Berlin (AFP)

A century after the end of the monarchy in Germany, the heirs of the imperial family aroused controversy by demanding the return of castles and works of art confiscated after the Second World War.

"These demands are based on those of my grandfather, presented after the reunification, which I pursue for my family", justified in a recent interview with the newspaper Die Welt the prince George-Frederick of Prussia, head of the imperial house of the Hohenzollern, which has marked a millennium in the history of Germany.

The venerable dynasty, dethroned with William II after the First World War, considers that it was unjustly expropriated in the East by the Soviets in what will later become the Communist GDR, while an agreement signed in 1926 with the German state settled the distribution of imperial goods.

Critics of the Hohenzollern choke on late requests for restitution and, for some, recalled the Nazi sympathies of members of the imperial family during the Third Reich.

- Cecilienhof Castle -

The stakes are high: a right of residence in particular in the famous castle of Cecilienhof in Potsdam, thousands of works of art and more than one million euros as compensation are claimed by the family of the last Kaiser .

With its half-timbering, Tudor-style architecture, six inner courtyards and 55 fireplaces, Cecilienhof is famous for hosting the Potsdam Conference in the summer of 1945, where the Allies decided the fate of their enemies.

Even if the Hohenzollern insists that it wants to exercise "no influence on the presentation of collections and exhibitions" inside, they intend to recover their property, which was firstly owned by the GDR in 1949 and then by the German state after reunification. in 1990.

In front of them, the public foundation that manages most of the heritage of the old Prussia, the Länder of Brandenburg and Berlin, where the heart of the royal province was located, as well as the German federal state.

"The Hohenzollern have been marginalized with unacceptable demands," said Brandenburg Finance Minister Christian Görke.

The negotiations between representatives of the Hohenzollern family and the cultural foundations that manage the properties in question have been going on for years but have become harder in recent weeks when the family presented a detailed list of claims. In the absence of an amicable compromise, the courts will have to decide.

Georges-Frédéric de Prusse has already lost a lawsuit to recover a castle on the Rhine, not far from the famous rock of Lorelei.

- "Fool!" -

"What a cheek!", The former Speaker of the German Chamber of Deputies, Wolfgang Thierse, said about the imperial demands for restitution.

"The claims are based on the law and derive from the law and have not changed," AFP Markus Hennig, the Hohenzollern's lawyer, told AFP. The 1926 agreement granted the family a right of residence in 39 castles and ownership over their contents.

"It's a legal position, the prince must not and does not want to live in a castle, it's just a question of what will happen to this right of residence," says Hennig.

Beyond the legal aspect, this case awakens a memory conflict around the attitude of Hohenzollern after the arrival of the Nazis in power. And this at the moment when supporters of a rehabilitation of the Prussian past of Germany give voice.

- Blurred role -

According to a 1994 law, all persons who have been expropriated by the Soviet Union have the right to claim compensation if "they did not support the Nazi regime".

But there is a debate among historians about the controversial connection of the Kronprinz (Crown Prince, great-grandfather of Georges-Frederic) with Nazism, most of them still believe that there was a link very strong between the NSDAP and the Kronprinz, although he was never a member of the party ", explains the historian Stephan Malinowski.

"In 1932", he notes, "the Kronprinz calls to vote for Hitler in the presidential election", which will be won once again by Marshal Hindenburg.

In the Land of Brandenburg, the Radical Left, a member of the regional coalition government, is campaigning for a popular referendum against imperial demands for restitution.

As the debate rages, the forthcoming reopening in Berlin of another iconic Hohenzollern castle is also controversial: the decision by the German deputies to reconstruct Berlin Castle, the main residence of the imperial family, to the same degree. 'In 1918, destroyed during the Second World War before being replaced by the Parliament of the GDR, is denounced by detractors of the national Prussian past.

© 2019 AFP