Research by Michael Behrent for KÖNIGSBEGR IS DEAD by Max & Gilbert
Kant's critical philosophy
had been directed against dogmatism, the notion that the way in which we see
the world s- including forms as basic as time and space - really do belong to
the world. The French Revolution brought a new form of dogmatism onto the world
stage: the nation. While we can undogmatically leave open the time when the
French Revolution began from Königsberg's point of view (the day in 1789 when
Kant missed his walk upon hearing the news of the storming of the Bastille?
April 20 1792, when the French National Assembly declared war on
return to the main point: was Königsberg's integration into
To be in a nation, in short, requires returning to one's dogmatic slumbers.
Changing Place with "
Over the course of
To think about Königsberg's place in German identity, it is interesting to reflect on its changing political status over the centuries.
In 1255, its supposed "birth", it was literally just a fortress, established by the Teutonic Knights who had received papal approval to lead a crusade against the pagan Preussen. A smattering of a village seems to have gravitated towards it, but everything was wiped out by the Preussen shortly afterwards.
In 1286, the Grand Master of the Teutonic Order granted the inhabitants who lived in what would become the Altstadt an urban charter, effectively recognizing it as a medieval commune. Löbenicht and Kneiphof would received this privilege at slightly later dates.
Königsberg's towns became members of the trading federation, the
In 1457, Königsberg/Alstadt becomes the official residence of the Grand Masters of the Teutonic Knights.
In 1525, Grand Master Albert of Hohenzollern (the royal
In 1618, Johann-Sigismund's inheritance of the duchy solidifies the establishment of the Brandenburg-Prussian state, combining Brandenburg, which is a member of the Holy Roman Empire with its own elector (the Kufersten), and Prussia proper, which is not. Königsberg is its effective capital.
the Dukes become fully autonomous in
Friedrich III of
In 1758, during the Seven Year War, Königsberg is conquered and occupied by Russian troops. This lasts until 1762.
following the Treaty of Tilsitt,
following the expulsion of Napoleon and the Congress of Vienna, Königsberg
finds itself once again the provincial
In 1871, following Bismarck's wars of German unification, Königsberg remains a provincial capital of the Prussian Kingdom, which is henceforth itself one state - though by far the most significant one - out of the 18 which have been unified to form the Second Reich - or "Germany."
In 1919, following the revolution of November 1918 and the
writing of the Weimar Constitution, the province of which Königsberg is the
capital becomes an enclave,
separated from the rest of
As in Kant's system, so in Königsberg's history, space is not an absolute quality of the world, but is integrally tied to human perception and experience. Its significance has been shaped by its changing location within the map of the larger entities to which it has belonged. And, as Renan would say, perhaps a certain amount of forgetting is involved in the constitution of its identity: "Prussia", though originally the name of the native population the Teutonic Knights, became the name used by the conquerors; the different versions of its originally literal and translatable name (the Polish Krulieviecz, or even the Latin Regiomonatus) are lost as it becomes increasingly "German"; with the formation of an absolutist state, the area that had originally been Prussia proper is relegated in administrative language to a geographical orientation - "East Prussia" - in relation to lands with which it was originally unconnected. Calling Königsberg "German" begs as many questions as it answers.
After establishing itself
as a major European power, with arguably the mightiest military on the
continent, under the rules of Friedrich-Wilhelm I, the
"Sergeant-King" and of
Friedrich II the Great, the French Revolution dealt a serious blow to
Königsberg, immediately following the defeat of the Russian troops, had to receive thousands of them, even though it lacked adequate military hospitals. French troops themselves occupied the city for a little over a month.
The Prussian King, Friedrich-Wilhelm II, as well as the entire royal family, returned to live in Königsberg's Schloss, which had seen more coronations of late than it had residing monarchs. Königsberg once again returned to center state, even if its restored status was to be provisional. They remained there from January 1808 to December 1809, during which time Queen Luise gave birth to two children.
