One Hundred Years Ago, a Royal Funeral was the Last Gasp of Times Past – April 1921: Augusta Victoria

Zur deutschen Fassung.

When I launched the series “One Hundred Years Ago …”, I had the intention to highlight events from the past that still resonate today. Sometimes this succeeds, sometimes not.

But never has it been so easy to bridge the gap to the hundred-year past as this month. Thank you, Prince Philip!

A week ago, the husband of the Queen, himself almost a hundred years old, passed away, and today, the funeral takes place. An almost perfect reflection of the events from a hundred years ago: On 11 April 1921, Augusta Victoria Friederike Luise Feodora Jenny of Schleswig-Holstein-Sonderburg-Augustenburg, the wife of Germany’s last emperor, Wilhelm II, died. He was no longer emperor at the time, though, having retired involuntarily and drawn a final line under the long history of German monarchy.

On 19 April 1921, Augusta Victoria was buried in the gardens of Sanssouci Palace in Potsdam.

And this despite the fact that the Kaisers no longer lived in Germany at the time. They had absconded in 1918, slightly disappointed by their German people, who didn’t think the famine was so great after all and because, contrary to expectations, not all of their subjects were looking forward to death in France or Flanders.

The Hohenzollerns, the name of the family that had ruined Germany, gathered all their gold, silver and paintings and went into exile in the Netherlands, where they bought a small house in Doorn. The Netherlands didn’t mind, because they were – and still are – an unconscionable tax haven.

When Kaiser Wilhelm II saw that 59 railroad cars were needed to transport his private booty, he was in tears: “Oh, how many men could have been brought to the front with 59 railroad cars! Four thousand? Five thousand? So much unshed blood, what a shame!” But in the end, the greediness, a trait the Hohenzollerns have retained to this day, won out over the murderous.

Doorn is rather unassuming compared to classic places of exile (Babylon, Constanța, Elba, St. Helena), but that suited Wilhelm II, as did the creative, intellectually demanding hobby he engaged in every day: The last German emperor was immensely pleased when he could saw down a tree in the garden. – Another ex-emperor, Charles of Austria-Hungary, on the other hand, was not at all satisfied with being a pensioner in the garden and tried to putsch his way back into power. But more about that in October 1921.

Everyone knows such people who prefer to make noise with the leaf blower rather than indulge in literature, who prefer to shred shrubs rather than write stories, and who produce gardens without life in a frightening culmination of the ugly. Countries, especially problematic ones like Germany, should not be entrusted to such people.

Also, I don’t know what to make of people who don’t attend their wife’s funeral. Thousands of onlookers, friends of the monarchy, noblemen and stab-in-the-back-mythologists, often all in one, showed up when the coffin with the empress was driven through Potsdam. The emperor, however, apparently had to chop wood and therefore had no time.

Perhaps he was still angry about his dismissal and that Germany had become a democracy. Or he was afraid of having to answer for war crimes at the Leipzig trials (addressed in the last episode). Or he was jealous because his wife was more popular than the emperor himself. Or Wilhelm II was already dating his new girlfriend, Princess Hermine von Schönaich-Carolath, whom he married soon after.

This funeral procession was a sad swan song to a bygone era, of which the attendees did not want to believe that it was indeed gone forever. Wilhelm II was still cutting down trees until 1941, thus establishing the German tradition of “Waldsterben”. Thank you, Kaiser!

The Hohenzollerns didn’t care about the forests, they didn’t care about Germany, they just wanted to be emperors again and live in castles. To that purpose, they even aligned themselves with the Nazis. But that’s another story, for another time. Of frightening topicality, though.


About Andreas Moser

Travelling the world and writing about it. I have degrees in law and philosophy, but I'd much rather be a writer, a spy or a hobo.
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12 Responses to One Hundred Years Ago, a Royal Funeral was the Last Gasp of Times Past – April 1921: Augusta Victoria

  1. Further topics for April 1921 would be
    – the fate of Tyrol after World War I, including the referendum and the Bloody Sunday of Bolzano,
    – the World Chess Championship in Cuba and the history of chess.

    If you are interested in either of those or, better yet, if you can contribute an article about one of these subjects yourself, please step forward.

  2. I don’t like the rock gardens or the needless cutting of trees either.
    The more I see history being rewritten in rosier ink, the more I wonder about history in general. It’s a subject I’m very interested in, but it’s difficult to know what to believe.
    And I wonder what people 100 years from now will read about this period of time.

