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Envious glances

April 28, 2011

German monarchists are following the build-up to Britain's Royal Wedding with a touch of jealousy. They yearn to see a wedding with the same amount of pomp and show in Germany. After all, royal families are all related.

Commemorative plate of Prince William and Kate Middleton
German monarchists will be glued to their screens on Friday to watch the Royal WeddingImage: DW/Andrey Vladov

Knut Wissenbach is one of the many German monarchists who will be eagerly watching the royal wedding of Prince William and Kate Middleton on television this Friday.

But he'll be a little wistful as he watches the extravagant spectacle in the knowledge that there will be no live broadcast when Prince Georg Friedrich von Hohenzollern ties the knot in August. Germany is, after all, a republic now - the last German emperor, Kaiser Wilhelm II, abdicated in 1918.

In the absence of a meaningful monarchy and the Prussian glory of days gone by, pomp and ceremony no longer have any place in German society.

Wissenbach is chairman of "Tradition und Leben" (Tradition and Life) a group which has been campaigning for the restoration of the monarchy in Germany since 1959. His study is adorned with oil paintings of kings, Prussian uniforms and medals in glass cabinets.

"We want to top democracy," he told Deutsche Welle, laughing.

Photo of Kaiser Wilhelm II, Gemany's last Kaiser
Historian Monika Wienfort says the German monarchy is unlikely to be restored in the near futureImage: dpa

Is Germany's president too boring?

A parliamentary monarchy is exactly what Germany needs, if Wissenbach is to be believed. He thinks the current German president, Christian Wulff, is too dull and taciturn.

"We need someone a bit more trendy as our head of state," said Wissenbach, who edits the monarchist magazine "Heritage and Duty."

Wissenbach has been interested in German history and centuries-old dynasties ever since his early youth. He believes that Germans long for an unelected family to represent their state because such a family would be above party politics.

Wissenbach and the other members of his association do not care for politics, especially not for the extreme right-wing. On the contrary: Monarchists were actually persecuted under the Nazi regime and formed part of the resistance movement. All generations are represented in the association and nearly one third of its members are under 30.

Union Jack flags hang on a street in London ready for the Royal Wedding
German monarchists also want to enjoy a bit of pomp and ceremony with a wedding on the scale of the British Royal WeddingImage: picture-alliance/dpa

"The monarchy doesn't stand a chance"

"I don't think the monarchy will be restored in stable republics like Germany or Austria in the foreseeable future," said historian Monika Wienfort, dashing Wissenbach's hopes.

In Europe the only states which still have a ruling monarch are primarily those which did not undergo a revolution. Germany does not number among those states. In fact, there are only seven European states which still have a king or queen on the throne - Denmark, Norway, Sweden, the Netherlands, Belgium, Spain and Great Britain.

But Germans are extremely interested in royal families and aristocracy. There are more scandal sheets on these subjects in Germany than in any other European country.

"The fascination derives from the element of spectacular in daily life," said Wienfort. "These aristocrats actually do completely normal things. They get married, they have children and then they die. That's a pretty normal biography. But they do these things impressively. When else do you see a carriage? That's why people who normally show no interest in aristocracy watch royal weddings on television."

Complex web of inter-relations

Germany's keen interest in the monarchy is probably also due to the fact that the country is still home to many well-known aristocratic families who have left their mark all over Europe. Almost every king is related to every other king.

"The House of Saxe-Coburg and Gotha and the House of Schleswig-Holstein-Sonderung Glücksburg are particularly suspect," Wienfort said. "Cleverly planned marriages in the 19th century ensured that there was a German contingent in every royal family. The House of Saxe-Coburg and Gotha was even called Europe's mares' stable in circles which did not respect it."

Prince Albert, the husband of Britain's legendary Queen Victoria, came from the House of Saxe-Coburg Gotha and Victoria was the grandmother of the last German Kaiser. The mother of Queen Elizabeth II was half-German and her husband, Prince Philip, who is also Prince William's grandfather, had German ancestors. All in all it's fair to say that William is quite "German" really.

"German roots were so deep in the British royal family that during World War I people said they needed to cut their ties. The royal family's surname was changed to Windsor. This is merely an invented name," said Wienfort, who is currently adjunct professor at the University of North Carolina in the US.

Photo of Kate Middleton in a green dress
Prince William met his bride-to-be, Kate Middleton, while studying at The University of St. Andrews in ScotlandImage: AP

From commoners to royals

Much to Knut Wissenbach’s regret, heirs to the throne no longer marry in accordance with their social status. The dynastic heritage is diluting as it is becoming increasingly commonplace for royals to marry middle-class partners.

Wienfort says this is becoming a trend: By marrying social inferiors from their own country, the monarchy becomes more anchored in the nation but the royals become more popular at the same time. Furthermore, heirs to the throne now have a normal education and so are bound to meet potential spouses from middle-class backgrounds.

Wissenbach says Prince Georg Friedrich von Hohenzollern would be prepared to accept the imperial crown if that is what the German people want. However, the prince declined to comment and refused to give Deutsche Welle an interview.

Author: Bernd Riegert / mm
Editor: Rob Turner