The German media is nearly as dominated by the news of The Queen’s death and the country’s mourning as the UK media. Both online, in print and on TV, the process started by Queen Elizabeth II’s death is reported in minute detail. All the main channels cancelled their scheduled programmes.
The Queen’s death
Several National TV stations, eg ARD and ZDF follow the scenes in London and Scotland and London. Das Erste, Germany’s first channel, dropped its scheduled programmes shortly after the announcement was made.
Die Tagesschau, Germany’s most watched news bulletin, was reporting simultaneously up to the channel’s main 8pm news. An hour-and-a-half of tributes and an obituary followed. London correspondent Annette Dittert was asked to report several times live about her experience. ZDF (Germany’s second channel) dropped its evening drama to bring viewers a breaking news special. It cleared a late evening slot to screen its tribute to the life of the monarch.
The interest in the Royal Family has always meant more stories about them in the German press than in the UK. Often, I was astonished how some of my friends in Germany knew more about recent news about the Royals than I did. They are not royalists themselves. They find that the British monarchy makes Britain a country of eccentricity which couldn’t work in their country.
Modern day Germany has never had a monarch but, from 1871 until 1918, the German Empire consisted of Kingdoms, Grand Duchies, Duchies and Principalities, and all had royal families whose lineage could be traced back to the Holy Roman Empire. Unrest across the German Empire following the loss of World War I sparked the November Revolution. On 9 November 1918, a parliamentary democracy was proclaimed. At the same time, Prussian monarchy and Germany’s other constituent monarchies were abolished. On 19 August 1919, when the Weimar Constitution went into effect, all the German nobility’s legal privileges and titles were forever abolished. However, former hereditary titles are still allowed as part of the surname.
Germany’s last emperor, Kaiser Wilhelm II, belonged to the Hohenzollern dynasty and was the last King of Prussia. Following World War I, he fled to the Netherlands, where he spent the rest of his life. He was forced to abdicate from both the Imperial throne and the Kingdom of Prussia on 28 November 1918. His abdication formally ended the house of Hohenzollern.
British Royal family in German media
Especially when there were Royal scandals to report on, Bild Zeitung, one of the most read Boulevard tabloids, puts out punchy headlines and then they fill pages and pages with colourful pictures to satisfy German curiosity about British royalty. After following the Queen’s journey through Scotland, the funeral procession through London was shown in an hour-long film report. On YouTube, it attracted over 70 000 views.
One of the questions asked in the German media has been ignored in the English media:
In a documentary by ARD and ZDF, for the first time, representatives of the German aristocracy spoke about their connections to the British Royal Family and the historical responsibility of their families – also at the time of National Socialism.
No monarch has been as popular in Germany as Queen Elizabeth II. She was seen as representing typical British values. Her glamour alone cannot explain this popularity. Her family connections to Germany also play a role. The Queen’s visit to Germany, 50 years after her first visit as Head of State, was a historic event. German-British relations after the Second World War have never been as good as they are today. In fact, whenever the Queen came to Germany for a state visit, it was always also a flying visit to her German relatives.
The Queen’s German ancestry
The Windsor dynasty came from the small Franconian town of Coburg. Until 1917 the surname of the members of the British royal family was Saxe-Coburg and Gotha.
It was in 1901, that a line of that House, a cadet branch of the House of Wettin, succeeded the House of Hanover to the British monarchy with the accession of King Edward VII. He was the son of Queen Victoria and Prince Albert of Saxe-Coburg and Gotha. In 1917, the name of the British royal house was changed from the German Saxe-Coburg and Gotha to the English Windsor because of anti-German sentiment in the United Kingdom during the First World War.
There have been five British monarchs of the House of Windsor since then: George V, Edward VIII, George VI, Elizabeth II, and now Charles III. King Charles, he and his descendants, genealogically belong also to the House of Oldenburg.
Queen Victoria’s ancestry
The very young monarch Victoria also came from a German noble family, the Welf dynasty. In the 17th and 18th centuries they not only sat on the throne in Hanover, but also in Great Britain. Prince Albert and Queen Victoria dreamed of a close German-British relationship and married their eldest daughter to the heir to the Prussian throne.
Two World Wars later, British-German relations had collapsed. Millions of people from both nations had lost their lives on the battlefields, and the close ties between the British Royal family and their German relatives seemed so delicate that they were discreetly kept secret for decades.
Enter the Mountbattens
When Princess Elizabeth married the naval officer Philip Mountbatten in 1947, his German family connections were not mentioned in the UK media, although it was known that he was third cousin to his wife, as both were descended from Queen Victoria. In fact, his sisters were not allowed to attend the celebrations in London. Their husbands had been high-ranking Nazis from the House of Hesse.
The connection between the last Duke of Saxe-Coburg and Gotha and Adolf Hitler remains a difficult topic to this day. In the above mentioned documentary, Prince Ernst August of Hanover, Hubertus of Saxe-Coburg and Gotha and Landgrave Donatus of Hesse opened their castles for ZDF and spoke openly about the special Anglo-German relationships between their families.
British views of Germany
It seems, however, that many Britons have either not been aware of these close links between Germany and the Windsors, or they chose to ignore the relationship. Especially during the Leave campaign, anti-German voices were aired in the media. See this BBC report from 16 May 2016.
“Boris Johnson is standing by his comparison of the EU’s aims to Hitler’s, saying a row over the issue is an “artificial media twit storm”. The pro-Brexit Tory MP said both the Nazi leader and Napoleon had failed at unification and the EU was “an attempt to do this by different methods.”
The opposition’s view
Rejecting Mr Johnson’s analysis, Hilary Benn said, “Leave campaigners have lost the economic argument and now they are losing their moral compass. To try and compare Hitler and the Nazis – the millions of people who died in the Second World War, the Holocaust – with the free democracies of Europe coming together to trade and co-operate, and in the process to help to bring peace to the continent of Europe after centuries of war, is frankly deeply offensive.”
It is to be hoped that the new King Charles III will carry on his mother’s policy of using his German connections to build bridges between the UK and Germany. This seems especially urgent after Brexit alienation and the need to collaborate on climate, food and energy security and peace.