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Harzburgite: a symbol of Germany’s attraction to Russia

© Форпост Северо-Запад / гарцбургит

World War I halted Russian-German friendship for eight long years of bloodshed and mutual distrust. The Rapallo Treaty of April 1922 restored normal relations, and the credit for this went not to politicians, but to men of action. Such as the German scientist and businessman Friedrich Kranz.

In 1921 his firm, the Rheinisches Mineralien-Kontor (Rheinisches Mineralogische Kontor) supplied the Bolshevik Petrograd Mining Museum with a collection of 451 petrological exhibits as well as minerals, facing stone samples and a number of interesting paleontological objects. They had cooperated with Russia's oldest technical university and its museum before, but the deal with the "young unknown" Soviet Russia was a rather bold move.

It was the moment when economic cooperation between the two countries started from scratch. Before the war, though, by 1913, Germany was Russia's main foreign trade partner. Trade turnover steadily exceeded 900 million rubles a year, and there was a balance between imports and exports.

© Форпост Северо-Запад / Полный скелет ихтиозавра в сланце, приобретён у фирмы Кранца в 1848 году

The People's Commissariat for Foreign Trade after the announcement of the end of the period of military communism and the transition to the NEP (new economic policy) in March 1921 began to communicate with individual enterprises of the Weimar Republic. By the end of the year it managed to get 8 million rubles worth of goods imported into the RSFSR - a drop in the ocean against almost a billion before the war. The list of the first export deliveries included purchases under the Mining Council of the Supreme Soviet of the National Economy, including a valuable collection for the Mining Museum.

"We had to do a lot of hard work, especially beginning in the middle of 1921, to gain the trust of first-class German firms and avoid having to resort to intermediaries. The prices on the German market for most technical materials are the most favorable in comparison with the prices of other countries," the Soviet trade office said in a report.

The head of the Rheinisches Mineralien-Kontor family business was born in 1859 in Glogau, Celesia. In 1921, as a result of a questionable plebiscite, a part of this historic region passed to Poland. At that time, a special commission of the Entente powers for German reparations, as the defeated country, awarded the country a payment of 132 billion gold marks for 30 years at an interest rate of 6%. The authorities of the Weimar Republic still hoped for an easing of conditions. They were therefore wary of giving the green light to trade with the Bolsheviks so as not to spoil relations with Great Britain and France. However, the industrialists already understood that there was no worthy alternative to rapprochement with the traditional eastern partner.

The delivery of Friedrich Kranz to Petrograd was a success. The museum received valuable exhibits, primarily for visual teaching of students of the Mining Institute. The collection includes a stone which at first sight seems unremarkable - a harzburgite. However, it symbolizes the complexity of Russian-German relations: the obvious community of economic interests and the constant danger of political clash. Judging by the accompanying description of the shipment, it is found in the same place where the discoverer Karl Rosenbusch discovered the first samples of this rock. Hence its name, after the town of Bad Harzburg in Lower Saxony.

из коллекции Кранца
© Форпост Северо-Запад

History has it that just in this town in the early thirties will be created an extreme right-wing association Harzburg Front, which will include the Nazis, led by Hitler. Adherents of the idea of confrontation with Russia in June 1922, two months after the conclusion of the Treaty of Rapallo, killed the initiator of the Weimar Republic's Foreign Minister Walter Rathenau. He, incidentally, came into politics from business (the AEG company) and became, in their opinion, the spokesman for the pro-Bolshevik lobby.

"German policy toward Russia has no more time for passive waiting," he wrote to his government on behalf of AEG even before his appointment as minister.

Rapollo's inertia lasted until June 1941. After the victory over Nazism, trade naturally began to revive again, and both countries of the divided German nation took the first positions in trade with the Soviet Union. In 1981, transactions with the Federal Republic of Germany reached 6.6 billion rubles per year (the leader among the capitalist countries). Add ₽12.2 billion in contracts with the German Democratic Republic (leader in trade with the USSR in the socialist camp). The total leaves all other countries far behind.

Germany remained our key partner in the post-Soviet period. Until the introduction of anti-Russian sanctions in 2022. Political twists and turns interrupt the natural course of mutually beneficial economic contacts with enviable consistency. But this is always temporary.