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German-Russian Relations a Century after the “Treaty of Rapallo”

The University of Freiburg is marking the centennial with an invitation to a series of events beginning on 9 May 2022. These include lectures, a play, and a panel discussion

Freiburg, May 06, 2022

Even until today, “Rapallo” represents the peculiarities of German-Russian relations – and opposing assessments of them. On the one hand, the accord was an opportunity to shape policies of understanding; while on the other, the treaty posed the threat of a singular German-Russian approach. One hundred years ago, on 16 April 1922, representatives of Germany and the Soviet Union, or Soviet Russia, signed a treaty in Rapallo, a seaside resort in northern Italy. The accord set the baseline for cooperation between the two countries. The chancellor of Germany at the time, Joseph Wirth, originally of Freiburg, was significant in preparing the agreement, which was signed by then German Foreign Minister Walter Rathenau and the Soviet Commissar for Foreign Affairs, Georgi Vassilyevich Chicherin.

The treaty’s aim was to normalize the relations between both countries and also create new economic opportunities. The accord already triggered controversy back then, because as result of the treaty, two countries that emerged from World War I as losers had together and unilaterally ended their political isolation without participation of the Western allies.

The series “100 Years of the Rapallo Treaty – Positions, Conflicts, Chances” („100 Jahre Rapallo-Vertrag – Positionen, Konflikte, Chancen“) aims to reflect critically on this important historical event, all the more so because the war in Ukraine has made German-Russian relations the current focus of many discussions.

The University of Freiburg’s Tsvetaeva (Zwetajewa) Center for Russian Culture, the Department of History, and the “Studium generale” are organizing the event in cooperation with the Joseph Wirth Foundation.

Topics of the Individual Events

On Monday, 9 May 2022 starting at 6:15 p.m. in Lecture Hall 1199, University of Freiburg Professor of New and Contemporary History Dr. Jan Eckel will speak on “Rapallo and the Search for a Postwar International Order” („Rapallo und die Suche nach der internationalen Nachkriegsordnung“). The lecture places the understanding between Germany and the Soviet Union in the context of the search for a sustainable postwar order, which was not established by – as viewed by most of the participants – the Paris Peace Conference. According to Eckel, here “Rapallo” has special significance. He says this is not just because of its prominence as an alliance between defeated powers which were feared in the West, but also owing to the fact that it posed the problem of how to incorporate the globally revolutionary, Communist Soviet state in the international order, and if the Soviets actually desired this at all.

On Monday, 16 Mai 2022, also starting at 6:15 p.m. in Lecture Hall 1199,  Freiburg Professor of Western European History, Dr. Jörn Leonhard is to give a talk on “After Versailles and Beyond Geneva: The Treaty of Rapallo in a European and Transatlantic Perspective” („Nach Versailles und jenseits von Genf: Der Vertrag von Rapallo in europäischer und transatlantischer Perspektive“). The presentation explores the long-term continuities in German-Russian relations since the Treaty of Brest-Litovsk between Russia and the Central Powers in the spring of 1918. It also examines the special Western European and transatlantic perspectives of Rapallo and addresses the links between domestic politics and international relations.

On Sunday, 22 May 2022 at 11 a.m. in the Winterer Foyer of Theater Freiburg, a play “The Historic Hour: 100 Years of the Rapallo Treaty” („Die Historische Stunde: 100 Jahre Rapallo-Vertrag”) will be performed. It features dialog, recitation, and music dedicated to the historical event, while considering its current significance. Based on authentic documents, the piece presents a personal conversation between the lead negotiators, Reich Chancellor Joseph Wirth and the People’s Commissar for Foreign Affairs, Georgi Chicherin, as well as Wirth’s telephone conversation with Foreign Minister, Walter Rathenau. The show is accompanied by music from Germany and Russia dating back to the 1920s. Peter Haug-Lamersdorf and Burkhard Wein will perform the play. Music is by Stephanie Heine. Andreas Binder will play the piano, with Anita Morasch, singing and playing the accordion. Heinz Siebold wrote the script and is the director. Dr. Ulrike Hörster-Philipps will give an introduction. Tickets are available from Theater Freiburg.

On Monday, 23. May 2022 at 6:15 p.m. in Lecture Hall 1199, a Freiburg Historian specialized in Eastern European History, Prof. Dr. Dietmar Neutatz, will speak about “Spirit or Specter? ‘Rapallo’ as a Myth and Cipher” (Geist oder Gespenst? ‚Rapallo‘ als Mythos und Chiffre“). Neutatz delves into the aftereffects and political instrumentalization of the treaty domestically and abroad. By doing this, he spans an historical arc from 1922 right into the present.

Treaty Significance for the Current Situation

The final event will be a Panel Discussion on 30 May 2022 in Lecture Hall 1010 at 8:15 p.m. It is entitled Model or Millstone? Rapallo and the Awkward History of German-Russian Relations” („Modell oder Bürde? Rapallo und die schwierige Historie deutsch-russischer Beziehungen“). The panel will explore what the Treaty of Rapallo means for us today and the lessons that can be taken from a century of experience with it. Is the accord an example of relaxation of tension, and for international and cultural cooperation, beyond political conflicts, or is it an historical burden? On the panel will be Prof. Dr. Elisabeth Cheauré, Professor of Slavic Philology and Gender Studies at the University of Freiburg and Director of the Tsvetaeva (Zwetajewa) Center; Dr. h.c. Gernot Erler, a former minister of state and Russia commissioner for Germany’s federal government, and Chairman of the West-East Society of South Baden; Historian Dr. Ulrike Hörster-Philipps, Director of the Joseph Wirth Foundation; and Historian Prof. Dr. Dietmar Neutatz, Professor for Modern and Eastern European History. Heinz Siebold will moderate.

In as far as possible, the events are to be live and in person. The lectures and panel discussions will be live streamed as well. The links are listed in the flier „100 Jahre Rapallo-Vertrag. Deutsch-russische Beziehungen auf dem Prüfstand“ (in German only).


Prof. Dr. Dietmar Neutatz
Chair of Modern and Eastern European History
Department of History
University of Freiburg
Tel.: 0761/203-3436

Tsvetaeva (Zwetajewa) Center for Russian Culture at the University of Freiburg
Tel.: 0761/203-54081

Annette Kollefrath-Persch
University and Scientific Communications
University of Freiburg
Tel.: 0761/203-8909