'They're just like us' Print E-mail
May 2007 Life

Why Germans love the royals - By Christine Schulz-Reiss

The German monarchy met its end in 1918 and Germany has been a stable democracy for the past 60 years. What remains is a great enthusiasm for the finery of the royal households.

Annika's favorite is called Mary. "She is lovely and has style," gushes the 15-year-old school girl over the Danish princess. What, exactly, does a modern, bright teenager find so interesting about a woman who, as an Australian by birth, can thank her marriage to the Danish crown prince for her royal title? "The world of fairytales and reality come together here," says Annika. "Prince and princess - everybody has dreamt about this at some point."

Brigitte, a 52-year-old doctor, would rather look to Máxima. She even felt compassion when, a few years ago, the marriage of the young woman to the Dutch Prince Willem-Alexander almost ran aground on account of Máxima's Argentinian father's past Junta involvement. Brigitte likes the freshness and self-confidence of this modern young woman.

The Latin teacher Werner, who as a Homer enthusiast can quote the "Iliad" back to front, prefers the uncomplicated discipline and understatement of the British queen to the blue-blooded youngsters. He admits with a smile that he likes Prince Philip even better, especially when he is paraded through the German press for committing yet another gaffe, even in the serious dailies.

Whether teenager, professional, housewife or teacher, Germans know their way around Europe's royal households. Indeed, most people, asked about this, coyly admit to having read the tabloids in the doctor's waiting room or at the hairdresser's. However, the high circulation figures of the glossies - between 100,000 and 700,000 depending on the edition - in which royals rub shoulders with stars and starlets, have to come from somewhere. Germany is, in this respect, exceedingly well provided for. Few publications forgo gossip about or a photo of people with blue blood on the front page. Around 30 different periodicals regularly provide readers with pomp and circumstance, as well as sorrows and soaps, from the palaces. They're called Alles für die Frau (Everything for the Woman), Aktuelle (Now), Goldenes Blatt (Golden Page) and Freizeitrevue (Free-Time Review); somewhat more elegant are the glossies Bunte and Gala.

The seven European royal families which are still around are an inexhaustible source of news and entertainment. Around a quarter of these publications' content is taken up with the latest developments from castles and summer residences, holiday destinations and events attended by royals, or from their personal lives, according to Gala editor-in-chief Peter Lewandowski.

The serious, politically highbrow press also cannot and does not  forgo the glamour either: that fine lady, the weekly Die Zeit, busied itself over the course of hundreds of pages with the controversial wedding of the successor to the British throne, Prince Charles, and his long-time lover Camilla Parker Bowles. The medical bulletins on the suffering of Monaco's sovereign Prince Rainier filled a number of news columns before his death.

Some readers of the newspaper Das Parlament could, at first, presumably not believe their eyes when this official organ of the German Bundestag made a total of 10 pages available for a special on "The Monarchies of Europe." The rationale was that, at that time, one royal wedding after another was taking place. Can we sense here a whiff of longing, nostalgia, or even envy across the land of the supposedly level-headed Germans?

Germany lost its royal dynasties after the empire crumbled and the First World War. Since 1945, the Germans have been cured of blind belief in leaders. With the constitution and a new beginning as a parliamentary democracy, the Federal Republic in 1949 installed a federal president chosen by a democratically assigned committee as head of state. Certainly, a king or even a queen are more attractive fare than a cool Horst Köhler, who provides little glamour. Germany is not portrayed in glittering robes but in dark suits, civic style.

Perhaps this is the reason that eyes twinkle when a royal leads another blue-blooded personage, or, better still, a commoner to the altar. In any case, half of the nation follows the live broadcasts of such fairytale ceremonies on television. As recently as February, almost three million people denied themselves sleep in the small hours of the morning to watch NDR's "long night" about royal families. With this marathon documentary, the station honored the occasion of the 70th birthday of Germany's first and foremost court correspondent, Rolf Seelmann-Eggebert.

More than 30 years ago as a London correspondent, he brought the queen and consort in superlatively courtly manner into German living rooms via television screens for the first time. "At that time, Prince Charles was being prepared for his role as successor to the throne," recalls Seelmann-Eggebert. "I wanted to find out how something of this kind worked."

A little later came the splendid wedding with Lady Diana and, in the end, the British royal household furnished scandal upon scandal. Even so, the journalist marvels that the business of state in these constitutional monarchies was run and is run pre-eminently according to the rules of democracy. "I had no idea myself at first how that works," Seelmann-Eggebert said.

Upon returning to Hamburg in 1982 as a program director, he produced the 11-part series, "Royal Households," with Hungarian director István Bury. It consisted of the four-part "Royalty - a Year in the English Royal Household," "The Heirs of the Vikings" about the Norwegian dynasty and, with "A King in Europe," portraits of the Swedish and Belgian royals. The series was a Christmas present from ARD in 1985 - and was broadcast worldwide.

Seelmann-Eggebert explains such enthusiasm: "They nourished themselves on the downfall of Hollywood stars and other celebrities from politics, sports and theater  - but these people all have a limited shelf life. People who are born as princes, remain, in contrast, significant figures - from the cradle to the grave." And there is always another to follow. Family histories and genealogical trees can be traced back over many centuries. Where else is this true? In this way, royals emanate a hint of perpetuity.

And, after all, the Germans have contributed a little something to this, with the Windsors, for example, and in the Dutch royal household. When the German Silvia, born Sommerlath, became the Swedish queen, the next generation could "borrow" something of pomp and circumstance in Stockholm for itself.

Over and above all else, no one today need feel threatened by the royals. They are, by designation of the polities of their countries, "utterly democratic personages" and for all intents and purposes, always "monarchs on probation." Should a country wish to rid itself of them, which most likely will not happen, no revolution would be required.

What makes the royals today so much more congenial, besides the romances, is that they - and first and foremost the young women at court - live through entirely normal highs and lows just like other people. That they do this standing at all times in the spotlight and in front of the lenses of the paparazzi provokes sympathy.

One, Caroline of Monaco, defended herself successfully by taking a legal suit against German publishers right up to the European Court of Human Rights. A German assisted her in this: her attorney was the most well-known media lawyer in the country, Matthias Prinz, whose name, coincidentally, is derived from a noble title. Prinz has since then secured the highest compensation in media history, not only for Caroline but also dozens of retractions in the popular press which had gone about its business all-too brazenly with photo spreads and freely invented royal stories.

Even if there is something in these lurid news stories, "something of this type can no longer be sold," says Gala editor Lewandowski. For his magazine at least, which after one or two bad experiences prefers to leave stories which pry too far into the intimate sphere well alone.

Lewandowski's core clientele, mainly women and among those mostly the young, is less interested in peeking through the keyhole than in the manner in which the royals get on with their everyday relationships and professional problems.

Mary, Máxima and Mette Marit of Norway are role models for modern, enlightened women from 15 to 50, just like Annika and Brigitte. They establish trends and not just in fashion. They take their children to nursery school and every mother can understand that the blue-blooded, too, are not immune to worrying about their children.

Then the royals are just like us - and as the Germans no longer have any of their own, they have to pursue their romantic fairytales across borders.

- Christine Schulz-Reiss is a Munich-based journalist.

 
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