It was on this cool spring evening in room 2 of the Humboldt Forum, as always at major award ceremonies: the winner of the German Non-Fiction Prize, Stephan Malinowski, was delighted that his book about the Hohenzollerns’ collaboration with the Nazis had been chosen – even if it was he tried to play his little game with exactly this phrase about “being surprised”, in which he pretended that he wanted to avoid the sentence “I didn’t expect that at all”.
But Malinowski also said that his surprise was related to the timeliness and quality of the other nominated books, and he was quite right. Because at first you were a bit taken aback by this choice, because you felt reminded of the past year when Jürgen Kaube won the German Non-Fiction Prize, which was awarded for the first time, with his Hegel book. At first glance, Malinowski’s book also seems to fit the claim that the head of the stock exchange association, Karin Schmidt-Friderichs, formulated for non-fiction books in general and this prize in particular: they should help us better understand the world in which we live.
Or be of “current relevance”, as the jury chair Tania Martini put it. In this respect, as an outsider, one would have expected Alice Bota and her book about the women of Belarus, Stefan Kreuzberger and his investigation of German-Russian relations, or Nathan Sznaider’s “Vanishing Points of Memory” about the possibility and impossibility, the Holocaust and to compare postcolonial crimes.
How did the jury explain their choice: “Who determines the reading of the past? Stephan Malinowski has written an excellently researched and brilliantly told book about the role of the Hohenzollern since 1918.
When asked whether the ruling family encouraged National Socialism, Malinowski’s answer is unequivocal: when building the ‘Third Reich’, the family and the NS movement forged a symbolic political alliance.
The book combines social and political contemporary history with a family portrait and is at the same time a brilliant milieu study of conservative and right-wing hostility to the republic. It is characterized by stringent argumentation and sovereign knowledge of the sources. Malinowski gives a convincing answer to the Hohenzollern restitution demands and at the same time defends academic freedom against resistance.”
In fact, Malinowski’s book is not least a milieu study of right-wing conservative, right-wing national circles to this day, also because he portrays three generations of Hohenzollerns, from Kaiser Wilhelm II to his grandson Louis Ferdinand, who, as “head of the house”, oversaw the fortunes of the dynasty until 1996 responsible.
Moreover, the book is, and this is where it becomes highly topical, a lesson in the mechanisms of the propaganda machines, in lies, yes, “in legends that arise after 1918,” as Malinowski explained: “Formally, this family no longer exists after 1918, the The monarchy has been abolished, but the people are still alive, the castles and palaces are still there, the charismatic radiance, their willingness to mission is still there”. How the Hohenzollerns tell their story, from the Weimar Republic through the Nazi era to the time after reunification, is “a story in itself,” says Malinowski, with many alternative facts. In the end, the jury should have made the best possible decision.