Germans bury Prussia taboo to fete Frederick

Fri Jan 27, 2012 6:50am EST
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By Madeline Chambers

POTSDAM, Germany (Reuters) - Portraits of Frederick the Great line the streets, bookshops are bursting with new biographies, talk shows debate his legacy and toymaker Steiff has made a limited edition teddy bear of the Prussian ruler in his blue uniform coat and tricorn hat.

Germans gearing up for a year of celebrations to mark Frederick's 300th birthday are showing a new, relaxed pride in the much-disputed figure and in Prussia itself, long considered a byword for the militarism glorified by the Nazis.

Between 1740 and 1786, Frederick the Great transformed Prussia from a small, barren territory into a mighty European power by waging wars with a well-trained, disciplined army.

He also abolished torture and promoted religious tolerance and education, and the arts and sciences flourished under his rule.

A revised view of such a pivotal historical figure, coming as modern German politicians are pushing their diplomatic and economic agenda in Europe, is an important step for a country still in the process of defining what its international role should be in the 21st century.

"When I think of Frederick the Great and Prussia I think of culture as well as of war. That is something to be proud of," said Hans Bierdke, a 26-year-old student in Potsdam.

"I think we have moved on from being embarrassed by him."

Frederick has been used to suit a series of different agendas over the decades, from Adolf Hitler as an inspiration for military expansion to the Allies after World War Two as a way of stamping out German nationalism.   Continued...