Return of the Kaiser: An Interview with Knut Wissenbach of Tradition und Leben
Oct 24, 2004
Author: William H. Kennedy
This is an interview originally aired on The Underground Stream radio show, and conducted by Guest Host Mr. Bill Kennedy. The guest is Mr. Knut Wissenbach, spokesman for a German monarchical organization called ďTradition und Leben, e.v.Ē which seeks to restore monarchy, and the House of Hohenzollern, in contemporary Germany.
DR: You represent an organization called ďTradition und Leben.Ē That would be ďTradition and LifeĒ in English. What are your basic aims and ideals?
KW: We are a working organization promoting the idea of monarchy, especially, of course, for Germany - a democratic and parliament-based type of monarchy, a very modern form comparable to Spain or the Scandinavian monarchies.
DR: What particular monarchical house are you supporting for kingship? Se here in the United States, we hear about a lot of German royal houses, like the Habsburgs, and the Wittlesbachs. Which particular house are you supporting?
KW: Well there are, indeed, a lot of royal families in Germany, due to the special German history of being a state with a lot of different states included, sort of a federation of states, as Germany always has been. What we promote is for the German Kaiser, which would be the German Emperor, to be from the House of Hohenzollern, and by their traditional rights, they would be the kings of Prussia. The state of Prussia no longer exists, but the document which was signed in 1947 forbidding the state of Prussia allows Germany at any time to set up the state of Prussia again. So this is the dynasty of the Hohenzollern, and of course the other countries, like the states of the United States, would be free to choose either a Republic system or a Monarchical system, as we had in our Constitution of 1871, the last empire in Germany, where we had Republics within the German monarchy.
DR: Kaiser Wilhelm II of Germany has pretty much gotten a bad rap historically, primarily because of the end of the Great War, WWI. What has happened to his House since that time?
KW: The last Emperor lived in exile in the Netherlands until his death in 1941. Then there was the Crown Prince Wilhelm, one of the army leaders in the First World War, and the Crown Prince of Germany and Russia. He was succeeded by his second son, Prince Louis Ferdinand of Prussia, because the eldest son was wounded in the Second World War, and died of his wounds. After this, Hitler released every member of a former ruling German house, because the funeral of Prince Wilhelm was crowded with about 70,000 people, and he didnít want to have such monarchical sentiment within Germany. So you can see this wide gap between the royal or monarchial time within Germany and the Nazi time, which was the extreme opposite. So Prince Louis Ferdinand became Head of the House of Hohenzollern until his death in 1969, and he is succeeded by Prince Georg Friedrich from Freiberg, which is his grandson, because his father, Louis Ferdinand Jr. died due to an accident in the Army. He will become 25 years of age this summer. Heís still studying, so heís got a huge task to do: on the one hand, to educate himself, and on the other hand, to represent the House of Hohenzollern.
DR: Iíve sent out some emails concerning this interview, and a lot of people have looked up your website, http://www.pro-monarchie.de/ Several young ladies here have asked me if the Prince is single, engaged or married.
KW: He is still single, but of course he has the burden of marrying on an equal level. Being the Head of the House of Hohenzollern he has to choose someone from a ruling or former ruling house.
DR: Oh, thatís going to disappoint a lot of American women, but thatís the way it is, I guess.
KW: I think so. I mean, of course there are always lovely stories. But what he told me was that this is not a question at the moment.
DR: Well, weíll just leave it at that, and all the ladies who emailed me will just have to do a ďwait and seeĒ kind of thing. What is the Prince studying? What is his field now?
KW: The field is Economics, and heís studying in the Eastern part of Germany, called Saxony. Itís a very famous and old University. Heís in the middle of his studies so it will take, probably, two more years to finish it.
DR: Is he studying for a Doctorate, or a Masterís?
KW: I think itís something more like a Masterís Degree.
DR: I understand that the Prince actually studied in Scotland, and I believe he went to the same school that Prince Charles went to, is that correct?
KW: Yes he did finish his school - I think itís comparable to ďA-LevelĒ - in Scotland, but it was not actually the same college where Prince Charles used to be.
DR: Oh, thatís a mistake on my part. I thought it was. Has he had any contact with the British royal family at all?
KW: No, heís always intended to, but being so much engaged with school duties, so he was very busy, and hasnít had the chance to meet anybody. But of course, there is a close relationship with the British royal family, as there is with just about every other European royal family.
