Sunday, March 19, 2017

CastleTalk: The Curious Case of the Thurn und Taxis Inheritance

The death of Richard Fürst zu Sayn-Wittgenstein-Berleburg earlier this week saw a surge in interest in my take on the (in)famous will of inheritance looming over the family. One point about the Sayn-Wittgenstein-Berleburg inheritance that many seem to find especially curious is the fact that the late Prince Richard never actually owned his family's fortune but that it was instead passed from his father - who went missing during World War 2 - to a yet unborn grandson - who was born in 1969 - (or anyone else, really, who would inherit after Prince Richard). The German nobility, however, isn't short of interesting inheritance constructions - case in point: The Thurn und Taxis inheritance.

Princess Gloria and Prince Johannes of Thurn und Taxis
The Thurn und Taxis family isn't just famous for their fabulous wealth, estimated at around $ 2.5 billion today - even though Princess Gloria of Thurn und Taxis says it less than a billion - but also for their lifestyle to go along with it. In fact, Princess Gloria of Thurn und Taxis may single-handedly be the most famous member of the German nobility in Germany. Why? Well, for many years she was "Princess TnT", "the dynamite socialite" and "punk princess". She was 20 when she married Prince Johannes of Thurn und Taxis, a man 34 years her senior. Journalists at the time certainly noted that he needed an heir for his fortune, which originated from the founding of Europe’s postal system in the 15th century, but still both led a fabulous life of partying and more partying together. To go along with it, they had no less than seven castles, a hunting lodge and several other homes around the world at their disposal. According to reports, the Fürst retained 70 liveried footmen at his primary residence, the 210,000-square-foot Schloss St. Emmeram in Regensburg - they lived like bees in clover.

However, everything came crashing down in 1990. Prince Johannes died after a failed second heart transplant within seven weeks. At the time before his death it also became apparent, that the family's fortune was dwindling based on poor investments and lax management. As Johannes' and Gloria's son Albert was only seven years old at the time of his father's death, it was the Princess who left the partying days behind her, took over management of the family's estates and saved them from ruins - and so the story of the Thurn und Taxis inheritance is usually a story about the punk princess turned business woman. However, behind this story, there lies a more interesting one: Contrary to reports at the time and to this day, Prince Johannes never actually owned the largest chunk of his family's fortune. Sure, he had private assets that were nothing to sneeze at, but he never was the owner of the grand Thurn und Taxis wealth.

Instead, his son Prince Albert, the 12th Prince of Thurn und Taxis, was the first one to actually own the family's fortune is decades. Similar to what we can see in the Sayn-Wittgenstein-Berleburg family, the inheritance skipped a few generations to save death duties. The will of Prince Franz Josef of Thurn und Taxis (9th Prince), whose only son died during World War II, stipulated that the (yet unborn) heir of his brother's grandson were to inherit the family's massive assets including the largest privately owned forests in Europe. So while after Franz Josef's death in 1971, his brother Karl August became the 10th Prince of Thurn und Taxis, he never owned the family furniture. The same goes for Johannes, Karl August's son and Albert's father, who became the 11th Prince in 1982. Prince Albert was only born a year later in 1983, 12 years after the death of Franz Josef who made him his heir. 

Princess Gloria and Prince Johannes with their children
In the meantine, however, the Thurn und Taxis saved inheritance taxes not once but twice. If inheritance had gone the usual way, they would have needed to pay taxes on the death of Franz Josef in 1971, then again in 1982 when Karl August died and a third time in 1990 at the time of death of Johannes. While the 10th and 11th Prince of Thurn und Taxis never technically owned the assets, they still were the ones in sole control as the main administrative authority of the family's fortune. There must have also been a stipulation in the will, that it would only come into force if all in line to the headship of the House of Thurn und Taxis before Prince Albert had passed away. It means that the will didn't come into force when Albert was born in 1983 and not when he turned 18, but instead in 1990. At the tender of seven, he had become a fabulously wealthy young boy - who also inherited about 400,000,000 million Deutsche Mark in debts (rougly 200 million euros) and who had to pay 45 million Deutsche Mark in death duties. 

