How far did the “German East” extend? With recourse to Malbork Castle, which was “rediscovered” around 1800, German historical policy in the 19th and 20th centuries found very different answers to this question.
The reddish brick Malbork Castle is located in northern Poland, about an hour's drive from
deu. Danzig

Gdansk is a large city on the Baltic Sea in the Polish Pomeranian Voivodeship (Pomorskie) with about 470,000 inhabitants. It is lying on the Motława River (German: Mottlau) on the Gdansk Bay.

Historische Orte
, on the verdant banks of the Nogat River. It stands as a commemoration of the former Teutonic Order Teutonic Order The "Order of Brothers of the German House of Saint Mary in Jerusalem", founded in 1190/99, or "Teutonic Order" for short, was an order of knights comparable to the Order of the Knights Templar or the Order of Saint John. After being expelled from the Holy Land, in 1226 the Teutonic Order received an invitation from Duke Konrad I of Masovia to subjugate the pagan “Pruzzen” (Old Prussians), who settled in the southeastern Baltic region (and from whom Prussia would later receive its name). The foundation of the Teutonic Order state took place in Prussia in the 13th century. After the conquest of Pomerelia with Gdańsk, the Order State gained new territories along the northern banks of the Vistula. The seat of the Grand Masters of the Teutonic Order from 1309 to 1457 was Malbork Castle, located in the Vistula delta. In 1410, the Order under its Grand Master Ulrich von Jungingen suffered a crushing defeat at Tannenberg/Grunwald against a Polish-Lithuanian army, which brought the Order's supremacy in the region to an end. In 1466, the Order lost significant parts of its dominion to the Kingdom of Poland in the Second Peace of Thorn, including Malbork Castle and the adjacent territories. In 1525, the last Master of the Order, Albrecht of Brandenburg-Ansbach, converted to the Reformation, transformed the Order's state into a secular principality and paid homage to his uncle, the Polish King Sigismund I of Poland, who gave him the Duchy of Prussia as a fief. . In the Middle Ages, this knightly order ruled the southeastern
Baltic Sea
fin. Itämeri, lav. Baltijas jūra, lit. Baltijos jūra, est. Läänemeri, swe. Östersjön, fra. Mer Baltique, pol. Morze Bałtyckie, lat. Mare Balticum, deu. Ostsee
region, and the fortress served as its headquarters from 1309 to 1457. By 1800, when the castle and the surrounding area belonged neither to the Teutonic Order nor to Poland, but to the Kingdom of Prussia, there was hardly anything left to remind us of the dazzling importance of this historical place. The abandoned castle had simply been left to decay.
The discovery of Malbork Castle as a historical building
Theodor von Schön (1773-1856), a high-ranking Prussian civil servant, passed by the castle’s ruins in their desolate state several times in the years after 1800. One day he encountered the place again and would later recall how his view of it was transformed all at once: "Before the war of 1806, I had seen Malbork Castle twice in its deepest state of degradation, but I had regarded it more as a curiosity [...]. In 1816 I saw it again, but this time in a completely different light," for "only now did the towering work appear in its full glory before my soul."1
What had happened in the meantime that now made Theodor von Schön look at the castle with such different eyes? On the one hand, he found himself in a transitional period between the Enlightenment and Romanticism – a time when the Middle Ages had begun to displace antiquity as that long-lost and longed-for realm in the past. In this dawning age of medieval romanticism, Malbork Castle had suddenly gained new value and meaning as a symbol of lost chivalry and valiant fighting in the name of the Christian faith. On the other hand, Napoleon Bonaparte's (1769-1821) dominion over the continent had just been brought to an end by the united forces of the European peoples and their rulers. This had given impetus to various national unification movements and people began to reflect on the history of their own countries and local areas. Theodor von Schön's shift in thinking must be seen against this background. What followed was the restoration of Malbork Castle from 1816/17, which he led and carried out at great expense as Oberpräsident (supreme president) of the province of
West Prussia
deu. Westpreußen, pol. Prusy Zachodnie

West Prussia is a historical region in present-day northern Poland. The region fell to Prussia as a result of the first partition of Poland-Lithuania in 1772 and received its name from the province of the same name formed by Frederick II in 1775, which also included parts of the historical landscapes of Greater Poland, Pomerania, Pomesania and Kulmerland. The Prussian province lasted in changing borders until the early 20th century. After World War I, parts fell to the Second Polish Republic, founded in 1918. The largest cities in West Prussia include Gdansk (Polish: Gdańsk, today Pomeranian Voivodeship), Elbląg (Polish: Elbląg, today Warmia-Masuria Voivodeship), and Thorn (Polish: Toruń, today Kujawsko-Pomeranian Voivodeship).