DR: Prince Georg is a direct descendant of Queen Victoria, is that correct?
KW: Yes, thatís correct because his great-grandfather, the last German Emperor was a grandson of Queen Victoria.
DR: See, we here in the U.S., we donít have any monarchy whatsoever, so we tend to adopt the British royal family as ours, even though we fought a war of independence against them, ironically, as it seems, so we always think in terms of the British royal family. Do you have any political platform? I understand that by bringing in a Constitutional Monarchy, that the Prince, if he were to become Kaiser, would have a very specific role. What would that be in particular?
KW: Well, we havenít worked out a constitution yet, because it always has to be updated. But what we think is that the German Emperor should be something like a representative, like our German Bundís President, but probably a little less powerful than, say, the President of the United States. Something in between, comparable to the role of the Spanish king, who has bravely defended democracy.
DR: This is Juan Carlos of Spain youíre speaking of?
KW: Yes, Juan Carlos I.
DR: And he would be a Bourbon, is that correct?
KW: Yes. And you know, the last German Emperor, Wilhelm II, had not as many rights politically as the President of the United States has. So what we think is, something in between that, to represent the state, to be a symbol of the nation, but on the other hand, weíd have a parliamentary system, and a democracy, with all the rights of the people.
DR: Now I understand that a big part of what your organization does is to promote the Prince, and his eventual rise to the throne. But you also do other things. You have yearly gatherings and festivals. Youíre trying to preserve a very specific way of life which in Germany today, for a variety of reasons, is beginning to fade out. Could you speak a little bit on that, please?
KW: What we really intend is, like our name, to combine tradition with modern life, because it is at the root of life, where you can get a line to the future. And of course we have annual meetings, we have lectures, little trips. We were just planning, on the 4th of June, which is the 60th anniversary of the death of the last Kaiser, a trip to his exile manor, where weíll have a little ceremony, a service at his church, and a commemoration at his grave. Then we have local meetings with lectures normally, just to get in contact, to discuss things like, well, everyday life, sometimes, of course, but also politics, and, of course, historical topics, where we try to sort out what it is possible to get out of history in our present time, and moreover, to style the future with it. So thatís what we try to do, to learn something from history, to work with it in the present, and to transport it into the future, or, hopefully, a better future for mankind, or for the people we promote monarchy for.
DR: Itís very interesting because monarchical systems, historically, are more the norm. When you look back thousands of years, something like the United States, a country thatís a Republic without a monarch is a very rare thing. In the Declaration of Independence, it clearly states that it is the duty of the people only to expel a monarch if he becomes a tyrant. And what few people realize here in the United States is that our founding fathers, for a little while after the British left, considered instituting Bonnie Prince Charlie as the King of the United States of America. We also considered having George Washington start our own royal line. And ironically enough, Burke's Peerage, which is probably the #1 genealogical research firm in the world, stated recently during our Presidential election that the candidate with the most royal genes tends to win the Presidency, for some strange reason. So Burkeís Peerage can basically predict whoís going to be President, based on their connection to royalty. And interestingly enough, they picked George Bush over Al Gore because he had the most genes, and they were saying this when Gore was very high in the polls, when people though Gore was going to win.
KW: We have a saying: ďThe better wins.Ē I think thatís a saying over in the United States too. If you go back to the roots of monarchy, it was just that: ďThe better wins.Ē So people sorted out somebody, claiming him to be their representative, to be their guardsman, to be the one protecting them, and the one symbolizing them. This sorting out principle was something like an election. People coming together and saying, ďOK, you are the one to represent us.Ē In former times, this had to be renewed after the death of the representative. Of course, even in Germany, the acclamation of the people always was a part of the coronation ceremony of the German Emperors. So you always have something like democracy in there. The old German Empire, lasting from 910 until 1806, always had the institution of the Reichstag, which was an assembly of representatives of people. It always existed. The principle of monarchy is always combined with democracy.
DR: So itís not the wicked king or the tyrant who pops up and yells at everybody. People have always had input, especially within the German monarchy.
KW: If you realize that all dictatorships arose from Republics, you can see that such dictatorships never arose from a monarchy, because in a monarchy, thereís always a family representing the state, always a family discussing problems. If anybody is, letís say, narrow-minded, or stupid, or something like that, it will be sorted out by the family, and theyíll say, ďAll right, somebody else is going to take over the representative function.Ē Concerning the elected presidency, Iím not so sure about the U.S. system, but in Germany, I donít think there is any regulation for if the President becomes ill, or, letís say, looses his mind on duty.