As you can imagine, coughing up half a billion in liquid assets isn't an easy task even for a Thurn und Taxis. Somehow Princess Gloria managed it by selling jewels, art and everything else that held value, and striking deals with the state of Bavaria about opening a museum at their palace for the items given to the state to be put in and thus holding the family fortune together. Thus, the story of the Thurn und Taxis inheritance is usually and understandably about her. While neither she nor her two daughters got any of the large Thurn und Taxis wealth in favour of their son and brotehr Albert, they still got shares of the "small money" Prince Johannes owned privately. 

In Germany, there is such a thing a legal portion, which is also another angle to this story. Under German law, you cannot easily disinherit your wife or children. So if you own 100,000 euros and have three children, each child would usually legally inherit one third of your money. If you disinherit them, they, however, would still have the right to have half of their legal share. In this case roughly 16,666 euros. Had Prince Johannes owned whatever the family is exactly worth, his wife as well as his daughters would have been entitled to half of their legal share, which would have meant a fragmentation of the family's assets. 

So, will Prince Albert come up with a  similar construction once he has children of his own? I'm sure he has some experts to help him with the pitfalls and loopholes of German laws, However, it seems to me that the same constructions of skipping generations as in the Thurn und Taxis and Sayn-Wittgenstein-Berleburg cases are not possible anymore. While I'm certainly no expert in inheritance laws, there have been some changes in recent years and one paragraph now states that only persons living at the time of the accrual of the inheritance can become heirs and that those who weren't born yet but already conceived are considered living at the time of the accrual of the inheritance. So no more generation-skipping it seems.

Sunday, March 12, 2017

CastleDrama: Magnificent Century (Season 1)

To say that I have been pretty obsessed with "Magnificent Century" as of late may just be the understatement of the century. The Turkish period drama Muhteşem Yüzyıl is one seriously addictive tv series - and that comes from a person who is a serial binge watcher. The show's first season compromising of 48 episodes is available on Netflix with English subtitles and yours truly cannot wait for the additional three seasons to be added. 

The plot of "Magnificent Century" is a simple one yet full of twists and turns. The show tells the story of Sultan Süleyman, who ruled to Ottoman Empire from 1520 to 1566 and is is known in Turkey as the Lawmaker, renowned for his innovative legal code, for the opulence of his court and for expanding the Ottoman Empire from the Persian Gulf to Transylvania. It particularly focuses on his relationship with Hürrem Sultan (or Roxelana as she is mostly known in the Western world), the Christian slave girl from modern-day Ukraine who eventually became his wife and a powerful political influence, as well as the inner workings of his harem.

As I learned "Magnificent Century" is a television phenomenon in many parts of the world, watched by more than 200 million people. It was heavily criticised by some parts of the Turkish public including President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan for invading "the privacy of a historical person" and being "an effort to show our history in a negative light to the younger generation". But well, Erdoğan isn't the person I would listen to when it comes to period dramas (or anything, period.) Do I think that the dresses of the women of a 16th century harem were cut as low? No. Do I think the jewellery looks a bit too modern? Yes. Still, "Magnificent Century" is one of the most well-rounded period dramas I have seen in a long time. In this show, you will find (almost) no characters that are just good and no characters that a pure evil. It is a multi-faceted portrayal of Sultan Süleyman and those around him with a focus on two charismatic former Christian slaves Hürrem and Ibrahim and their rise to power.

