Germany might not have its own royal family anymore, but that doesn't mean Germans aren't fascinated by aristocratic goings-on in other countries. Royal fever is alive and well, and the media knows how to exploit it.
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It's not hard to see the appeal of certain royal trappings. A queen in her jeweled crown rides in a gilded carriage among adoring crowds. A handsome prince who has fallen in love with a commoner weds her at the altar of a magnificent cathedral. The young woman emerges from the church a princess.
"I think we all grow up with fairy tales where princes and princesses play a major role," said Rolf Seelmann-Eggebert, one of Germany's leading experts on royalty. "So suddenly when we get older, we think, oh, they still exist. It's not just a fairy tale."
It's the real thing, in whose brilliance many of more lowly birth want to bathe in every chance they get. Even in Germany, which abolished its monarchical system in 1918, royals are still the rage among certain segments of the population -- other people's royals, that is. Since Germany doesn't have its own royal household, they concentrate on those countries that have prominent ones: England, Denmark, the Netherlands, Belgium, Sweden, Norway and the Principality of Monaco.
While it's hard to put a concrete figure on the popularity of all things aristocratic in Germany, according to Seelmann-Eggebert, interest is growing. When he began his career in royal reporting -- it all started with coverage of the Prince of Wales' 30th birthday in 1978 -- perhaps one television channel would report on a marriage or a big funeral. Today, he says, all the major stations cover it to some extent.
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Some, like Germany's two public broadcasting channels, will preempt programming for an entire day to air live coverage of a royal marriage in Denmark or Holland, or a funeral in London.
"You see it particularly in republics who have lost their kings over the course of history," he said. "If you compare the changing of the guard with the reception for a head of state in Berlin, you can discover the difference."
In Copenhagen, the guards outside Queen Margarethe's Amalienborg palace with their tall fuzzy hats, rifles, and bright-red guard shelters have a certain élan that police officers in dull-green uniforms guarding the German parliament lack. Germans, many of whom are thirsty for some glamor and an escape from the humdrum of everyday life, lap it up.
While it is traditionally older people who have shown more interest in royal affairs, the marriages of Maxima in the Netherlands, Mary in Denmark and Letizia in Spain -- all commoners who became princesses at the altar -- have stirred new interest among younger generations, according to Seeleman-Eggebert.
Varying shades of media coverage
The media are all too happy to help sate the public's appetite for the royals.
For the slightly more serious minded, there are the public television stations, which report on weddings, funerals, or for example, a visit of Sweden's Queen Sylvia to Germany. Silvia, a German commoner who was catapulted to nobility by marriage, is lovingly referred to as simply "Our Silvia" by many.
For those with more adventurous tastes, there are other royal possibilities.
All the major German stations have programs devoted to the more sensational side of the things, including royals, or, better yet, royal scandals.
Newspapers and magazines love royal shock stories
Or walk into any shop selling newspapers and magazines, and one row will be devoted to what the Germans call the "rainbow" press -- weekly gossip magazines aimed largely at women that feature stories about the royals.
"I personally think everything starts with a little girl wanting to be a princess, living in beautiful houses and castles and having servants, going to balls, wearing jewelry," said Angelika Haug, editor-in-chief of "7 Tage" (Seven Days), which, according to her, is read by 440,000 people every week.
But most of the women who read magazines like hers haven't been little girls for some time now -- most are between 40 and 60. Last week's issue wondered about possible new revelations in Princess Diana's death, asked if Princess Stephanie of Monaco was pregnant, and cast a shadow of blame on Norway's Crown Princess Mette-Marit about her baby's illness. But is any of it true?
"I think it's true, but naturally we sort of make it up a little bit," said Haug.
The magazine gets current photographs of the royals and then their writers try to discern what could have been really going on when the picture was snapped. Say they get their hands on a photo of Mary and Frederik of Denmark, in which the couple appear to be arguing. The writers then try to think of what they could possibly have to argue about, and suddenly, you have a story about Mary being upset because Frederik was away on a trip for two weeks.
"We try to interpret feelings for them," she said.
For establishment royal reporters, like Seelmann-Eggebert, it's the worst kind of voyeurism, and pure fiction as well.
"If you think of the deadly diseases which have gone through all royal houses in Europe according to those newspapers, you should be surprised that there is anybody still alive," he said.
Glitz and glamor
But many Germans are eager to identify with the kind of people whose lives they wish they had. Truth is secondary -- what matters is getting a taste for glamor, or tragedy, at the highest levels of society.
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"They are really into this kind of news, like what the Queen of Sweden is doing. It's easy for people and satisfies their curiosity. What is she doing, what is she wearing?" said Berlin resident Anna, who gave her age as "late 50s."
According to a 2003 survey, 9 million copies of these kinds of magazines are sold a week. Although when many people are asked, they won't admit to reading them, or even being the slightest bit interested in what colors Princess Mary of Denmark chose for her new bathroom.
"When you ask someone, no one says they're interested in them. It's like with porn magazines; they sell like crazy, but no one admits to buying them," said Peter Schaumberg, who owns a flower shop in Berlin.
Home grown? Who cares.
So while interest in Europe's royal houses is strong, even if it does appear to be some people's dirty little secret, Germany's own nobility appears to be off the radar screen for many people.
The German monarchy might have been abolished, but nobles themselves were not. An umbrella group for German nobility estimates that there are between 70,000 and 80,000 people in the country today with aristocratic titles of some sort.
But these days, they usually have day jobs and live low-key lives. There are some exceptions, such as the hot-tempered Ernst August of Hanover who is married to Princess Caroline of Monaco, but they are few.
"The German noble families have very ordinary lives, so they're not so interesting for our readers," said editor-in-chief Haug.
So when it comes to nobles, Germans seem to think, if there's not a little pomp and circumstance and maybe a dash of scandal involved -- real or fabricated -- why bother?