DR: Well, thereís some of that here in the United States, but itís very remote, and itís a very being issue. The extreme example being when President Reagan was shot in 1981. There was a very big problem because the Secretary of State, Alexander Haig went on television and said ďIím in charge hereĒ, when technically it was the Vice-President or the Speaker of the House. A lot of people saw that as a coup díetat on his part, and he was actually dismissed from his station for that. But within a monarchical system, the chain of rule is always very defined.
KW: And you have an immediate succession. If anyone is killed, he is immediately replaced not within months or a year, or something like that, but immediately on the same day. You donít have quarrels about the succession. I think the election in the United States last year showed the problem. If both candidates are so close together that you really canít sort out who has the most votes or who is really the winner of the election, then you have to think it over. For the highest representative function of state, I think itís very good to have someone who doesnít have to deal afterwards with the people who voted for him. So Mr. Bush now, I read in the newspapers, has to make several deals with groups of interest who voted for him, because he made promises to them. Everybody, to get elected, has to make promises to the people electing. The monarch has not to be elected, he is just there. He has to represent whether he wants to do the job or not, and he is educated for the job from childhood on.
DR: So thereís no Dimples Chad problem with monarchy, as there was in Florida.
KW: Yeah. Really! And you always, in elections, never know if you have the best one, or if you have someone who just had more money to afford the election, or to buy votes.
DR: We have a lot of cable new stations here, like Fox TV or MSNBC, and it is still debated whether George Bush legitimately won that election.
KW: Yes, even in Europe we heard a lot of discussion about this.
DR: In a Constitutional Monarchy, there could even be a provision for the monarch to, in very extreme circumstances, such as something like this, to render an effective decision, and that could be the final say. Here we have the Supreme Court. But itís debated every day. A lot of people donít think that George Bush is the legitimate President of the United States.
KW: Right, and you always have the problem that even the court and the other institutions are put together by members of the same parties. In America I think itís the Senate, and in Germany itís the Bundstag. And these institutions are always dominated by the same parties. Not the same institutions, but the same parties. So it is not really clear whether there is really a division of power. And in a monarchy, as the French put it in words, ďLe roi est mort, vivent longtemps le roi.Ē So at the same moment the king dies, the new king is proclaimed.Ē
DR: ďThe King is dead, God save the KingĒ is the English version of it.
KW: Correct. And if you look at the little state of Liechtenstein - itís a principality in the Alps within the center of Europe - and this small state, it only has about 32,000 inhabitants, but there is a discussion about our constitution going on right now, and the Prince of Liechtenstein, Hans Addams - he is the one who wants to have more democratic rights within this constitution. He wants for the people, if they donít want this principality anymore, to be able to vote for it, and say ďWe want to be a Republic.Ē But I think there is no Republican system dealing with it the other way around, allowing people to vote for monarchy if they want to.
DR: In the United States, if you talk that way, you get the F.B.I. at your door asking you why youíre saying it. Because there is a clause in the American Constitution which says that it is the right of the people to alter or abolish the system, but if you happen to say that, youíre going to find yourself in a bit of trouble. Senator Joseph McCarthy practiced a lot of that back in the 1950s. If you said you wanted to change the system, you were in very big trouble.
KW: Yeah, I can imagine. I mean, in Germany, we used to be a monarchy for more than a thousand years, nearly two thousand years, so itís always a question of tradition, and weíve just had the Republican system since 1918. But if you just see the historical context, in 1918, a small group of people went to the balcony of the castle of Hohenzollern, and just declared a Republic. They just said, ďWe have a Republic now.Ē So it was not democratic. And the problem arose afterwards that the people were upset with the Republican system. And thatís one argument for why they chose Hitler to be their representative. Of course, Germany made a new start in 1949 after the Second World War with a very modern constitution, but again, they didnít make an assembly of the nation to judge the constitution, or what kind of system they have. So they were just kind of forced to do such a system, and no one voted for this constitution.
DR: That's not very democratic, is it?
KW: The problem is, if you change the system, where is the legitimacy for that, for a democratic system, if itĎs only a small group of people that get together and say, ďOK, letĎs do that and thatď, and then it becomes fact?