The task at hand was the
reorganization of the Prussian state and the planning of a "War of
Liberation" against Napoleon's armies in
To accomplish these
reforms, a group of talented, optimistic and well-educated reformers converged
on Königsberg, where they set up office in the Schloss. Wilhelm von Humboldt, who would later found the
The most important of the reformers was Freiherr Karl vom
und zum Stein, whose main work was the write Edict of 1807. This ordinance was
aimed at reforming
Königsberg also played a
significant role in the organization of the wars of liberation against the
French. In 1808, the Tugelband, a
civic organization whose real task was to prevent Germans from collaborating
with the French occupiers, was formed in Königsberg. After being pressured into
Königsberg was once again a Prussian capital of sorts, at precisely the moment
when Prussian leaders first became interested not only in strengthening the
state, but rallying a "national", "German" consciousness to
III. Liberalism and Conservatism: 1815 - 1871
In the period between 1815 and 1848, there are two axes along which one might situate Königsberg's development.
On the one
hand, it participated in the general disillusionment that, following the
Congress of Vienna, restored Prussia's territory and Great Power status, only
to reestablish a conservative state. The enthusiasm that led to talk of
constitutions, German unity and the German Volk
was now dashed. Von Stein's reforms had created some participatory civic
institutions, conferring citizenship on all property-holders in towns, but
these often led to new problems and divisions. The "reformed"
At the same
time, Königsberg saw its economic stature dwindle. Despite its international
flavor, the Baltic trade in the 18th century had merely tied
together different regional economies. As it became increasingly globalized in
the course of the 19th century, ports without harbors capable of
welcoming large vessels or lacking in prosperous hinterlands would tend to be
passed over. One historian writes: "Königsberg, which was thirty-seven
kilometers from the sea on the Pregel, could not compete with better-placed
outlets for eastern grain and timber. Furthermore, Königsberg, like Danzig, was
disadvantaged by its distance from the growing population centers in Saxony and
In what sense, in the midst of these developments, can we speak of Königsberg as being "German"?
first place, despite its decline in economic importance, it nevertheless
retained the characteristic features of German city life. If it could not rival
alternative form of Germanness was liberalism. Disappointed that the Prussian
government had held out the carrot of democratic reform only when it was
mobilizing the population against the French, liberals pressed for a
constitution, civic freedoms and representative assemblies throughout the Vormärz period*. In German
lands, these questions were also closely connected to the aspiration for German
national unification. In Königsberg, university faculty, the business interest
and liberal professions were naturally inclined to liberal sentiment. There
was an important liberal newspaper, the Königsberg
Hartungsche Zeitung. Moreover, there were a number of liberal spokesmen
who rose to national prominence. A Jewish doctor from Königsberg, Johann
Jacoby, wrote an influential pamphlet around 1847, entitled Vier Fragen, beantwortet von einem
Ostpreussen, in which he appealed to King Friedrich Wilhelm IV to grant
Prussia an authentic representative assembly. In making his case, he did not
just appeal to high-minded liberal principles, but made the case that only
democratic institutions could bring about a true sense of national belonging:
"Until now the unity of its people has been artificially imposed, rather than
growing naturally. Of its eight provinces, you can be certain that not one
would feel like a dismembered limb,
if extraordinary circumstances were to divide it from the others. No, from
Saarlouis to the
This being said, Königsberg was not a revolutionary town. Following the March 1848 revolution in Berlin, which led to the convocation of a National Assembly as well as to the meeting of a German Parliament in Frankfurt (both of which Jacoby attended), Königsberg itself saw no barricades, though there were meetings and street processions, and political clubs and national guards were formed.
