Brandenburg History

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This article discusses the history of the Prussian province of Brandenburg. Much of this area is contained in the modern German state of Brandenburg. Brandenburg was the nucleus of the Kingdom of Preussen (Prussia).

Online Resources[edit | edit source]

History[edit | edit source]

Early History[edit | edit source]

Before the introduction of Christianity, the area that became the province of Brandenburg was occupied by a number of Slavic tribes. By 983, the Slavic people in general were brought under German control. In the 1100s they became part of Brandenburg. Although the area was conquered by the Germans, the Slavic influence on both the culture and history of Brandenburg is noticeable even today. The major Slavic tribes were: Burgunders, Heveller, Langobarden, Lechen, Lutizen, Semones, Sorben, Wends, and Wilzen.

Borders (called marks) were established for the area of Brandenburg beginning in the 900s. The term Mark is the original German word for Border. The name was given to those territories found in the north, east, and south of Charlemagne's empire. Those who governed these areas were called Markgrafen (margraves). The Mark areas part of Brandenburg's history:

  • Old Mark: (Altmark or Mark Nordsachsen). Established in 931, originally called the Mark of North Saxony (Mark Nordsachsen).
  • Mark Brandenburg: Border area between the German and Slavic people. Eventually became the name of the Margravate, Electorial, Province and modern German state.
  • Priegnitz: (Vormark-Priegnitz). This region was in the Prussian province of Brandenburg. It was on the Elbe, Havel, Dosse, and Stepenitz rivers. This area was a constant conflict between Brandenburg and Mecklenburg.
  • Middle Mark: (Mittelmark). Eventually became part of the former Electorial of Brandenburg.
  • New Mark: (Neumark). This was the original area of the Mark Brandenburg and part of the Kurmark.
  • Ukermark: Located in the northern part of the Prussian province of Brandenburg. It was occupied by the Ukranern, a Wendish tribe. Came under German control in the 10th century. The area went back and forth between Brandenburg, Pomerania, and Mecklenburg.

During the time of the establishments of the Marks, Christianity was introduced into this area. Gero, the margrave of the Saxon East Mark, assisted in the conquering of the Slavs and introduction of Christianity. Under Otto the Great, the Bishoprics of Havelberg in 946 and Brandenburg in 949 were established. In 983, the Wends revolted and regained all the lands they had lost. During this time, all aspects of Christianity was exterminated.

The Ascanian dynasty was established in 1134 and pushed the Slavic people out of the areas of Priegnitz, Zauche, and the Mittelmark. The ruler of the Ascanian dynasty, Albert the Bear, reconquered areas previously lost and reestablished Christianity. He restored the bishoprics previously destroyed by the Wends, established monasteries, and brought knights to fortify the land with castles. He also seized the Mark Nordsachsen from the Duchy of Saxony and renamed it the Margrave of Brandenburg.

The city of Old Berlin is believed to have been established by Germans during the 1100s. Berlin's name is derived from the word "Wehr," which means "to defend." Berlin, in its early history, was not a major trade city, even though it was the center of Germany.

Middle Ages[edit | edit source]

From the 1200s to the 1400s Brandenburg experienced periods of increase and periods of decline. The early 1200s was a prosperous time for Brandenburg, as its borders were expanding. Land was seized, acquired, or purchased from surrounding tribes and kingdoms. Germans began to migrate to this area to colonize the land and establish cities. Through German colonization the Slavic people were integrated and assimilated into the German society. In the later 1200s, the area of Brandeburg experienced change as rulers died, land was conquered and divided, and borders were altered. In the 1300s, the Margravate of Brandenburg experienced heavy fighting and political instability. During this time, Poland and Lithuania devastated areas of Brandenburg. Because of the heavy fighting and confusion, trade and commerce decreased significantly, resulting in economic depression. The Golden Bull of 1356 established the Margrave of Brandenburg as one of the seven electors of the Holy Roman Empire.

In the late 1300s and early 1400s, Brandenburg's size decreased, as many lands and outlying areas were lost. However, beginning in the mid-1400s Brandenburg became stronger. Order was reestablished, the central government was strengthened, and important trade were reestablished. Despite the disruption of trade and commerce through highway robbers, the rulers of Brandenburg were able to bring law and order to the area. Also during this time the nobility used their power to gain rule over the peasants in their areas.

Reformation[edit | edit source]

Beginning in the 1500s, Brandenburg began to more firmly establish law and education in its borders. For instance, the University of Frankfurt was founded in 1506, the supreme court of Berlin was established as the highest court of Justice in Brandenburg, and Roman law was instituted. Religion was also a prominent part of the 1500s. After the start of the Reformation movement, all of the Jews were expelled from Brandenburg in 1510. In 1555, territories were allowed to introduce the Reformation into their areas on an equal basis with the Catholic Church.

In the 1600s and 1700s, war played a significant role in Brandenburg's history. During the Thirty Years' War, Brandenburg was invaded and occupied by both Imperial and Swedish forces. In 1631, Berlin was invaded by Swedish troops. Berlin, along with other cities, suffered greatly at this time with crop failure, inflation, contagious diseases, and the war itself. By 1647, the ruler of Brandenburg was able to rid Brandenburg from Swedish occupation and reestablish order. The Peace of Westphalia in 1648 awarded Brandenburg with more land and an archbishopric. After the war, Lutheranism became the state religion.

