|Sabine Josefine Brand, textile conservator at DHM|
|Short biography of
Friedrich von der Groeben (1645-1712) and history of the Türkenzelt (Turkish
owned by the Deutsches Historisches Museum (German Historical Museum), Berlin
Following the decisive victory over the Turkish after the battle of Kahlenberg near Vienna in 1683, several Ottoman empire tents were among the items captured as booty. One of these tents was given, in its entirety as a trophy of war, to an officer allied to King Jan (John) III Sobieski of Poland who served in the war against the Turkish.
Friedrich von der Groeben (1645-1683), the commander of the Foreign Regiment under Sobieski, became the new proprietor of the circular shaped tent, which was essentially constructed from cotton and silk. This impressive extensive object can now be found, more than 300 years later, complete with original structural elements of cotton, leather, wood and metal, under the patronage of the German Historical Museum in Berlin.
Fiedrich von der Groeben was, however, not the first from his aristocratic lineage - who in the middle ages were domiciled in Anhalt and soon after in Mark Brandenburg - to be active on behalf of Poland's political and military interests. Friedrich fulfilled this role from 1670 onwards, however his ancestor Otto von der Groeben (1567-1649) had already attained notoriety as a leader of high rank in Herzoglich Preußen. In addition to Friedrich and Otto, approximately 15 other members of the von der Groeben family were either in the service of the Polish state or the Polish royal household in the second half of the 17th and beginning of the 18th century. Therefore, within the context of his family's tradition of participating in Polish military interests, Friedrich's military career and social history are certainly worth looking at in a little more detail.
In order to serve the Polish state, Friedrich von der Groeben took the initiative in circa 1670, before any other members of his lineage, of joining the foreign legion, or German Infantry. This decision happened to coincide with the Polish government's decision (The Seym) to extend Poland's military capacity, and was authoritatively brought into being by >Hetman< Jan Sobieski. Appropriately, the expansion mainly involved the foreign or alien infantry. By 1672 this new regiment had already doubled in strength. His experience and skill combined with the forthcoming military tasks soon gave the officer von der Groeben the opportunity to gain the title of Lieutenant Colonel by 1675, and by the end of the same year he had even attained the rank of Colonel. At around the same time Senatsgroßmarschall (Marshal) Jan Sobieski, having commanded the successful victory over the Turkish at Chocim (1673), succeeded through election to become King Jan III Sobieski of Poland.
In the years that followed, the new King entrusted his foreign infantry's regimental commander, the same Friedrich von der Groeben, with diplomatic tasks and various dangerous missions to the Tatars and to the Turks. The stated aims of these missions were to find out as much as possible about the enemy's political and military intentions. The fact that Friedrich was repeatedly given extremely delicate tasks to undertake shows that he most likely held a particular position of trust within the royal court. Any special favours granted to him for these duties, for instance higher financial rewards, have not been substantiated but are highly likely.
With the Turkish expulsion from Vienna and the surrounding region in 1683 as a result of the aforementioned battle, Friedrich von der Groeben's military career developed further. In 1687 he gained a promotion to General Major, furthermore Sobieski entrusted him with other military operations of even greater importance. Examples of these are the incident at Észtergom/ Hungary, several Moldau campaigns between 1684-1686 and the capture of the fortresses Soroka and Neamt in 1691. Friedrich progressed to the position of General Lieutenant in 1693, and further weight was added to his military services for Poland by the constant reinforcement of his regiment and by the expansion of his financial and administrative responsibilities. Even after Jan Sobieski III's death in 1696 he remained in the Polish army under King August II, and towards the end of his successful military career he increased his diplomatic activities by representing Prussian interests at the Polish court, which by this time had moved to Warszawa (Warsaw). An entry dating from 1709, three years before his death, can be found in the Polish crown records celebrating General Lieutenant von der Groeben´s infantry, and shortly after in 1710, mention of one of his descendants Oberst Otto Friedrich von der Groeben (1656-1728) was made in the official Polish military files.
Friedrich von der Groeben's extremely successful activities in the services of the King of Poland placed him in high esteem and furnished him with wealth and prosperity. Towards the end of his life therefore, he disposed of four items of real-estate that belonged to him. These were all in East-Prussia with the main estate Groß-Schwansfeld located in the district of Bartenstein/ Bartoszyce in Ermland/ Warmia. This estate is known to have housed, for a particularly long time, the tent captured near Vienna.
Unfortunately no evidence exists on how often (if at all) the tent had been presented, used or even erected in the two hundred years before it was officially recorded as being moved from East-Prussia. It is highly likely that it acquired a shadowy existence for a long period of time, and was practically forgotten i.e. stored in an unspectacular place on the manorial premises. Its relatively good condition today, considering that it is nearly exclusively constructed from sensitive organic material, backs this theory up.
