Have you ever considered touring castles in Germany? You’d be surprised to learn that there are 25,000 of them. They are leftovers from a time when a map of Germany looked like Dolly Parton’s Coat of Many Colors – lots of different states and statelets loosely stitched together into an odd quilt called the Holy Roman Empire. You may wonder why you have never heard about all those blue-blooded castle residents. Sure, there is Mad King Ludwig of Bavaria who built Neuschwanstein – for himself and Walt Disney. Another household name is Kaiser Wilhelm who started WWI and held the award for Most Hated Man on Earth before the trophy went to Adolf Hitler. That still leaves 24,998 castle owners unaccounted for, and they can blame the notorious Wilhelm for being kicked out of politics and into obscurity. After he lost the war and his empire, Wilhelm got himself a one-way train ticket to the Netherlands and let his underlings deal with the defeat. Consequently, one of the first laws passed in the new German Republic by his former subjects was to put the remaining aristocrats in their place – by removing all privileges and titles. From 1919 on, all they could do with their Baron, Herzog or Freiherr titles was use them as middle or last name. Carrying them as noble ranks became illegal and still is.
Had he chosen Germany instead of California, even the Prince of Wales’ younger brother would have to go by Harry Prince or Harry Prince Windsor – no wonder Germany didn’t make the Sussexes’ shortlist for exiles. There are some other, more unappetizing facts about German aristocracy that make even the Windsor family look noble. Many German ex-princes to this day have trouble wrapping their royal heads around the notion that all people are created equal. They keep nursing a century-old grudge against a democratic Germany that demoted them to commoners. Exhibit A: Heinrich XIII Prinz Reuss (note the word order) who made worldwide headlines last month after he was arrested for leading a coup d’état in Germany with a colorful mix of fellow noblemen, disgruntled veterans, police officers, COVID deniers and QAnon believers. The terrorist group also included members of the far-right and antisemitic Alternative for Germany (AfD) and was called “Patriotic Union.” Their goal? To re-establish the German Empire – yes, the one that would have allowed the ringleader to finally be “Prinz Heinrich” again or even better, “Kaiser Heinrich.” He might have also gotten an entry into history books as the German doppelganger of former nation heads Donald Trump or Jair Bolsonaro.
Given the terrorist activities of their (very) distant German cousins, it’s adorable that Prince Harry gives one interview after the other calling Camilla, Queen Consort, dangerous. You can call the Windsors a lot of things, but at least they aren’t insurrectionists. And why should they be? The British taxpayer showers shocking amounts of money on them and they can spend endless vacations touring their own castles.
Henning Schroeder is a professor at the University of Minnesota and currently teaches in the Department of German, Nordic, Slavic & Dutch. His email address is firstname.lastname@example.org and his Twitter handle is @HenningSchroed1.