The Secret of Greatness: Frederick II of Prussia

November 1, 2012, 6:00-7:00pm
Lecture at the GHI
Speaker: Jürgen Luh

  • Event Report

    Jürgen Luh, curator of the 2012 "Friederisiko" exhibit about Frederick II in the Neues Palais in Potsdam and author of a recent biography of the monarch, began his lecture on Frederick II of Prussia by arguing that, from his early years, Frederick was consumed by a thirst for fame and glory. With Alexander the Great and Prince Eugene of Savoy (the most famous general of the early 18th century) as his role models, Frederick was determined to make his reputation as a military commander. When the opportunity to invade Silesia presented itself in 1740, Frederick was itching to go to war; the Silesian invasion presented a great risk because Frederick had no experience as a military commander. After the successful conclusion of the second Silesian war in 1745, Frederick himself engineered a homecoming celebration that endowed him with the epithet "the Great." Not content with fame as a military commander, Frederick also longed to become a famous poet and philosopher. He wrote poetry (in French) throughout his life and wrote a series of philosophical treatises. In fact, Frederick's French was out of date and riddled with mistakes, so that his poetry was much improved by the editing of Voltaire, Frederick's most important friend and advisor. Voltaire also prodded Frederick to support the arts and sciences, which led the monarch to found the Berlin Opera House, promote the careers of several dancers and dance troops, and to reinvigorate the Berlin Academy of Sciences, which had greatly declined under the reign of his father. Anxious to secure his place in history, Frederick wrote several books covering the history of his own time. He also built himself an architectural monument by constructing the Neues Palais in Potsdam. Luh concluded by arguing that Frederick was a master at promoting himself through savvy public relations.

    The lecture was followed by a lively question-and-answer session. In response to a question about Frederick's military achievements, Luh argued that Frederick was not a military reformer or a good military commander; in fact, he almost lost the battle of Torgau, which was won by one of his generals; thereafter, he never fought another risky battle. Regarding Frederick's supposed religious tolerance, Luh noted that Frederick was indifferent towards religion, rather than tolerant of different religions; he also held strong anti-Semitic beliefs and drove the Jews out of West Prussia. Finally, Luh debunked the notion that Frederick should be considered the founder of a great Prussian tradition; Frederick, he argued, was only concerned about his own reputation, rather than laying the foundation for a flourishing Prussian state.

    Dr. Jürgen Luh, is a historian at the Stiftung Preußische Schlösser und Gärten Berlin-Brandenburg. He has published broadly on Prussian and military history. Luh was responsible for the "Friedrich 300" events in Potsdam 2012. His 2011 biography Der Große: Friedrich II von Preußen is an important contribution to the controversy on character and heritage of the Prussian king.

  • Invitation

    Dr. Jürgen Luh, born in 1963, is a historian at the Stiftung Preußische Schlösser und Gärten Berlin-Brandenburg. He has published broadly on Prussian and military history. Luh was responsible for the "Friedrich 300" events in Potsdam 2012. His 2011 biography Der Große: Friedrich II von Preußen is an important contribution to the controversy on character and heritage of the Prussian king.

    Please RSVP (acceptance only) by October 25. Tel: 202.387.3355 - Fax: 202.387.6437 -  E-mail

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