There is a small village in Mark Brandenburg that reflects Prussian, German and European history like a mirror.
First documented reference to Quilitz, as the estate on the western edge of the Oderbruch region was originally called. It fell under the rule of various different aristocratic families over the next few centuries, and gained some importance as a customs post due to its location on the junction of three main routes crossing the region. In 1762, Frederick II, the King of Prussia, requisitioned the land.
In 1759, in the middle of the Seven Years’ War, an opportunity arose for cavalry captain Joachim Bernhard von Prittwitz to render a service to the kingdom of Prussia that would considerable influence its fortunes. Following the disastrous defeat suffered by his troops at the Battle of Kunersdorf, Frederick II of Prussia, ‘the Great’, fell into lethargy and considered the entire war lost. Von Prittwitz persuaded the monarch to retreat from the dangerous battlefield to safety beyond the front line. With the help of a handful of hussars under the command of Hans Joachim von Zieten, von Prittwitz saved Frederick the Great’s life, thereby ensuring that Prussia would eventually emerge victorious from the Seven Years’ War. As a token of his gratitude…
…Frederick II gifted the estate of Quilitz to von Prittwitz in 1763. Over the next few years, von Prittwitz built an impressive baroque mansion on top of some already existing old vaulted cellars. In 1801, his son Friedrich Wilhelm Bernhard von Prittwitz decided to develop the other buildings in the mansion’s grounds and approached the as yet unknown architect Karl Friedrich Schinkel, whom he also commissioned with the rebuilding of the estate church, which had been destroyed by fire. The era of the von Prittwitz family’s time in Mark Brandenburg and Quilitz ended before all of the work was finished in 1811, when the entire estate was sold to the Prussian crown.
A new era began for the estate in 1814, when King Frederick William III gifted Quilitz to his state chancellor Karl August Fürst von Hardenberg, one of the great statesmen who gave their name to the Prussian (‘Stein-Hardenberg’) reforms, to reward him for services rendered to Prussia. Fürst von Hardenberg also brought his credo to this little gem in the Mark Brandenburg countryside: ‘urbanity, grace and an appreciation of life’. The estate was renamed Neu-Hardenberg.
Both the remodelling of the mansion into the two storey neoclassical palace still standing today and also the completion of the church reconstruction, which was finally finished in 1817, took place during the years when Neu-Hardenberg belonged to the state chancellor. He again commissioned Karl Friedrich Schinkel with the work. The park was also redesigned and extended in 1821. It was planned by the renowned garden designer Peter Joseph Lenné, although one of Hardenberg’s sons-in-law, Hermann Fürst von Pückler-Muskau, also had a major influence on the design.
In 1921, Carl-Hans Graf von Hardenberg became Schloss Neuhardenberg’s last aristocratic owner. With his name, another historic event was to become associated with the history of the estate. Hardenberg was one of the conspirators who plotted to assassinate Hitler on 20 July 1944. Schloss Neuhardenberg gave Claus Graf Schenk von Stauffenberg, Henning von Tresckow and the others involved the chance to plan their assassination attempt in relative safety. Three days after the failed attempt, Carl-Hans Graf von Hardenberg was arrested in the palace’s library. After an unsuccessful suicide attempt, he was taken to Sachsenhausen concentration camp, where he barely survived the war. The Nazis seized the von Hardenberg family’s estate, which was not returned to them after 1945; the family had to leave the area.
In 1949, the village was renamed for the second time. Henceforth, it was to be known as Marxwalde, and the GDR made every effort to turn it into a socialist ‘model village’. However, instead, it served as a garrison for the National People’s Army of the German Democratic Republic until 1957; the GDR’s air squadron, for instance, was stationed here. This effectively destroyed the ‘model village’ plan. One of the members of the air squadron was fighter pilot Sigmund Jähn, who went down in history as the first German in space. He lived in the village from 1960 to 1978.
In the decades after 1945, the palace was used as an army hospital, a school, a youth club and a training camp for weightlifters. Between 1978 and 1988, the building was elaborately restored before serving as the Frankfurt/Oder district’s ‘Cultural Academy’ educational institution and workshop. Several pre-fabricated apartment blocks were built in front of the palace; they were torn down in the winter of 1997/98.
Even before the reunification of Germany, the local council decided that the village would revert to its original name of Neuhardenberg, albeit now spelt without a hyphen. On 22 October 1991, the urns containing the ashes of Carl-Hans Graf von Hardenberg and his wife were laid to rest in the family grave behind the church. When the former owner of the estate died in 1958, the GDR authorities had refused the family’s request to have him buried there.
Under the terms of the 1996 Unification Treaty between the Federal Republic of Germany and the German Democratic Republic, the estate was returned to the Hardenberg family, who sold it to the German Savings Banks Association in 1997. Between then and 2001, the palace and the grounds were sensitively restored.
In 2001, the German Savings Banks Association transferred the responsibility for the programme of events, the conference business and the hotel to Stiftung Schloss Neuhardenberg GmbH. The complex of buildings was officially opened on 8 May 2002; Bundespräsident Johannes Rau attended the opening ceremony. Ever since, numerous theatre performances, readings, panel discussions and debates, concerts and exhibitions are held here every year from March to November. For the past 15 years, ‘Neuhardenberg Night’ in late spring has regularly drawn an audience of more than 10,000 visitors to the palace park. Bernd Kauffmann was the General Manager of the Stiftung Schloss Neuhardenberg foundation from 2001 to 2014; he was succeeded in 2015 by Dr. Heike Kramer.