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Letter from Mecklenburg to Mecklenburg

By Prof. Gerd Schneider

It's been a while since I visited Charlotte, Mecklenburg County, North Carolina. Upon arrival, the taxi-driver who took me from the airport to uptown Charlotte was of Ethiopian Origin. He explained in vivid words the statue placed in front of the airport-building, which represents Queen Charlotte of Great Britain. He was absolutely convinced that Queen Charlotte had visited "his" wonderful town during her reign.

It turns out that this wasn`t true. In fact, Charlotte never even came to America, never came to this Charlotte, nor to any other towns named Charlotte in the U.S.

The fact is that she was too busy. She had 15 children to raise which, some say would have been enough reason to spend her life mainly in her London palace. In comparison to her London home, her birth-place was only a small castle in the country-side of northern Germany, called Castle Mirow, Mecklenburg-Strelitz. Charlotte was well-educated, and mentally alert. At the age of 17, she wrote a letter of complaint to the German King, Friederich, about the behavior of his soldiers. This letter was well known at the time because a girl of 17 was complaining to the King. This in itself was exciting news within the royal circles. George III. of England heard this story, and invited the outspoken young lady to London. And, lo and behold, the two fell in love - 15 children were the result. With regard to his politics, king George wasn't as successful: He lost the territories in America. But that's another story.

By the way, the great grandfather of King George III. was King George I., who was also of German origin. One of his most powerful ministers, Hans Caspar von Bothmer, responsible for German affairs, was the first owner of a very famous place in London: 10 Downing Street, now famous as the seat of British prime ministers. And as we all know, 10 Downing Street, even though a well known address and often photographed, looks more or less small from the outside. Therefore, it doesn't come as a surprise that Hans Caspar von Bothmer decided to build an additional, somewhat more spacious, private residence, which turned out to be one of the biggest Barock castles in Northern Germany, and that is here in Mecklenburg.

Coming back to Charlotte, the one with the 15 children, married to King George the third, three generations later: Well, Queen Charlottes' brother, who stayed in Mecklenburg-Strelitz (there are two family-lines: Mecklenburg-Strelitz and Mecklenburg-Schwerin – but it's the same Mecklenburg) was the father of Queen Luise, who was married to Kind Friedrich Wilhelm the 3rd, King of Prussia. And their daughter became Queen of Russia. In other words Mecklenburg is everywhere…

Today, travelling through Mecklenburg can be a journey into history, into forgotten times: times of castles and grand manor-houses all over the countryside; ancient red-brick churches and other architectural sights in towns of all sizes, all of which are witness of the Hanseatic-League, giving you a glimpse of how life was like during medieval times, 700 to 800 years ago. The Hanseatic-League, formed by towns such as Luebeck, Wismar, Rostock or Stralsund, in total over 200 towns in the North, was the most powerful organization at the time, politically and economically; controlling the trade in Europe. Towns of wealth and pride, trendsetters of European culture; something like the European Union of the Middle Ages.

The traces of history are the treasure of Mecklenburg. After 40 years of socialist suppression in the last century, which for ideological reasons didn´t care for this witnesses of time, it took reunified Germany 20 years to restore and polish up these remarkable sites. Over the past 20 years, Mecklenburg-Vorpommern (the complete name of this state) has changed its face. It has blossomed again into a colourful country, rich in architectural masterpieces, impressive monuments of the past situated in a varying county, and at all seasons fascinating landscapes. Imagine the lakes of the Mueritz region, the coastline along the Baltic Sea with famous places like Heiligendamm, the islands of Ruegen und Usedom, just to mention a few. These days, most of the castles have been converted into hotels and guest houses or are used for cultural events like music festivals with international artists from all over the world. Mecklenburg-Vorpommern is the home-place of Caspar David Friedrich, the romantic painter, born in Greifswald, during the time of Swedish occupancy. The novelist Uwe Johnson was born in Mecklenburg-Vorpommern, he left the country in the sixties due to the communist rule and stayed in New York, writing his most famous book Jahrestage.

In the history of Mecklenburg we note the year 1147, when Henry the Lion made his way to the North to conquer the Baltic region und christianize its Slavic inhabitants. Count Niklot the Slav lost the battle, and his son Pribislav was forced to convert to Christianity. This was the beginning of a dynasty which, more or less, ruled the county for centuries.

Strangely enough, they never played a major role in European or International politics. Instead, they were masters of marriage arrangements, and so the birthplace of a future Queen happened to be there. And Charlotte certainly continued the tradition: One of her sons was the father of Queen Victoria of England.

Charlotte never came back to her birthplace, Mirow. However, she always stayed in close contact with her relatives in this part of Mecklenburg. Revolutionary developments in Europe and overseas which changed the maps of the continents, come into her lifetime. In 1989, there was again a revolution, this time a peaceful one in East-Germany (where Charlotte's birthplace Mirow is situated) which led to freedom for the people of the GDR and changed the map of Germany to that of a united nation. We should keep this also in mind this year when we mark the 250th anniversary of the coronation of Charlotte as Queen of England.

So we will be celebrating an anniversary that unites the two Mecklenburgs in the US and in Germany and unifies residents in towns tied to her story all over. And who else should we have to thank for it other than Charlotte, the 17-year-old girl who wrote a letter of complaint to the king.