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Are there any royals left in Germany?

September 8, 2022

Germany's palaces are major tourist attractions, but where did all the kings and queens go? Here's why you might hear about German royals today, even though the country's monarchy was abolished a century ago.

A king of hearts card.
Image: Harald Richter/Bildagentur-online/McPHOTO/picture alliance

It's a bit confusing. When the Weimar Constitution entered into force on August 14, 1919, the legal privileges and titles of German nobility were abolished. Therefore, officially, there are no princes and princesses in Germany. Yet you can still encounter a few "royals" in the country. German aristocrats didn't all disappear on that day.

No longer a real prince

Take for instance Albert, Prince of Thurn and Taxis, born in 1983. As the "head" of the former German princely house, his full title would have been His Highness the 12th Prince of Thurn and Taxis, Prince of Buchau and Prince of Krotoszyn, Duke of Wörth and Donaustauf, Count of Friedberg-Scheer, Count of Valle-Sassina, Marchtal, Neresheim, etc — note that even the etcetera is an official part of the title.

But a century ago, the Weimar Constitution determined that all those hereditary titles should be abolished, allowing members of the former nobility to only keep traces of it in their surnames. Therefore, to be exact, since his family name is Prinz von Thurn und Taxis, we shouldn't even be translating the word "prince" — just like anyone else's family name isn't translated into other languages. 

Whether he's a real prince or not doesn't matter for the tabloid press in Germany, and even worldwide; for instance, the relationship status of the 39-year-old unmarried "royal" makes for great gossip articles. His wealth obviously contributes to the fascination: When his father died in 1990, Albert von Thurn und Taxis landed on the Forbes list as one of the world's youngest billionaires. His family is one of the largest owners of private forest lands in Germany. (Readers of Vogue magazine are probably familiar with the name through his sister, socialite and style editor Elisabeth von Thurn und Taxis).

The Thurn und Taxis' official website shows a very serious young man, who has been studying his entire life in the world's top institutions. But beyond writing thesis papers on John Stuart Mill or Thomas Aquinas, Albert's passion is unrelated to classical thinkers: The businessman is rather into car racing.

Albert von Thurn und Taxis at a car race
Albert von Thurn und Taxis at a car raceImage: Gregory Lenormand/DPPI Media/picture alliance

Still a current topic

Beyond gossip magazines listing the "hottest eligible royal bachelors," other heads of former dynasties have been making headlines in Germany's national press in recent years.

Georg Friedrich von Preussen, the great-great-grandson of Kaiser Wilhelm II, who was the last German Emperor,  has claimed a compensation of over €1 million from Germany. The House of Hohenzollern's attempt to obtain compensation for expropriated land and palaces in Berlin and the surrounding state of Brandenburg was launched in 1991 by Georg Friedrich's grandfather, Louis Ferdinand von Preussen.

So even if Germany has abolished its nobility, the remaining fortune and status of different aristocratic families in the country is still significant today. 

Certain politicians have been lobbying to eliminate former hereditary titles from names completely. Trying to get rid of the "von" and "zu" particles from family names is a contentious topic most political parties prefer to avoid. Going one step further, by demanding that former noble families redistribute their wealth to the state, is presumably not a process they'll be engaging in anytime soon.

You'll find more from Meet the Germans on YouTube, Instagram or at dw.com/MeetTheGermans. 

This is an updated version of an article first published in 2019.

Portrait of a young woman with red hair and glasses
Elizabeth Grenier Editor and reporter for DW Culture