    Too much thinking, not enough sleeping. Thank you for adding to my education.😁

    • Do you have these ugly rock gardens in the US as well? :O

    • Yes. But sometimes they’re dressed up with cacti or succulents. “Water conservation gardens” Another big trend I’m noticing is astroturf instead of grass. I’ve seen entire yards, or patches with rock or wood chips.

      It makes sense in Southern California since we’re semi-arid, but native plants would look nicer IMO.

    • Good point about the water conservation.

      Some people use that argument in Europe, although I am not sure if it would conserve more (rain) water with proper soil, plants and roots, so the water doesn’t seep into the ground that quickly.
      But in your part of the world, there is no rain, of course.

  3. Red Bat says:

    From the linked article “If a court decides he “considerably abetted” the Nazis, the family will be ineligible for compensation.”

    I would hope the family would be “eligible” for criminal prosecution if they were found to have “considerably abetted” Nazis.

    Re: the rock gardens – my mother lived in Arizona for a time, and all of the houses in her neighborhood had those rock front lawns. All of the houses also looked the same, so she actually got lost more than once trying to find her own home. Based on that, I think rock gardens should be banned for navigational reasons.

    • But we have to keep in mind that the individuals who (possibly) abetted the Nazis have long since died. So there is nobody left for criminal prosecution.

      Also, we are talking (mainly) about activities that are not covered by criminal law, like campaigning for Hitler in elections, showing public support, bridging the gap between monarchists and Nazis, etc.

      In the current case, the descendants will be denied compensation/restitution if their ancestors will be found to have acted in such a way. So it’s sort of an extra-generational liability, which couldn’t really be extended to criminal law.

      But more about that in a separate article soon…

    • I always have to think of those suburban areas in the US and in Canada, where thousands of houses look pretty much the same, when people rant about socialism because “it wants to make everyone the same”.

      Although, when I lived in one of those Soviet housing blocks – -, I was indeed happy that they had the number printed on the side, so as not to confuse them.

      There is actually a famous Soviet film, “The Irony of Fate”, based on the idea that all these apartment blocks in the Soviet Union are so similar that if you get to the wrong house, your key will open the door and you will feel like at home, because everyone has the same furniture.

  4. hjonasson says:

    I suddenly have an urge to go chop some trees.

  5. There are so many legitimate reasons to criticize Wilhelm II (the Kaiser) that making one up is foolish. Wilhelm did not attend Empress Augusta’s funeral in Berlin in 1921 because the German government would not allow him to do so. He accompanied her coffin on the funeral train as far as the Dutch-German border, where he was required to stop. Presumably the German republic was worried about monarchist demonstrations breaking out if he were on the scene — now that the immediacy of the war had receded, many Germans regretted their decision two years earlier to oust the monarchy, which, whatever its other faults, had kept a number of murderous factional and ideological forces dammed up. Even if a plebiscite had voted to restore the Hohenzollerns, Britain and France would never have allowed it (just as they vetoed the return of the Habsburgs in Hungary). It’s grimly ironic that everyone at this point was so pious about the supposed horrors of Old World monarchy, when the war had unleashed vile torrents like Bolshevism, Fascism and Nazism upon the world — disasters for which the world is still paying.

    • I seem to remember that the return of the Habsburgs to Hungary was “vetoed” by the Hungarians themselves, even though Karl tried twice to reclaim that throne:

      And I am not sure if the Hohenzollerns would have won a plebiscite. They were really disgraced, both as persons and individuals, but also as representatives of the “old order”.
      While it may be hard for us to gauge public opinion from a hundred years ago, in the case of the Hohenzollerns and other German former ruling families, we actually DO have a plebiscite. The one from March 1926, in which a whopping 96% voted to take away the remaining castles, properties and wealth from the Hohenzollers and other formerly ruling families.
      Sentiment was clearly anti-royalist across the board. (With the exception of some die-hard royalists and the official churches, which clearly had lost all sway on public opinion.)

      And as to Bolshevism, Fascism and Nazism, we could also argue that it was the noblemen who gave us all that.
      In Russia by failing to initiate even the slightest reforms (after all, there had been a democratic revolution before the Bolshevist one).
      In Italy most obviously by the king appointing Mussolini.
      And in Germany by Paul von Hindenburg appointing Hitler, with other nobleman standing by or, in the case of the Hohenzollerns, actively campaigning for Hitler and the Nazi Party.

      On the latter, I have hitherto only written on my German blog – – and I have yet to translate that article into English. But the photos (and maybe an automated translation) will probably give a good first idea about the connections between the Kaiser’s family and the Nazis.

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