You know my stance on accuracy in period dramas and portraying the secret world of a harem is even more difficult. Far less is known about the sixteenth-century harem than about the royal houses of Europe during the same period of time. The harem was a closed world: There were no nobles hanging around the Ottoman court, writing memoirs or exchanging letters full of the court's gossip, who could have given an inside glimpse. Yes, the show is a lavish soap opera but in many ways the story remains faithful to historical fact, as least as far as such facts are known. Of course the show does take liberties, fictionalises and embellishes (with no pretension to historical accuracy). What would it take for a Christian slave, woman and peasant from beyond nowhere, to make the "Sultan of Sultans, Ruler of Rulers, earthly shadow of Him who crowns sovereigns" marry her - the first marriage of a Sultan in centuries - and to become the most powerful woman of the Empire? We don't know. And the answers "Magnificent Century" gives isn't always a pretty one: Hürrem isn't always the devoted lover and sweetheart she likes Süleyman to see her as. He, in turn, also is a complete character: Educated, religiously faithful, patient and focused on justice, yet authoritarian, expansionist and with no mercy for those who betray him. The series combines high drama with sumptuous costumes and stunning sets - and is a must-watch for any period drama lover!

Wednesday, March 8, 2017

Hohenzollern Crypt

Let's continue our morbidly fascinating week of royal burial places with a closer look at the Hohenzollern Crypt at Berlin's Cathedral. But first, let's take a moment to admire the Cathedral's wonderful ceiling! Honestly, if you follow me on Instagram, you will know that I have a thing for ceilings but this is one of my favourites yet, just beauftiful! But back to our actual subject... As you may have guessed already by its name, the Hohenzollern Crypt is the final resting place of 93 members of the Hohenzollern dynasty, whose Protestant branch once reigned Brandenburg, Prussia and the whole of the German Empire.
The Hohenzollern Crypt lies beneath Berlin's Cathedral. While the current building was consecrated in 1905, other churches have stood in its place before. For almost 400 years, between 1545 and 1915, the various churches were the burial place for members of the Hohenzollern family. Today's crypt also originates from the times of the last rebuilding of the Cathedral. It lies higher than previous crypts as during the course of the 19th century, the crypt was flooded not once but twice. Thus the current burial place lies 25 centimetres above the hightest known groundwater levels - and doesn't seem to have flooded since.
Interestingly though, none of the German Kaiser were laid to rest in the crypt bearing their dynasty's name: Wilhelm I found his final resting place at the Mausoleum of Schloss Charlottenburg, Friedrich III at the Friedenskirche in Potsdam and Wilhelm II at Huis Doorn in the Netherlands, the place of his exile. Some of the best known names buried at the Hohenzollern Crypt include Elector Friedrich Wilhelm, popularly known as the 'Great Elector', his wife Electress Forothea as well as the first King in Prussia, Friedrich I, and his Queen, Sophie Charlotte.
The tombs of the almost 100 members of the Hohenzollern family also buried in the crypt reflect almost 500 years of mourning culture of the state that would become famous as Prussia. The mostly very valuable coffins were made of different materials such as bronze, tin, wood, granite and marble. Some of them are covered with precious materials such as velvet and brocade. Some of them rather simple, other richly ornamented reflecting the tastes of the time. The last person buried in the crypt was a stillborn daughter of Prince Adalbert of Prussia and his wife née Princess Adelheid of Saxe-Meiningen. 
During World War II, the Hohenzollern Crypt was damaged when the Cathedral's main dome collapsed after being struck by a bomb and an ensuing fire. Some coffins were almost completely destroyed. It is also believed that some remains were lost following the fire and collapse. After the end of the Second World War, the Cathedral lay in what went on to become the German Democratic Republic. In 1975, reconstruction started with the help above money from the Protestant church of West Germany. At the time, the design was simplified and the northern wing, the Denkmalskirche (Memorial Church) demolished. Compared by some to the stunning Medici Chapel of Florence, it had survived the war completely intact but was demolished for ideological reasons by the communist government due to it being a hall of honour for the Hohenzollern dynasty. The Hohenzollern Crypt did survive the communist years and was restoration - still a work in progress - of the crypt and coffins started in the 1990's.

Good to know:
The Hohenzollern Crypt can be viewed as part of a visit to Berlin's Cathedral. The Cathedral is open each day from 9am to 8pm in summer and until 7pm in winter except for varying worship times. If you visit Berlin Cathedral make sure to walk all the way up to the top as it offers some stunning views of the surroundings. Admission for the Cathedral is 7 euros per adult. For more information, have a look here.