Useful Notes: Prussia

Iron Kingdom

Niemand wird Preuße denn aus Not,
Ist er's geworden, dankt er Gott.note 
German 18th-century saying

Prussia (Preußen in German), named after the duchy and former Ordenstaat but born of the margravate and electorate of Brandenburg (coincidentally by merging with said Ordenstaat, by then secularized), historically the land of the Baltic Old Prussians, was the descendant of The Teutonic Knights and became the dominant state in Germany (having more than half of Germany's land area and population) by the time it was unified (by Prussia, incidentally) in 1871. Brandenburg, Prussia was the location of the German capital, Berlin. From 1701 until the end of World War One in 1918, it was known as "The Kingdom of Prussia", and post-WWI as "The Free State of Prussia". Because "republic" sounded too French. Which had one of the most stable democratic state governments of the Weimar Republic until it was deposed in a military coup on the orders of President Hindenburg. After World War II Prussia ceased to exist because the four Allied powers saw fit to place the blame for what had gone wrong with Germany and dismembered its territory.

Ironically considering their authoritarian bent, some members of the old conservative, aristocratic Prussian officer class often despised the revolutionary and demagogic Nazism but were also often willing to give it tacit support considering democrats, catholics and socialists to be worse. When the nazis came to power, usurping much of the aristocratic officer corps' power and enjoying military success, the Prussian officer class had mixed but mostly positive feelings. However, when the war turned and Hitler's strategy became increasingly irrational they were much disillusioned. Eventually they were heavily involved in the plot to assassinate Hitler, but it doesn't stop Hollywood from confusing the two.

Wilhelm II, pictured, Kaiser (German Emperor) and King of Prussia from 1888 to 1918 is probably the most famous Prussian in popular imagination, mostly for being the "bad guy" of WWI. Well, he did show up in The Simpsons once.

Another notable Prussian was Otto Von Bismarck, a real-life Magnificent Bastard with a Magnificent Hat to prove it. He is at Number 9 on Germany's list of its top 200, because we all love a Magnificent Bastard. Despite his being deceased this is undoubtedly part of his plan. Just what part, we may never know.

Earlier on, Prussia's dominance was built in the eighteenth century on its trademark militarism, which was summarized by Count Mirabeau as "some countries possess armies, but Prussia is an army that happens to possess a country." This reached its Crowning Moment of Awesome in the Seven Years' War, when Prussia essentially stood alone (heavily subsidized by Great Britain) against Austria, Saxony, Russia, France and Sweden. All at once. And not only survived, but kept all of its pre-war territorynote . That's why Frederick II is called the Great. Notably the country was completely smashed flat by Napoleon in 1806, but made a Back from the Brink rally, kicked ass at the Battle of the Nations and Waterloo (despite turning up late...or depending on who you ask, just in time) and was set on the road to domination of Germany. With the proclamation of the German Empire in 1871 at the Palace of Versailles, Prussia became the part of the new Germany. Some scholars have argued that Germany was not unified at all, and merely "Prussianized".

After World War One, the Hohenzollern monarchy was overthrown and Germany was forced by the Allies to give up a significant chunk of its eastern territory to the newly-recreated state of Polandnote . This left East Prussia and the old imperial capital Königsberg (plus the neighbouring, short-lived, Free State of Danzig) physically separated from the rest of Germany by a small strip of land known as the Polish Corridor, the existence of which was one of the many many factors that led that short guy with the Chaplin moustache and his friends to start another war. It didn't end well.

Incidentally, while many in the Nazi top leadership had a big nostalgia for the glory days of the Prussian-run Empire and of the Prussian military, most of these men, including Hitler, weren't Prussian at all: they were predominantly southerners (or Austrians like Hitler). Furthermore, while they both supported the idea of a powerful German empire, the Nazis largely had nothing but contempt for the Prussian aristocracy, holding them to blame for losing the First World War. It is also worth noting that the Kreisau Circle, one of the main focal points of conservative resistance to Nazism, also considered itself to be acting in the best Prussian traditions; when Erich von Manstein refused to join the plot by saying that "Prussian field marshals do not mutiny", his interlocutor countered with the example of Yorck, who had done exactly that. "Prussiandom" as a concept, as an ideology, and as a national identity had by then become so ephemeral as to be claimed by a very diverse range of individuals with very diverse hopes and fears.

After World War II, all of Germany east of the Oder-Neisse linenote , most of which was Prussia, was handed over to Poland, partly to compensate her for her own territorial losses to Ukraine and Russia (the northern part of East Prussia, including its capital, went directly to the Soviets). The Germans kept a claim on those areas until 1970, when it signed the Treaties of Moscow and Warsaw. This was again confirmed with the 1992 Treaty of Good Neighbourship, which formally and finally recognized East Prussia, along with Pomerania and Silesia, as part of Poland. The area remains a part of Poland to this day, and almost everyone is happy for it to stay that way. The northern half of East Prussia however outlasted the USSR and remains part of Russia as the Kaliningrad Oblast, where there is still talk by some locals (odd, considering said locals are almost all Russians, or perhaps not so odd given that it's currently named after a member of Stalin's inner circle who was personally responsible for some Soviet atrocities, and post-Soviet Russia has reversed most other Stalin-era renamings) to rename the titular city back to Königsberg.note 