. It was a milestone of 19th-century monument preservation in the German-speaking world.
A Dusty Relic of Ancient History? – The Knights of the Order as Grounds to Justify Existing Borders
These efforts should by no means be misunderstood as merely an amateur cultural project. Malbork Castle also served as a reference point for the major contentious political issues of the time. One of these issues was the territorial affiliation of West Prussia, where the castle was situated. Only recently, in 1772, had the province come into the possession of the Prussian Crown as part of the First Partition of
Polish–Lithuanian Commonwealth
lit. Abiejų Tautų Respublika, pol. Rzeczpospolita Obojga Narodów, deu. Polen-Litauen, deu. Erste Polnische Republik, lat. Respublica Poloniae, pol. Korona Polska i Wielkie Księstwo Litewskie, lat. Res Publica Utriusque Nationis, deu. Republik beider Völker

As early as 1386, the Kingdom of Poland and the Grand Duchy of Lithuania were united by a personal union. Poland-Lithuania existed as a multi-ethnic state and a great power in Eastern Europe from 1569 to 1795. In the state, also called Rzeczpospolita, the king was elected by the nobles.

. In that year, the great powers of Prussia, Austria and Russia had joined forces, and each annexed a piece of this shared neighboring land. According to many contemporaries, this was an outrageous, hitherto unprecedented example of unconscionable power politics. When two more partitions followed in 1793 and 1795, finally wiping the East-Central European state off the map, a former high-ranking Prussian official called it simply "abhorrent."2
The German liberals, who advocated a German nation-state and civil liberties, expressed similar criticism in the years after 1815. They saw King Frederick II of Prussia (1712-1786), who had initiated the first partition, as a role model in many respects. But the invasion of the Polish neighbor was regarded as a breach of law that could not simply be glossed over. Moreover, the heroic November Uprising in 1830/31, during which the Poles rose up against Russian foreign rule, had created a special enthusiasm for the Polish cause. If the Germans wanted to have their own nation-state, why should the Poles not have one too? In this spirit, during the 1848 revolution when the creation of a German nation-state was within reach, a member in the Pre-Parliament called for the restoration of Poland’s 1772 borders.
The Prussian claim to these newly won territories thus stood on rather shaky foundations. The claim to sovereignty was already precarious due to the manner in which the province had been acquired, but now in this time of increasing national movements it continued to crumble due to the region’s proportionally large Polish population. The fact that Poles had also settled in West Prussia was an argument that had not played a role in 1772, in pre-nationalistic times when Prussia acquired the region, but after the reorganization of Europe in 1815, it undermined Prussia's claim to power all the more. The Prussian government had to find new ways to consolidate its own rule in the recently acquired territories. The “rediscovery” of Malbork thus came at the right time and efforts to “expose” the castle and spread word of its significance can be seen as a historical and political intervention, an indication of the German presence in the southern Baltic region, which dated back much further than merely to the annexations in the late 18th century. In this context, the narrative of Prussia as the heir of the Order State became important. Thus, the architect Friedrich Gilly, whose description of Malbork was crucial to it being recognised and preserved as a monument, emphasized the importance of the site "which can be regarded as the cornerstone of the Brandenburg House’s right to govern [West and East] Prussia."3
This historical argument had a defensive character, which could be seen in the building itself, a fortification, but also in the pictorial program that was added to the monument project: In the painted glass windows, the historicizing knight of the Order was not accompanied by a soldier of the Prussian line troops as an actualizing reference to the present, but by a member of the Landwehr, which, at least in the stylization of contemporary liberals, bore militia-like features. The idea was to convey not a readiness to conquer but a readiness to defend against external threats.
However, this defensive, historically based argument of not having conquered the province in 1772, but merely having reacquired old territory, was a double-edged sword: On the one hand, it implied that the Knights of the Teutonic Order had also once come as strangers to territory already settled by others. The problem of the Germans being newcomers was therefore not solved, but merely predated.4  On the other hand, medieval chroniclers described the conquest as extremely brutal and there is even mention of extermination (though this extreme is considered unlikely today). The subjugation of the pagan “Old Prussians” was thus excused by emphasizing the benefits that the Order had brought to the region, for example Christianization and the cultivation of agriculture. Later in the 19th century, this developed into the narrative of a perpetual "civilizing mission" of the Germans to bring order and progress to the supposedly backward Slavs.
The Teutonic Order in the Polish Culture of Remembrance
Representatives of the Polish national movement reacted to the newly awakened interest in the Order in their own way. They reinterpreted the Order in their own terms and painted a picture of warlike conquest and ruthless subjugation of Slavic territories by Germans. The Crusaders, with whom the Germans as a whole could be identified, appeared as aggressive invaders who used their military superiority to appropriate foreign lands and unrestrainedly maltreated the population. It was an image that lent itself well to embedding the present Prussian occupation within a wider narrative of the age-old and ongoing oppression of Slavs by Germans.
To this end, Polish intellectuals from the mid-nineteenth century onward also referred to the “German Drive to the East”. The term “drive” contradicted Prussian historical policy, which saw borders as static and was concerned with defense. "Drive", on the other hand, was a dynamic term; it could imply that Prussian Germany, as the "new crusaders," had only temporarily stalled within the existing borders and that further attacks on Slavic territory were imminent.
