Posts Tagged ‘Hans Hermann von Katte’

Frederick the Great shaped modern Europe

Monday, February 20th, 2017

King Frederick the Great (Friedrich der Grosse) was born in 1712 in Berlin, Germany. In 1740, he inherited the Prussian throne from his father, Frederick William I (Friedrich Wilhelm I) and ruled until 1786. He was bestowed the epitaph of “the Great” during his lifetime and was affectionately nicknamed “Der Alte Fritz” (Old Fritz) by the Prussian people.

It is doubtful that Otto von Bismarck could have united Germany without Frederick the Great’s achievements. In addition to being an excellent military strategist and one of the most enlightened monarchs of the area, Frederick the Great was also an insightful historian, a probing philosopher, an accomplished musician and an insatiable reader. During his time in power, Prussia became one of the preeminent powers in Europe.

Frederick the Great’s childhood

Frederick the Great’s father was a violent authoritarian with a quick temper who expected his son to embrace the military to the exclusion of all other pursuits. But the young price preferred the arts and culture to the art of war. Frederick William responded by beating and humiliating his son. At age 18, young Frederick attempted to escape to England together with his friend, Hans Hermann von Katte. The two were caught and arrested for treason. In a cruel spectacle, Frederick William made his son watch the decapitation of his friend. Thereafter, Frederick the Great bowed to his father’s wishes.

Frederick the Great’s Domestic Achievements

Frederick the Great achieved a high reputation as a military commander and is often remembered as the father of Prussian militarism, but his impact was even more evident domestically. He not only reformed the military and the bureaucracy, he also established religious tolerance and granted a basic form of freedom of speech and press. He reformed the judicial system, abolishing most uses of torture and established the first German code of law. He also encouraged immigrants of various nationalities and faiths to come to Prussia.


Frederick II, King of Prussia (known as Frederick the Great), 1712-1786. Photo courtesy of en.wikipedia

Frederick II, King of Prussia (known as Frederick the Great), 1712-1786. Photo courtesy of en.wikipedia


Frederick the Great’s reign saw a revolutionary change in the importance and prestige of Prussia. Despite preferring the French language to his native German, Frederick distrusted France’s intentions. “Distrust is the mother of security” became his motto.

Frederick the Great’s Architectural Achievements

Frederick had many famous buildings constructed in Berlin. Most of them still exist today, such as the Berlin State Opera (Berliner Staatsoper), the Royal Library (Staatsbioliothek Berlin), St. Hedwig’s Cathedral (Sankt-Hedwig-Kathedrale) and Prince Henry’s Palace (now the site of the Humboldt University (Humboldt Universitaet.) However, the king’s most favorite place was his summer residence, Sanssouci, in Potsdam.


For a sneak peek at the first 20+ pages of my memoir, “Walled-In: A West Berlin Girl’s Journey to Freedom,” click “Download a free excerpt” on the home page of

Frederick William I – A Troubled Ruler

Monday, February 13th, 2017


King Frederick William I (Friedrich Wilhelm I) of Prussia (1713-1740) was a short-tempered and cantankerous ruler. But to his credit, he was also an astute monarch. His reforms transformed Prussia from a second-rate power into an efficient and thriving state. Because the army was his overriding passion he became known as the “Soldier King.” He also concerned himself with many other aspects of his relatively small country. When Frederick William died, he left his son and heir, Frederick II the Great an army of about 83,000, a centralized state, a surplus of more than 8,000,000 taler in the royal treasury, and a Prussia that had become the third military power on the European continent, right behind Russia and France.

King Frederick William I (Friedrich Wilhelm I) of Prussia, photo courtesy of from a portrait by Antoine Pesne.

King Frederick William I (Friedrich Wilhelm I) of Prussia, photo courtesy of – portrait by Antoine Pesne.

Frederick William – complete opposite of his father

Frederick Williams’s father, Frederick I of Prussia (1657-1713) had been the first King of Prussia. Modeling himself after Louis XIV, the “Sun King” of France, his father had embraced luxury to the point of bankrupting the state finances. Young Frederick William decided to take the opposite path. Once king, he dissolved his father’s extravagant court, cut expenses by about three quarters, lived simply and frugally and worked hard. He spent all the money he saved on his armies to make Prussia independent from its neighbors.

Frederick William’s Accomplishments

Frederick William tried to improve the welfare of his people. Convinced that a thriving state could not afford illiterate subjects, he introduced compulsory primary education. He encouraged farming, reclaimed marshes, stored grain in good times and sold it in bad times. He resettled Prussia’s eastern territories after it had been depopulated by the plague. He freed the serfs and abolished hereditary leases. He never started a war and made considerable reforms to the Prussian army’s training, tactics and conscription program. The lot of the peasantry improved significantly during his reign. He demanded discipline, efficiency and good work ethics from his soldiers, and Prussian discipline and Prussian virtues became accepted concepts.

Frederick William’s shortcomings

Although an effective ruler, Frederick William possessed a violent temper. His inherited illnesses, which resulted in gout, migraines, obesity and severe stomach cramps, may have exacerbated his disposition. At times, his temper was uncontrollable. The most frequent victim of such outbursts was his son Fritz (later known as Frederick the Great). When father and son happened to meet in private or in public, Frederick William often seized Fritz by the throat, threw him to the ground and forced him to kiss his boots.

The reason was that Frederick William had wanted his eldest surviving son to become a fine soldier. To that end, he had Fritz exposed to no more than a minimal education, required him to live a simple lifestyle while focusing on the Army and statesmanship. But Fritz preferred the intellectual pleasures of music, philosophy and French culture. As Fritz’s defiance for his father’s rules increased, Frederick William would beat or humiliate him. When Fritz attempted to flee to England with his friend and tutor, Hans Hermann von Katte, the enraged king had Katte executed and forced Fritz to watch.


During his final years, Frederick William was His last years were dominated by his passion of recruiting tall men for his palace guard, the Potsdam Giants (Potsdamer Riesergarde)

For a sneak peek at the first 20+ pages of my memoir, “Walled-In: A West Berlin Girl’s Journey to Freedom,” click “Download a free excerpt” on the home page of