Yet kind of state in which Jacoby and the Königsberg liberals hoped to find themselves was not to be: King Friedrich Wilhelm's dismissal of the Frankfurt Assembly's plan as a "constitution from the gutter" in 1849 closed off the possibility of a liberal unification of Germany "from below", and paved the way for a conservative unification of Germany "from above", in which the East Prussian Junkers would play a predominant role (This was facilitated by the Prussian constitution adopted in 1850, which gave the Junkers great power in the upper house, while the lower house was elected by universal suffrage, even though it represented wealthiest citizens disproportionately through a system of three electoral classes).
III. Königsberg: Strategic Value in an Age of Power Politics
for the first time since the end of the 18th century, a new Prussian
King was crowned in Königsberg. Wilhelm IV had been regent during the madness
of King Wilhelm Friedrich IV, during which he had proclaimed a "new
era" in Prussian politics, one in which the monarchy would rule with
greater reliance on the middle classes. By 1862, he had appointed a fairly
untypical Junker, Otto von Bismarck,
as Chancellor. Over a period of three calculated wars,
In the age
of power politics, Königsberg once again became an important strategic center.
Königsberg had long been the site of an important garrison and fort, the Festung Friedrichsburg, located on the
Pregel's south bank on the western outskirts of town. In the post-1871 period,
First World War broke out, these fears proved to be more or less justified. As
early as August 1914, Russian forces brought a two-pronged attack to bear on
Thus in the so-called age of German militarism, Königsberg's was mainly associated in the military consciousness with its vulnerability: the fear that, as from 1758 to 1762 and as, briefly, in 1807, it would once again fall to foreign armies.
Following the German
defeat, revolution and the creation of the first ever German Republic,
Königsberg once again found itself in a relatively stable, if precarious,
environment. It remained a province of the
In Königsberg, the
What role did Nazism play in Weimar Königsberg? It was certainly present, but it does not seem to have received a great deal of overt support until eve of Hitler's appointment to the chancellorship.
On May 20, 1928 for the
federal parliament, or Reichstag, and
for the Prussian assembly, or Landtag, Königsberg
voted as follows (keeping in mind that the
Sozialdemokraten [S.P.D.] 38,950 38,662
Deutschnationale 17,784 17,725
Zentrum [Catholic, mostly southern] 3,909 3,915
Deutsche Volkspartei [Conservative] 40, 377 40, 153
Kommunisten [K.P.D.] 31,606 31,382
Demokraten 8,046 7,948
NSDAP 4,156 4,106
Mittelstandpartei 2,859 2,877
words, Hitler's party received only about 2.81% in
Interestingly, for local elections, the Nazis fared somewhat better, if one examines elections for municipal elections from 1919 to 1929.
1919 1924 1927 1929
Kommunisten --- 23,768 26,089 30, 152
Unabhängige S.D. 28, 182 --- --- ---
SPD 19,790 13,336 25, 942 35,413
Demokraten 16,546 5,856 4,321 5,389
Zentrum 3,216 3,673 3,183 4,049
Wirtschaftspartei --- --- 3,328 5,400
Deutsche Volkspartei 19, 416 23, 892 26, 591 34,545
Deutschnationale 7,762 16,919 11,734 15,770
NSDAP --- 9,294 2,405 8,391
Mieterpartei --- 24,585 --- ---
Christl. Volksdienst --- --- --- 7,451
Evang. Gemeinschaftsbund--- 6,257 6,213 ---
the Nazi party thus obtained roughly 5.73% in the 1929 elections - better than in
the previous year's parliamentary elections, but only moderately. Even if it is
the largest of the "small" parties, mainstream
Only in the two elections held in 1932 did the Nazi party become dominant:
July 1, 1932 November 8, 1932
NSDAP 75,760 62, 688
SPD 37,926 37,360
KPD 33,878 38,204
Zentrum 4,721 4, 617
Deutschnationale 10,478 18,874
Deutsch Volkspartei 3,033 6,169
(Staatspartei) 1,798 2,039
Volksdienst 2,502 3,203
Even at this point, it is interesting that in the second election, four months after the earlier one, though the Nazi party still came in clearly ahead, all parties increased their showing or remained more or less stable except for the Nazis, who fell by over 13,000 votes. The Communist won an additional 4,000 votes.