In modern historiography, Prussia remains a controversial proposition. To some historians, especially those who subscribe to the Sonderweg theory of German hitory, it represents everything that was wrong with German historical development; expansionist, militaristic, intolerant, reactionary yet technically competent - in essence, a land built of the same ingredients as Nazism, a land which turned Germany into the land of "judges and hangmen" after its centuries as a seat of "poets and philosophers". When it was suggested in 2002 that the name be revived for a proposed merger of Berlin and Brandenburg, one German historian even went so far as to declare "Prussia poisons us". On the other hand, other historians reject viewing the entire history of Prussia through the lens of Nazism; Christopher Clark, in his seminal Iron Kingdom, argues that Prussia was not Germany's undoing, but the opposite. Furthermore, the caricature of Prussia as a "termite-state" ignores a long tradition of intellectual inquiry, scientific progress, and political tolerance; Jewish emancipation in Prussia came early, and during the Catholic-Protestant convulsions that seized Europe in the 16th, 17th and early 18th centuries it even had a reputation for taking in refugees, such as Huguenots from France, Brethren from the Czech-speaking parts of Austria, and Lutherans from the bishopric of Salzburg. Whatever one's conclusion, Prussia remains a compelling historical enigma.

See Prussian Kings for more info regarding Prussia's kings. Compare and contrast Imperial Germany. Also related to Kaiserreich.

Examples

Anime and Manga

Literature
  • The planet on which the plot of Poul Anderson's "Among Thieves" is set is very clearly Prussia IN SPACE - inhabited by Germanic warriors led by a Junker-like aristocracy. The story's protagonist, a wily Chess Master who is clearly modeled on Bismark, manages to outwit and destroy the story's true villains - a culture of ruthless sadistic cannibals who delight in genocide - and gets the reader's full-hearted applause.

Comic Books
  • DC Comics has Baron Bedlam, an agent of Darkseid who fits the stereotype to a T. Why an alien "god" from another galaxy models himself after a bygone Earth culture is anybody's guess. (Note the character was created by Jack Kirby, who had a penchant for creating anachronistic characters.)

Commercials
  • The latest Citroen ad (that's right, a French car), "Unmistakeably German- Made in France" invokes this one in spades. "Ride of the Valkyries", fencing, blond bloke and the Brandenburg Gate.

Film

Fanfic
  • The Mass Effect fanfic series Uplifted plays straight with this trope, with the Prussian aristocracy forming the core of a coup against Hitler. However, the Prussians are viewed as arrogant and narrow minded against non Prussian officers. It is a fairly realistic portrayal of the period.

Newspaper Comics
  • Famous sports cartoonist Bill Gallo of the New York Daily News memorably renamed infamous Yankee owner George Steinbrenner as Prussian General von Steingrabber, complete with a thick accent and a pointy helmet. It became so popular that Steinbrenner posed as his Prussian alterego for a photoshoot.

MMORPGs
  • City of Heroes Big Bad and resident The Chessmaster Nemesis is from Prussia. He uses only the most state of the art steampunk technology and even dresses his Evil Minions in Prussian military gear. Since he's a very high level villain, it can be quite humbling to have your team wiped by a bunch of guys looking like they belong to a marching band.

Tabletop Games
  • The Neu Swabian League, a supranational alliance of Germany, Austria, Hungary, Czechoslovakia and Poland that's one of the Full Thrust superpowers, is Prussia IN SPACE complete with an emblem that's the Imperial Eagle given a sci-fi makeover. In an aversion of Prussia's usual portrayal, they are as close to "good guys" as you're getting in a Grey and Grey Morality setting.
  • In the tabletop RPG Castle Falkenstein, Prussia is the Evil Empire. Bismarck is basically The Dragon to the setting's Big Bad, The Adversary, Lord of the Unseelie.
  • The Chaos Dwarfs in Warhammer use mostly Mesopotamian imagery, with elaborate helmets, ziggurat temples, Persian style beards and bull-like monsters. But on second look, they are a rigidly disciplined race with advanced industry and love of firepower, especially heavy artillery. And many of their helmets have spikes on top. You can even find an old model of an artillery sergeant wearing a monocle.
    • The Reikland, political capital of the Empire, is strongly based on Prussia, keeping with the Germanic theme of the Empire.

Video Games
  • Team Fortress 2 gives the German (rumored to be ex-Nazi) Medic an unlockable hat called the Prussian Pickelhaube.
  • Amnesia: The Dark Descent takes place in a castle in 19th Century Prussia. And it's evil.
  • In Europa Universalis III you can found Prussian beginning in the 1500s. To do this you have to convert to Protestantism, except, ironically if you play as the Teutonic Order, where you can keep the Catholic faith.

Web Comics

Web Original
  • As it starts out in the eighteenth century, it's unsurprising that Prussia makes an appearance in the Alternate History Look to the West. There was no Miracle of the House of Brandenburg in this timeline and Frederick the Great was killed at the Battle of Kunersdorf, meaning Prussia's ascendancy is halted. Prussia is then completely destroyed over a series of later wars, eventually being divided between Denmark and Saxony and its last king exiled to America.