There is a sufficient reason to conclude that at the turn of the last century the last German Kaiser (Emperor) Wilhelm II, who aware of all matters military, would have been informed about this extraordinary document being held in Groß-Schwansfeld. As he was also concerned with the affairs of the Zeughaus (The Arsenal) a place designated for the collection and preservation of many glorious military objects, which was housed near his own residential palace in Berlin, it is most likely that he initiated the tent's acquisition. In all probability the contact between the imperial family and aristocracy, and therefore with the von der Groeben Earls was so pronounced - not least through their military activities - that an open dialogue between the Kaiser and the von der Groebens concerning the Turkish Tent's possible conveyance may well have taken place.
The object's transfer to the Zeughausverwaltung (The Arsenal administration) - together with Earl Heinrich von der Groeben's responsibility for it - is actually recorded in the Zeughaus' purchase diary of 1907 under inventory number 07.1077. At the outset it was most probably treated as a generous loan. Further documentary evidence of it can be found in the minutes of the Zeughaus Advisory Commission which in a meeting in 1908 had recorded the taking over of the tent as one of the items on its agenda. In about 1907 the Zeughaus was subordinated to the War Ministry as a governmental institution and secured its continued importance through the sympathies and support of Kaiser Wilhelm II. Final written evidence of the tent's purchase for 20,000 Marks dates from 1922. As a result of the above - from the time of its hand-over in 1907 until the beginning of the twenties - it's status was merely as a loan item for possible acquisition through the Zeughaus administration (official confirmation of this regrettably does not exist). Illustrations or pictures of the tent erected in the Arsenal throughout this transitional phase are also in short supply up to the point where the above evidence verifies its purchase. At the beginning of the century very little documentation or exhibition notes were released, and any records kept were very general and lacked any special mention of the tent in detail. They therefore do not contain any relevant information on this subject.
After the outbreak of World War II and the increasing danger posed to cultural assets, several artefacts and historical documents were taken out of German institutions for their own protection. In 1944 many of the items from the Zeughaus, including the Turkish tent were taken to Graudenz/ Grudziadz in West-Prussia. With the end of the war its traces were lost until a large repatriation campaign of the spoils of war from The Soviet Union back to the then German Democratic Republic in 1958 and 1959 brought it to light again. This sequence of events meant that it had been deported as booty for the second time in its history travelling further east from West-Prussia, and finally at the end of the Fifties being brought back by an ally of the GDR. For reasons unknown to the author, the recipient was not the capital of the GDR, East-Berlin and therefore the tent's prior location the Zeughaus, but instead it was taken - probably in error - to the Völkerkundemuseum/ Grassimuseum (Ethnology Museum) in Leipzig. The tent in the intervening time had become seriously damaged. In Leipzig again it was stored for several decades unerected, and always discreetly tagged as a "secret state affair" it was registered but never worked on by conservators and its existence wasn't even publicised until after the collapse of communism in Europe in 1989 and the fall of the Berlin-Wall.
In the course of the following few years several cultural repatriations took place, amongst them being the Turkish tent in 1992, which after decades in one German state was transferred to a unified German state, and was finally moved back to the undivided city of Berlin. However, through another administrative misdirection it was taken from one Völkerkundemuseum in Leipzig to another Völkerkundemuseum in the Berlin district of Dahlem, one of several museums under the Stiftung Preußischer Kulturbesitz (Foundation of Prussian Cultural Property) domiciled in the pre 1989 West-Berlin.
From inventory labelling found on the object and after consultation with the legally recognised successor to the Zeughaus' legacy, The Deutsches Historisches Museum, located in Berlin in the Zeughaus, the object's correct intended location was identified and very shortly afterwards the same year the tent was returned there.
In the last few years the tent's condition and its main textile components have been extensively examined and the results catalogued with illustrations and photographs. Damage and depletion have been paid particularly attention to - for example the replacement of many supporting elements made of hemp, which would have been used as straps, ropes, or the central wooden pole fundamentally necessary for the tent's erection.
A comprehensive programme of conservation and restoration of this textile artefact manufactured in technique appliqué has been developed. At present state-of-the-art preservation measures are being carried out on this impressive object with an eventful past in preparation for its return to the Zeughaus and its planned reintroduction as a long term exhibit in 2004.
Dr. Januta Janicky, 1993 Torún, Poland: Manuscript entitled "Die Familie von der Groeben und ihre Beziehungen zu Polen im 17. Jahrhundert". Publication details unknown.
Conversation with Klaus von der Groeben, Kiel, 1993/ 1999.