Brandenburg continued to grow in power and prestige during the later 1600s. By 1688, Brandenburg was the most powerful Protestant state. In power it was second only to Austria in the Holy Roman Empire. Unfortunately, the plight of peasants did not improve during this time. A 1653 law exempted the nobility from paying taxes and, instead, placed all the financial burden on the peasants. During this time the population increased due to an influx of French Protestants, Palatines, and Swiss.

Prussia[edit | edit source]

In 1618 an area of Prussia was added to Brandenburg. In 1692, the king of Brandenburg died and his successor assumed the title of "King of Prussia" instead of "King of Brandenburg." This essentially separated his kingdom from the German Empire. The German Empire recognized King Frederick I of Prussia's coronation in order to gain his support in the War of Spanish succession. Frederick increased the size of his army greatly, using both his own subjects and hired foreigners. Through the establishment of the "canton system," military service became mandatory for all young men, most of whom were peasants. Each man was required to spend two months out of each year in military service.

Conflict between Austria and Prussia, called the War of Austrian Succession, began in 1740 but did not end until 1763. In the 1770s, Poland began to be divided between Prussia, Russia, and Austria. This acquisition of part of Poland impacted Brandenburg, as more and more men were required to serve in the military. Where before the military only consisted of 80,000 men, it now grew in size to 180,000 men. The financial burden of supporting the army was placed on the people.

After losing to France in war in 1806, Prussia had to relinquish part of its land to France and was forced to accept the occupation of French troops in other parts of the empire. After their loss to France, Prussia initiated several changes and reforms.

  1. The emancipation of the serfs - 1807
  2. Ordinances regulating the accession of emancipated peasants to the ownership of land - 1811
  3. The granting of equality of civil rights to Jews - 1812
  4. Freedom to choose ones trade and discontinuance of guild control
  5. Discontinued use of mercenary soldiers

Prussia was also involved in the conflict between France and Russia, aligning with both sides at different times. The Congress of Vienna allotted Prussia several new territories.

Through the reorganization of the government in 1815, Brandenburg became a province in the kingdom of Prussia. The province consisted of Mittelmark, Ukermark, Priegnitz, and the greater part of the Neumark. Other areas were taken away from Brandenburg. The main water ways included: the Elbe, Oder, Netze, Warthe, and Neisse rivers. There was also numerous canals. According to the 1880 census, Brandenburg, excluding Berlin, had a population of 2,266,651. Only 50,963 were Catholic, 2,468 were nonconformists, and 12,296 were Jewish. The majority of the inhabitants were German, although there were over 52,000 Wends in the area of Lusatia. The first capital city was Potsdam, followed by Berlin from 1827 to 1843, and Potsdam again from 1843 to 1918. From 1918 until 1945 the capital was Berlin-Charlottenburg.

In 1818, the Prussian government established a simplified tariff for all of its provinces which required only moderate customs dues. This became the basis for the Zollverein (Customs Union), which was established in 1834 and which, by 1852, included all the German states except Austria and Hamburg.

In 1848, a revolution broke out and assemblies were held in the cities of Berlin and Brandenburg but nothing was accomplished. In February 1850 the king imposed a constitution, which remained in affect until 1918. A parliament was established with two chambers: the Upper Chamber (called Herrenhaus or House of Lords) and the Lower Chamber (members were elected by the taxpayers).

The Industrial Revolution occurred in Germany in the second half of the 1800s. The population of places either decreased drastically or increased rapidly was these new industries drew people from surrounding communities into the cities. During this time housing and living conditions became deplorable. Berlin was one of the industrial cities. Its population grew from 200,862 in 1819 to 1,122,330 by 1880. In Berlin there were more women than men.

Modern Times[edit | edit source]

In 1914, World War I broke out and in 1918, revolution again spread throughout Germany. This revolution ended the Prussian monarchy. After WWI, the area of Brandenburg remained the same but other parts of Prussia were lost to other countries. Between 1918 and 1932, Prussia was ruled by the Social Democrats. During the Nazis rule, the Prussian constitution and legislature was abolished and Prussia remained as a unit for administrative purposes only. After World War II, the Allied Control Council formally abolished Prussia on March 1, 1947. The western third of Brandenburg was given to Poland, more of western Brandenburg was given to the German Democratic Republic, and the remained was given to the Federal Republic of Germany. With the unification of Germany in 1989, the German Democratic Republic was dissolved and made a part of the Federal Republic of Germany. The area east of the Oder and Neisse rivers still belongs to Poland. The rest of what was Brandenburg is now the German state of Brandenburg.

Berlin was expanded separated from Brandenburg on October 1, 1920 and became an independent entity with province-like administrative rights. The new greater Berlin area included six former counties with fifty-nine civil communities and 27 rural districts.

Brandenburg province was divided into two regions: Frankfurt/ Oder and Potsdam. Regional offices in both cities were also responsible for issuing permits to emigrants.Card indexes [in German titled Auswandererkartei] of 19th Century emigrants kept by these offices are available on microfiche at the Family History Library. There is a separate set for each region. Indexes to these microfiches are also available on in the Immigration Collection.

When the province of Grenzmark-Posen-Westpreussen was divided up in 1938, the counties of Schwerin (Warthe), Meseritz, and parts of Bomst were annexed to Brandenburg Province. At the same time the Brandenburg counties of Friedeberg/Neumark and Arnswalde became part of Pommern (Pommerania).


References[edit | edit source]

  1. Jensen, Larry O. "A History of Brandenburg". German Genealogical Digest (Fall 1994): 76-88.