Renowned writers such as the two most important poets of Polish Romanticism Adam Mickiewicz (1798-1855) and Juliusz Słowacki (1809-1849) and the late 19th-century writers Józef Ignacy Kraszewski (1812-1887) and the winner of the Nobel Prize for Literature Henryk Sienkiewicz (1846-1916) wrote influential novels that left a lasting mark on the Polish image of the Knights of the Teutonic Order. Not all of these works were written with explicitly anti-Prussian sentiment. Some were actually directed against Russian rule and disguised themselves beneath the cloak of the historical novel to avoid censorship. But they too could be read as anti-German manifestos. In paintings and films, we find a visual reinforcement of the negative myth of the Order. The equation of Knights of the Teutonic Order with Prussians and the latter with Germans was firmly anchored in Polish collective memory and, in view of more recent political and power conflicts, endured well into the 20th century.
The Image of Germanness Becomes Aggressively Warlike
As German-Polish antagonism became more acute and irreconcilable, the warlike elements of the Teutonic Order became increasingly emphasized, also by the German side. Civil and cultural achievements receded into the background or appeared conceivable only with military defense forces at the ready. According to the monument preservationist Conrad Steinbrecht (1849-1923) around 1900, the importance of the castle grew out of the fact that "the German nation on the disputed territory on the banks of the Vistula remained aware of its ancient and native claim to the land and its higher cultural duties."5  The memory of the Middle Ages became a justification, not only for having acquired the territory, but also for resolutely defending the existing borders. In 1902, Emperor Wilhelm II (1859-1941), though several million of his subjects were Poles, declared at a ceremony in Malbork Castle that "the old Malbork, this former bulwark in the East, and cultural gateway to the lands east of the Vistula, should always remain a landmark and symbol of the German mission. Now the time has come again. Polish overconfidence has advanced too close to German territory". He continued: "It was not on foreign soil [...], but at home on the border of the Reich, where Providence handed to the Knights of the Order their sacred task."6
Until the outbreak of the First World War in 1914, there is little to suggest that Malbork Castle and the Knights of the Order served the "expansionist objectives of the empire," as the historian Eugen Kotte writes.7  Instead, it was a matter of using historical means to defend the legitimacy of territorial inheritance, dating from pre-nationalist times, against Polish claims. While other arguments had long called for an imperial policy to annex the territories settled by Germans beyond the imperial borders, the defensive character of the myth of the Order continued to have an effect. Even the radical nationalist Ostmarkenverein, which since its founding in 1894 had been calling for ever more drastic measures against the Polish minority in its own country, still used the armored knight to defend the status quo.
Ordering the "Knights of the Order to March" – Beyond Existing Borders
In 1862, the historian Heinrich von Treitschke (1834-1896) wrote an influential essay in which he described the conquest of Prussia as "the greatest, most momentous deed of the later Middle Ages,” one that saw “a torrential outpouring of the German spirit to the North and the East” marked by “tremendous achievements of our people as conquerors, teachers, and disciplinarians of neighboring peoples."8  Although for Treitschke the justification of the existing borders may still have been in the foreground, this hymn of praise to conquest could also be understood differently. To the extent that the emphasis on the warlike element in the interpretation of the Teutonic Order began to gain the upper hand, efforts at expansion also gained in importance. Thus, the borders of the "German East" began to be seen as fluid. From then on, it was left to the imagination of the individual to decide how far it should extend.
Having reached this point, it was only a small step to use the myth of the Order as an ideological justification of a brutal policy of conquest. In the mid-1920s, none other than Adolf Hitler (1889-1945), who saw the acquisition of ample living space as a compelling necessity for the German people, outlined his plans in Mein Kampf as follows: "When there was a desire for land in Europe, by and large it could only be gained at the expense of Russia. The new Reich had to set out again on the road of the former Knights of the Order, wielding the German sword in order to give the nation its daily bread."9  With this, the decoupling of the Order from its historical domain was finally accomplished; the Knights had become a cipher for an almost boundless expansion into Eastern Europe.
And so, in 1940, in the hustle and bustle of the Second World War, replicas of banners of the Teutonic Order, which had been stored in
deu. Krakau

Krakow is the second largest city in Poland and is located in the Lesser Poland Voivodeship in the south of the country. The city on the Vistula River is home to approximately 775,000 people. The city is well known for the Main Market Square with the Cloth Halls and the Wawel castle, which form part of Krakow's Old Town, a UNESO World Heritage Site since 1978. Krakow is home to the oldest university in Poland, the Jagiellonian University.

, were transferred with great pomp and ceremony to Malbork Castle. According to Nazi propaganda, this "day of the return of ancient symbols of the Order to the Castle of the East" coincided with a time of "gigantic struggle for a new Europe, a Europe with a new spatial order that would ensure the peaceful coexistence of its peoples."10  Today the irony of this statement is obvious – National Socialist Germany was not the champion of this peaceful coexistence, but was instead the looming threat to the possibility of its existence. An appropriately symbolic fate also befell the fortress in the final phase of the war: after several weeks of shelling by the Red Army in early 1945, Malbork Castle had been reduced to just another of those countless ruined landscapes of Central and Eastern Europe. It is only thanks to the painstaking work of Polish reconstructionists, which began in the early 1960s, that the castle, though stripped of its German nationalist meaning, can today once again be considered a monument to the evolution of medieval sovereignty.
English translation: William Connor

Siehe auch