Despite being situated in
the middle of
V. Königsberg in the Third Reich
Königsberg does not seem to
have been completely invulnerable to nationalist sentiment, by any means. In
1939, members of the local Nazi party participated in stirring Germans in
neighboring Memel - a historically Prussian region - to revolt against
Traditional conservatives like Goerderler were inclined to support Hitler, at least initially. Goerderler considered Hitler a "good man". He also continued to hold high-level positions following Hitler's accession to power. But as he began to doubt Hitler's conduct of the war, he became involved in many in Von Stauffenberg's circle who, on July 20, 1944, attempted to assassinate Hitler with a suitcase bomb in the military headquarters in Rastenberg (present-day Ketrzyn) in East Prussia. Hitler's miraculous survival meant that many East Prussian aristocrats were executed as punishment for their involvement - including Goerdeler in February, 1945.
As the war drew to an apocalyptic end in Königsberg, Nazi officials, notably Gauleiter Koch, seem to have played an important political role in the city. Following the July 20, 1944 assassination attempt, as Königsberg became a city of questionable loyalty in the Reich, the party's power was increased by Hitler, at the expense of other authorities. This led to considerable friction between Koch and the German military commander, General Otto Lasch.
1944, it has recently been discovered, Jews of mostly Lithuanian and Hungarian
origin were forced by the S.S. to evacuate concentration camps in Poland that
were on the verge of being run over by Soviet forces. Some 7,000 of these Jews
were stationed in a camp in Königsberg. Around January 26, 1945, S.S. forces in
Königsberg forced them on a two day march to the coast at the town of
By late January, Koch had abandoned the city, leaving it in the hands of Kreistleiter Wagner, who, in early February, appealed to the population by announcing: "Annihilate the Bolsheviks, wherever you can. Make a mass grave of their path to Königsberg [... ] Death to the Bolsheviks."
Following the failure of a counter-offensive by German forces, Otto Lasch decided to sue for terms in early April. On April 9, Königsberg surrendered to the Soviet command. The city was pillaged. German soldiers were taken to Stablack camp, near Eylau.
At the time of its fall, Königsberg's population was estimated by Otto Lasch to have been around 170,000: between 110 and 120,000 civilians, 15,000 prisoners and forced laborers of foreign nationality, 32,000 Wehrmacht soldiers and 8,000 Volkssturm.
Once Königsberg and surrounding areas were
annexed by the Soviets following the
Michael Behrent, 2002
Copyright © 2002, TABULA RAZA
* Vormärz: that is, the
period preceding the
 Ernest Renan, Qu'est-ce qu'une Nation? Conférence faite en Sorbonne, le
 Georges Lefebvre, Napoléon. (Paris: P.U.F., 1969).
 Gergard von Glinski and Peter Wörster, Königsberg: Die Ostpreussiche Haupstadt in Geschichte und Gegenwart. (Berlin/Bonn: Westkreuz-Verlag, 1990), p. 58.
 James J. Sheehan, German History, 1770 - 1866. (Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1989), p. 490.
 See J. J. Lee, "Aspects of Urbanization and Economic
 Quoted in Rudolf
 Ivo Nikolai Lambi, The Navy and German Power Politics, 1862 - 1914. (London:Allen & Unwin, 1984), p. 198.
 These figures can be found in Fritz Gause's Die Geschichte der Stadt Königsberg in Preussen. III. Band: Vom Ersten Weltkrieg bis zum Untergang Königsberg (Köln: Böhlau Verlag GmbH, 1996).
 See "Goerdeler, Carl" in C. Paul Vincent, A Historical Dictionary of
 Michael Wines, "Russians awake to a Forgotten S.S.
Atrocity", New York Times,