotiations, the parties continue to abide to their previous secrecy agreement.“ The problem of restitution to the heirs of former princely families is also not confined to Saxony and Dresden, but applies to all other länder in the former East.

It is a mine field. When Germany had become a republic in 1918, the formerly royal and princely families lost their titles and many of their entitlements. However in the 1920s – in Sachsen in 1924 – the families received the ‚Prinzenausgleich‘ and were thus compensated for the loss of their private property. In 1945 most of the princely families left the then Soviet occupied zone, that was later to become East Germany, leaving a considerable share of their possessions behind. A large part of these were expropriated, especially real estate, yet with smaller objects this is often not clear.

Already in 1999, Sachsen and the Wettins made a contract about 18,000 museum objects and some real-estate in the city-centre of Dresden that previously had belonged to the family, in the wave of reparation for those who lost their property through either the Nazis or the Socialists. The Wettins received 6,000 of these objects, many of which were quickly sold, and as compensation for the others and the real-estate the sum of what would now be 12.1 mio Euro. Many had thought that these contracts would be the end of it. However, assuming that all objects, which between 1924 and 8 May 1945 – the date of the German capitulation in WW2 – could be proven to have been owned by the Wettins and which are now in public collections must have been illegally appropriated and were rightfully theirs, the current heirs sent their representatives to comb through the archives. Since 2006, they’ve been presenting accumulating lists of thousands of objects, and from these the current contract resulted as the first of several.

Similar negotiations are currently under way in Schwerin, the capital of Mecklenburg-Vorpommern, where the heirs of the former grand-ducal family negotiate with the land the compensation for 260 art objects. They initially claimed 412, of which 152 have already been returned, and the remainder will be acquired by the state. As the press officer for the Ministry of Culture in Schwerin, Johanna Hermann, points out: „The land – in agreement with the Grand Ducal family – is planning to purchase the inventory.“ Objects that have been part of the state’s museum collections for over half a century, that have been looked after, kept and restored, will now have to be bought.

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