Diplomatic relations between Russia and Germany have had their ups and downs. But, for over 1000 years, the two have interacted and shaped one another’s cultures. Now, the Staatliche Museum in Berlin has created an exhibition to celebrate 1000 years of shared history between Germany and Russia. The exhibition opened on the 6th of October, and will run until the 13th of January.
Russia and Germany’s history first crossed in 1073 when Prince Yaropolk from Kyiv married Kunigunde from Weimar. The marriage was meant to expand the influence of Kyiv, but these ambitions ended with the murder of Prince Yaropolk a few years after his marriage. Russian and German relations fell off after that, and were not resumed for several hundred years.
In the 17th century, the Grand Duchy of Moscow gained power under the leadership of Ivan III, Vasily III and Ivan the Terrible, which attracted the attention of Europe. German travelers visited Moscow, and reported back about the strange culture and dress there.
It wasn’t until the rule of Peter the Great that relations between German and Russia were truly resumed. Peter the Great, like the later Tsarina, Empress Catherine, wished to modernize Russia. The tsar traveled through Germany and the Netherlands looking for inspiration. He brought western dress to court, and ordered nobles to shave their beards or pay a tax. He also arranged strategic marriages to enhance Russia’s influence in the west. This tradition lasted into the 20th century.
Catherine the Great’s marriage to Peter III was one of those strategic marriages. She brought many Germans to Russia with the promise of land, and that they would be able to maintain their customs and ethnic identity. These people, known as Volga Germans, established villages in Russia, and lived there for many generations.
During the Russian Revolution, many people fled to Germany to escape the turmoil. At the same time, German artists were becoming fascinated with the social change in Russia, and incorporated revolutionary themes into their art.
Obviously, not all of Russia and Germany’s shared history is positive. The Nazis invaded all areas where there were significant German populations, including the Soviet Union, during World War II. And, with the advent of Stalinism, both countries fell under totalitarian regimes. Diplomatic relations between Russia and Germany remain strained, but, everyone can benefit from learning about how each country has influenced the other.
The show in Berlin includes 600 individual exhibits, many of which have not been shown before. If you are German, head to the museum to learn a bit more about how the history of your country and of your Russian bride have overlapped.