Monday, November 11, 2013

Kaiser Wilhelm vs the Gays

The Dr recommended me Philipp Blom's The Vertigo Years - Change and Culture in the West, 1900-1914. It's an excellent, often funny, often harrowing account of the period, each chapter taking a calendar year and using one specific moment to explore broader themes.

Kaiser Wilhelm comes off particularly badly: a comic villain like Dick Dastardly. One chapter covers the scandal of his adviser and friend Philip of Eulenburg turning out to be gay, at a time when that was a serious criminal offence. The ensuing court case and revelations in the papers destroyed Eulenburg.
"While the journalist was mulling over the morality of wrecking a man's life for political gain, Kaiser Wilhelm himself was cruelly reminded of his abandoned friend in 1908, when his boyhood comrade, General Dietrich Hülsen-Haeseler, chief of the military cabinet, was entrusted with cleansing the Prussian officer corps of homosexuals in the wake of the Eulenburg affair. Hülsen-Haeseler appeared before the guests of a hunting party in the Kaiser's honour dressed 'in pink ballet skirts with a rose wreath and began to dance to the music'. Having finished his performance, the Count bowed to the applauding audience, and collapsed. General chaos ensued among the guests. Princess Fürestenberg, the hostess, wept uncontrollably and the agitated Kaiser was seen pacing up and down, but the doctor who had been hastily summoned could do nothing more than declare the performer's death by heart failure. When attention finally turned back to the general, rigor mortis had set in and it proved very difficult to get the late chief of the military cabinet out of his tutu and into more seemly military attire."

Philipp Blom, The Vertigo Years - Change and Culture in the West, 1900-1914 (2008), p. 178.

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