There is a small village in the former margraviate Mark Brandenburg that reflects Prussian, German and European history like a mirror.
The first documented reference to Quilitz, as the village on the western edge of the Oderbruch region was originally called, dates back to 1348. Over the next few centuries, it fell under the rule of various aristocratic families and gained some importance as a customs post due to its location on the junction of three regional main routes. 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, or 'Frederick the Great', fell into lethargy and considered the entire war lost. Von Prittwitz persuaded the monarch to retreat to a safe area, away from the danger zone on the front line. With the help of a handful of hussars under the command of Hans Joachim von Zieten, von Prittwitz saved the king's life and at the same time ensured that Prussia would eventually emerge victorious from the Seven Years' War.
Frederick II expressed his gratitude not only by promoting the cavalry captain to general but also gifted von Prittwitz the estate of Quilitz in 1763. Over the next few years, von Prittwitz built an impressive baroque manor house on top of some existing, ancient vaulted cellars. In 1801, his son Friedrich Wilhelm Bernhard von Prittwitz decided to gradually develop the other buildings in the castle grounds and approached the then largely 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 back to the Prussian crown.
In 1814, a new era began for Quilitz. King Frederick William III gifted the estate 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 the many services he had rendered to the government. Fürst von Hardenberg brought his credo to this little gem in the Mark Brandenburg countryside: 'urbanity, grace and an appreciation of life'. The estate was renamed to Neu-Hardenberg.
Both the remodelling of the manor house into the two storey neoclassical castle still standing today as well as the completion of the church reconstruction, which was finally accomplished in 1817, took place during the years when Neu-Hardenberg belonged to the state chancellor. Karl Friedrich Schinkel was again commissioned 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 Neuhardenberg Castle's last aristocratic owner. Along 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. Neuhardenberg Castle gave Claus Schenk Graf von Stauffenberg, Henning von Tresckow and the others involved the chance to plan their assassination attempt relatively undisturbed. Three days after the failed attempt, Carl-Hans Graf von Hardenberg was arrested in the castle library following an unsuccessful suicide attempt, and taken to Sachsenhausen concentration camp. He barely survived his imprisonment. The National Socialists 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 third time. It was henceforth to be known as Marxwalde, and every effort was made to turn it into a socialist 'model village'. However, it ended up serving as a National People's Army of the German Democratic Republic garrison until 1957, primarily due to the nearby airfield, whose dimensions meant that it was also suitable for larger aircraft. The GDR government air squadron, for instance, was stationed here. All of this put an end to the plans for a 'model village'. One of the members of the air squadrons stationed here 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 castle 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 residential buildings were erected in front of the castle.
In 1990, 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 family's request to have him buried there had been refused.
In 1996, the estate was returned to its rightful owners, the von Hardenberg family, as it had been seized from them by the National Socialists. The German Savings Banks Association acquired the grounds and buildings in 1997. The pre-fabricated residential buildings in the castle grounds were demolished in the winter of 1997/98. By 2001, the castle and park had been sensitively restored, and some new buildings had been built whose design closely matched that of the neoclassical buildings.
In 2001, the German Savings Banks Association transferred the responsibility for the programme of events, the conference business and the hotel to a foundation, Stiftung Schloss Neuhardenberg GmbH. The complex of buildings was officially opened on 8 May 2002; Bundespräsident Johannes Rau attended the opening ceremony. Guests have been able to enjoy the hospitality of the Hotel Schloss Neuhardenberg and the country inn Brennerei ever since, and every year, the foundation's programme of cultural events has included concerts, readings, theatre performances, panel discussions and exhibitions. For the past nineteen years, 'Neuhardenberg Night' has regularly drawn an audience of more than 10,000 visitors to the castle park in the spring. Bernd Kauffmann was the General Manager of the Stiftung Schloss Neuhardenberg foundation from 2001 to 2014. His successor Dr Heike Kramer has been responsible for the foundation's work since 2015.