DR: Thatís an oligarchy, not a democracy.
KW: Yes, and the monarchy was developed, at its roots, from the people living there. If somebody says ďMonarchy is a very old-fashioned systemĒ, they should be aware that the Republic system of the Greek Republics is as old as monarchy. So itís not a question of being modern or being ancient-orientated, but I think even monarchy could be more modern than several democracies nowadays.
DR: Iíd like to get back to what I think is a very important point. When monarchy is deposed, and you have this strange interim period, where people are basically democratic, they tend to move towards a despotic figure, or a tyrannical figure, who will claim to meet all their needs. The example I like to give is, during the French Revolution, after they deposed the king, things became very chaotic, and then a fellow named Robespierre came along. Robespierreís official title, ironically enough, was ďCommissioner of Public Safety.Ē He basically went around Paris and said, ďLook, put me in charge and Iíll take care of all these problems.Ē Thatís when the guillotines began, and incredible injustice all around, from the decline of a monarchy, and the rise of a tyrant. I guess people will naturally gravitate towards an individual as leader, as you said earlier.
KW: I would say that mankind is always searching for stability and continuity, so if anything creates chaos like the French Revolution, or in Germany after the First World War, people will wish to come to a stability and continuity, and safety, and thatís why theyíre looking for, you know, a strong man, or something like that. But thereís always the question of whether you combine everything with ethic or moral traditions and behaviors. The system of monarchy is the system of being human. Itís a human type of politique. On the other hand you have the dictator. Heís the one looking for power, and for his personal purposes, but not for the people.
DR: In the United States, few people realize how much unchecked, uncontrolled power the President of the United States has as we speak. Since 1943, when President Roosevelt called for special powers during the War, in a crisis emergency situation, he was granted ďExecutive OrdersĒ as presidential rights. And this is unchecked by the Senate, or the House, or anyone. Just a few frightening statistics: the President of the United States, the so-called democratically-elected official, can wage war for three months without consulting Congress or anyone, at his own will, and that includes first-strike nuclear weapons. Most Americans arenít aware of that, that our so-called democratic checks-and-balances system has awarded one individual, who changes every four to eight years, more unprecedented power than any other individual in the world. Now a monarch, who has been trained since youth to do the things heís supposed to do, and rule and govern the people with such things as honor and respect for other people, and the will and good of the people - I would rather have someone like that with that kind of unchecked power, rather than someone who gets elected every four to eight years, whose character youíre not fully familiar with.
KW: Yes, certainly. The monarchs in Germany, until 1918, were responsible to God, and they took it seriously. They not only confessed as much, they took it very seriously, because they were normally Head of the Evangelic church. So Emperor Wilhelm II was also the Head of the Evangelic church in Germany, and he believed in God very seriously. Thatís a different kind of responsibility. If youíre only responsible for the people who elected you, then you will deal with their interests, but not with the interests of the whole nation. Youíre not independent enough to think about every interest group in your people Whatís more important is to get a stable and continuous way paved for the future, and to take responsibility for the future generations, for your environment, especially. Because your own children will be Head or representatives of the state. Itís not like youíre elected for 4, 5, or 8 years time, and then itís all over, and to heck with it. You have the responsibility for your lifetime, and even for the generations coming.
DR: One thing we cannot grasp here in the United States is this whole tradition youíre talking about of raising an heir to the throne in a very religious way, a very moral way, a very ethical way, and with his entire being, so to speak, focused on serving the greater good of the people. Now, here in the United States, as you said, special interest groups decide who the President is, and special interest groups decide who the State Senator or Congressman will be. I know that within the German system, they have a very specific way, and a very good way historically, of training their monarchs, and they will bring in very specific tutors, and very specific courtiers, and very highly-tuned training, which we over here could never fully grasp.
KW: Even the last German Emperor, Wilhelm II went to a public university, and he was educated with normal people, so there was a close relationship with the people he would later represent. Then, of course, he had an education in the army, in economics, in social things, and so it took a wide range of educational topics to prepare for this highest representative function in the community.
DR: Ironically enough, the United States has many monarchs here. They are exiled monarchs, and they generally live in the Washington, D.C. area. We have the Shah of Iran, and then we have Haile Selaasie, whoís the Emperor of Ethiopia. So for all of my friends who say, ďNo monarchy in AmericaĒ, we have plenty of them already.
