Anonymous asked: "Traditionally only members of the royal family, newly-arrived ambassadors, and descendants of General Ernst von Pfuel were allowed to enter through the central archway of the Brandenburg Gate." I second the royal family part, but is there an explanation for von Pfuel?
Yes - Ernst von Pfuel (1779-1866) was a Prussian hero of the so-called “Befreiungskriege” - the wars of independence against Napoleon between 1813 and 1815. He was the commandant of the Prussian sector of Paris after Napoleon’s defeat and helped to ensure the return of the Quadriga to its rightful place on top of the Brandenburg gate, the iconic statue having earlier been plundered by French troops. For this he and his descendants were awarded the right to enter through the central arch.
The Pfuel family had a long tradition of service to the House of Hohenzollern: 21 members served as officers in the armies of Brandenburg during the Thirty Years’ War, and many more held court and ministerial positions down the years. Pfuel himself became Minister President of Prussia for a short while in 1848.
What a cool pic! It’s so wonderful that visual reminders of the vibrant Prussian Jewish community exist.
Although, really it isn’t all that surprising. The Jewish community has become a semi-accepted community within Prussian culture long before 1869. The mainstream did not necessarily accept them, but it certainly tolerated Jews long before the authorities made such things official.
For example, leading Jewish academics such as Moses Mendelssohn held roles in Prussian communities as early as the late eighteenth century, and in the early years of the nineteenth century, Prussian high society was virtually controlled by a group of elite, educated Jewish women (many of whom ultimately converted to Christianity) such as Rahel Levin.
In the years before WWI, Jews were accepted within Prussian society (and general German society) in waves; there were periods of social and cultural acceptance punctuated by intense periods of anti-Semitism, and one of these intense periods occurred within the 1870’s. Thus, what’s actually interesting about this image is not that Jews were accepted within the Prussian military, but that this image is from the very beginning of that anti-Semitic wave.
Governments passed these laws of religious freedom and toleration not because they necessarily cared about those things, but because they assumed that once granted theoretical legal equality, Jews would no longer need to be Jewish. They expected that Jews would simply continue their assimilation and eventually unilaterally convert to Christianity.
While, especially in the early nineteenth century, many Jews did convert, the ultimate response to toleration and the Enlightenment was the Jewish Reform movement, not mass conversion. While it was the Reform Movement was assimilationist in nature, it was hardly the mass conversation that German authorities has been hoping for. This fact contributed to social anti-Semitism.
It’s always amazing how much history you can learn from Tumblr of all places, and how many well-informed people are on here! Thank you for the corrections and the interesting discussion :)