Kosmos Wiepersdorf


Stop 8: Forked oak tree
© Dirk Bleicker

Stop 8
Forked oak tree

Expropriation and redistribution: From land reform to the German Writer’s Foundation

When the Red Army occupied the Niederer Fläming in the spring of 1945, Wiepersdorf Castle offered itself as a fitting place for establishing the Soviet command headquarters. Soldiers lived here together with refugees and resettlers, with geese and pigs. The chicken coop was right next to the church. The agriculture of the Wiepersdorf estates with more than 500 hectares of land was still a guarantee of survival. Its size, however, led to expropriation according to the regulations of the occupying power. In the so-called “democratic land reform,” which took place between 1945 and 1948 in the Soviet occupation zone, all the owners of more than 100 hectares of land lost their property. This land was to benefit farmers who had little or no land and those who had been displaced.

The measures for expropriation without compensation affected landowners who were National Socialist party liners as much as it did those who were not—such as the Arnim family in Wiepersdorf.

Bettina Encke von Arnim was the great-granddaughter of Bettina and Achim, and her husband, the police officer Walther Encke, was forced to retire after Hitler rose to power. The couple offered Nazi opponents protection from persecution both in their Berlin apartment and at Wiepersdorf Castle. Those seeking their help were often friends and acquaintances from the liberal-minded discussion group they maintained in Berlin, which was a thorn in the side of the Nazis. Nevertheless, Bettina Encke von Arnim, who, after the death of her husband, lived in Wiepersdorf Castle with her mother Agnes, her sisters, and daughters in the 1930s and 1940s, was regarded by the people as “the baroness,” a representative of the old landed nobility.

She had to witness how the castle was destroyed during the occupation and by the billeting of soldiers, how “letters of literary value” were “used to light fires.” She was even imprisoned in Luckenwalde for a brief period while the disputes over the division of the Arnim estates were going on. In a contradictory situation, in which she, as a new settler, was assigned a small part of the land that had been taken from her brother during the expropriations, she tried at least to secure the cultural value of the place—since there was no way of saving the private family property anyway. Bettina Encke von Arnim, herself a painter, is largely to thank for Wiepersdorf Castle becoming an artists’ residency center.

Iwan Katz, a former member of the Reichstag, was a great help in this. Katz had faced persecution by the Nazis as a communist Jew, but, as one of the Berlin discussion group, was a friend of the von Arnims and received their protection. He worked in the Berlin magistrate's office for a few years after the war, and from there he supported Bettina Encke von Arnim in her plan to initiate a cultural use for Wiepersdorf Castle. In fact, the castle, including the orangery and park, was taken over by the German Writers’ Foundation in 1946, which was set up for this particular purpose, and, in 1953, its ownership was transferred to the GDR Writers’ Association. In the end, political developments made it impossible for Bettina Encke von Arnim to stay and she left the Soviet occupation zone in 1947. She lived for the most part in Überlingen on Lake Constance until her death in 1971. A memorial stone commemorates her at the Arnim family cemetery in Wiepersdorf, and her husband is also buried there.

When the von Arnims left Wiepersdorf, a new spirit pervaded the castle. Anna Seghers, a Jewish and communist anti-fascist, a returnee from exile in Mexico and a leading writer, became the most important literary voice of the first postwar decade. Seghers liked the “simple, totally unpretentious beauty” of the castle. A room in Wiepersdorf was permanently reserved for her during the 1950s. But there was more than one public in Wiepersdorf—that of the castle and that of the village. You can learn more about this relationship at the next stop, which is at the orangery.