KW: Yes, I know several members of royal families in Germany that have been there. Just on Monday, I had a talk with someone from the Royal House of Saxony. He used to stay in the United States, and had good contacts there. Of course, thereís a lot of attraction by the United States. Itís an important country for freedom and democracy. Itís just a bit curious, because things are of interest which you donít have yourself. Even Kaiser Wilhelm II visited the United States once or twice, and he made a lot of donations to churches and universities. I think Harvard University has his antiquities collection.
DR: Yes, thereís that cartouche. Thatís not too far from where I live.
KW: Our Crown Prince, Louis Ferdinand, who is the grandfather of our pretender, Georg Friedrich, he lived in the United States for several years, and worked for Ford in Detroit.
DR: What is your standing in Germany. Are you listed as a political party? Are you listed as a charity? What is your standing with the current government of Germany.
KW: It's what we call a public organization. We are not a political party, as we think monarchy is not bound to any political party. It has to be independent. We try to be as independent as possible, even independent of the royal families, as we do promote monarchy, not the special interests of any special group, but democratic monarchy. We have a newspaper published every two months dealing with monarchical topics, and even in the United States we have members, and readers of this newspaper.
DR: And this can be ordered through your website?
DR: I realize that you do some public speaking, as weíre doing now, and I realize that you try to remain autonomous, but do you do any petitioning at all to the government of Germany, or do you stick solely to media promotion?
KW: We do media promotion, and we do promotion with our meetings and lectures. I myself was able to participate in several talk shows on major German television stations. So there is an interest out there. The politics in Germany are nearly totally divided within the parties, so if youíre not a member of a political party, you donít have a very good chance to reach the wider public. Thatís why we try to be independent of politics. In politics you have to deal with a lot of topics which are not really monarchical topics. It would bring us away from our goals and our aims.
DR: Right, so you donít get too caught up in policy issues like unemployment.
KW: Probably several things would be better with a monarchy, because of the responsibility of the royal family for all people. But daily politics is the politics of the parliament, and it doesnít have anything to do with the role of monarchy. Our motto is: ďWe crown democracy.Ē Thatís what we intend to do.
DR: It must be difficult, because Iím sure people do try to draw you into specific issues, especially if you were to go on major German television. They would ask you specific policy questions. But your point is, your ultimate goal is the promotion of monarchy, not necessarily the details of government policy.
KW: Thatís true. And the broadcasts Iíve been on always deal with monarchical topics and not politics. So you have to make a division of power - on the one hand, political power, and on the other hand, the power of the royal family. A royal family in Europe does not have political power. It has power. Itís not a written right of power, but it has power just being there and representing people. You know, being in public, your word will be listened to, but itís not a political type of power, like the President of the United States. He has a role, a function, and political power. And this is strictly divided in European democracies.
DR: See, and thatís a very difficult concept for Americans to understand: that a monarch will not necessarily take policy positions.
KW: Right. None of the European monarchs have nearly the rights and power of the President of the United States.
DR: The monarch would be, number one, a figurehead and an example for the people. He would also look out for his subjectsí best interests, as opposed to very specific policy issues, like unemployment. That might be part of what a monarch would focus on, but he would have a different role than that of a politician.
KW: The European royal families, normally, have not even the right to talk about daily politics, but what they can do is advise politicians, and say ďYou have to focus on thatĒ, or ďYou should focus on thatĒ, because in every monarchy in Europe, people write to their monarch or royal family begging for special points, asking for help with some problem somewhere, and normally they take it very seriously. Queen Elizabeth is always giving those requests from the people to the politicians with her own statements. So she hints to politicians how they could deal with it. Itís very important that people have direct contact with their royal families, to see that their rights, and their problems are taken seriously.
DR: I know it wouldnít be a perfect example, but the way the House of Windsor rules in England might be a rough idea of what you and your group want to do in Germany.
KW: We normally make a comparison with the Spanish monarch, Juan Carlos, or with the Scandinavian kingdoms, like Beatrix of the Netherlands, because Great Britain is very traditional, very specific, which I donít want to take in any scale. Itís a little different than other European royal families, but itís very good for the United Kingdom. You canít just take traditions from one country into another. They have to develop their own specific system, and in Germany we have to find a way, with the states as a federation, for a different kind of representation, a Republic within the Kingdom or Empire of Germany.