Why does a republic like Germany love the British royalty so much?
Eleven million Germans watched Prince Philip’s funeral last weekend. I was one of them. Seven TV channels live-broadcasted the ceremony. Most had cleared the complete afternoon schedule to show hours of documentaries and talk-shows around the royal event. There was an interview with Prince Philip speaking German I’d never seen before. I was touched, and I probably wasn’t the only one because our public TV stations – unlike the BBC – weren’t confronted with ‘royal overkill’ complaints.
That is, of course, because we don’t have a Firm of our own. The respect, sincerity and dignity, even in the small gestures: no protocol here would even come close to the modest magnificence shown on Saturday. The circumstance we may have, but not the pomp.
Be not alarmed: no one in his right mind wants the Kaiser back. Certainly not the last one. Watching The Crown is brilliant, but imagining a modern-day Friedrich, Wilhelm or Friedrich-Wilhelm (that’s as far as Prussian rulers’ denominations went) in Berlin, kinging around, is simply weird.
True, the Kaiser’s residence, the Berliner Schloss, was reconstructed in 2020. It had been blown up 70 years earlier by the GDR regime to make room for a Palast der Republik, which in turn was demolished because it contained 5,000 tons of asbestos. But resurrecting a boring baroque building isn’t down to royal nostalgia, it’s due to distrust for the capital’s urban planning commission. Look at Potsdamer Platz and you’ll have no further questions.
The last emperor’s great-great-grandson, a highly likeable 44-year-old named Georg Friedrich, keeps a lower-than-low profile. Other descendants of old aristocratic German families sometimes sue the state to reclaim property taken away from them by Nazis or communists or both, but by and large their public life is limited to a few glossy pages of Bunte, our version of Hello magazine.
Prince Philip’s German relatives can walk German streets undetected. It was noted with surprise (and affection) that among the only 30 guests attending his funeral, three were German. That’s 10%, a paper made out with mathematical acuteness. There is also an element of gratitude: while Philip’s sisters were not invited to his wedding in 1947 because of their Nazi-links, the grandchildren’s generation could say farewell. How far we’ve come.
Germany is a Republic. You may say that’s obvious, but isn’t. In the United States, on the other hand… Americans, as usual, know how to sell it. You don’t want to mess with their eagle. Ours? A matter-of-fact bird. The one hanging in Bonn’s old parliament building was nicknamed “fat hen”. Or set one foot into Elysée palace in Paris, take in the powers of its inhabitant and you find more of a presidential monarchy than a République Française.
The Bundesrepublik is stable, it is peaceful and it’s the best we ever had. It just doesn’t have much to show for. There is a lack of self-esteem, there are no nation-wide ceremonies (apart from penalty shoot-outs at the World Cup), no Fourth of July, no Quatorze Juillet. And most definitely no Trooping the Colour. Because a.) anything troopy is either looked-upon with suspicion or with disinterest (no kilts or bearskin in the Bundeswehr to change that). And b.) Schwarz, Rot, Gold (for you: black, red and gold) will never make it into the Fashion Colour Trend Report. It doesn’t help that Belgium, not our most admired neighbour, has the vertical version of our flag.
So should you ever be fed up with the more or less scandalous descendants of Sachsen-Coburg-Gotha and Battenberg – please remember the charitable cause: a bit of splendour for millions of Germans royalists.
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