Where are the German royal family now?

To mark the platinum jubilee of Queen Elizabeth II of the United Kingdom, we thought we’d ask what happened to the German royals, who were pushed out in a revolution that took place over a hundred years ago.

Where are the German royal family now?
George Friedrich, Prince of Prussia, at an event in Lower Saxony in 2021. Photo: dpa | Moritz Frankenberg

The Queen of the United Kingdom is celebrating 70 years on the throne this weekend, making hers one of the longest reigns of any monarch in European history.

Elizabeth II’s popularity and the popularity of the monarchy in the UK might well be a point of jealousy for her distant relations, the Hohenzollern family, who ruled Germany up until the end of the First World War.

Who were the Hohenzollerns?

Originally hailing from the Württemberg region of southern Germany, members of the Hohenzollern dynasty reigned in various German princedoms in the early modern era. One branch of the family even sat on the throne of Romania up until 1947.

But the most influential branch of the family held sway in Brandenburg and later Prussia between the 17th and 19th centuries when Prussia, with Berlin as its capital, rose to become a major European power.

When Germany was united under Prussian leadership in 1871, the Hohenzollern kings took on the mantle of monarchs of Germany and its empire.

During the Kaiserreich era which ended with defeat in World War One, the Hohenzollern kings had immense power: they could hire and fire the German Chancellor and had large control over foreign policy.

Kaiser Wilhelm II (c) studies a map with two generals during WWI. Photo: picture alliance/dpa | dpa

While the Hohenzollern in the pre-war period are remembered in Germany today as being strictly conservative and resistant to societal progress, earlier generations were more liberal.

For instance, Berlin’s French flare – seen in places such as Gendarmenmarkt – is the result of the policies of the Hohenzollern family, who welcomed in tens of thousands of French Huguenots who were persecuted in their homeland due to their protestant faith.

The last Hohenzollern to sit on a German throne was a disaster though, both for his family and his country.

Wilhelm II, a grandson of Queen Victoria of the United Kingdom, was known for his bellicose foreign policy and his erratic public statements, which ultimately led Europe into war in 1914.

Wilhelm was forced to abdicate in 1918 after Germany’s defeat on the western front in the First World War. 

Germany became a republic and Wilhelm lived out his final days in the Netherlands.

Where are they now?

Because the German royals were allowed to make a peaceful exit after Wilhelm’s abdication, his direct heirs are still alive today.

The current head of the family is Georg Friedrich Ferdinand, who was born in 1976 and is the great-great grandson of Wilhelm II. 

On his paternal side, Georg Friedrich counts a number of European royal families among his ancestors. His great-great grandparents include several Russian Romanovs and a Duchess of Edinburgh.

The current “prince of Prussia” was educated at a Scottish boarding school before serving in the Bundeswehr and then studying business.

For years he was tied up in a lengthy legal battle with two uncles, who demanded a cut of his inheritance. But the family wealth, which is mainly in the form of valuable art, furniture and jewellery, doesn’t appear to have provided him with a life of luxury.

In 2012, Bild newspaper reported that he had to sell a precious diamond to stave off financial difficulty. At the time he was living in a rental property in Berlin. 

His marriage to Princess Sophie of Isenburg in 2011 in Potsdam was attended by members of many of Germany’s former aristocratic elite and was considered a big enough event to receive a live television broadcast by local public broadcaster RBB.

He now lives as a private citizen in Potsdam, the city made famous by his family’s splendid palaces such as Sansouci.

Legacy controversy

Georg Friedrich runs a brewery called the ​​Kgl. Preußischen Biermanufaktur which brews its beer in Braunschweig.

He is probably best known, though, for his attempts to regain some of his family’s palaces and art collections via the courts. 

These attempts have been controversial to say the least.

Historians and museums have said that the claims are totally inappropriate given what they say is clear proof that Georg Friedrich’s great grandfather, Crown Prince Wilhelm, helped Hitler into power in the early 1930s.

Newspapers and several leading historians of the Kaiser period have accused Georg Friedrich of a campaign of intimidation, after his lawyers threatened to sue them over the publication of claims that Crown Prince Wilhelm was close to Hitler.

Among the properties that Georg Friedrich wants the right to use is Cecilienhof Palace in Potsdam, which is now part of a UNESCO world heritage site.

Cecilienhof palace in Postdam. Photo: dpa-Zentralbild | Soeren Stache

The property was seized by East Germany’s communist rulers after the Second World War. The Hohenzollern descendants say that they have just as much right to get their property back as all the other landowners who were expropriated under communism.

German law states, however, that a family has no right to compensation if they were substantially involved in Hitler’s rise to power.

Georg Friedrich’s energies have been taken up in recent years in trying to show that his great grandfather was only a peripheral figure in the rise to power of the Nazis.

READ ALSO: Why do Germans love shooting fireworks at New Year?

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10 ways to enjoy autumn like a true German

From scavenging for mushrooms to drinking Apfelwein, autumn is a truly magical season in Germany. Here's how to make the most of the fall months just like the locals do.

10 ways to enjoy autumn like a true German

As summer transitions to autumn, it can be easy to remain nostalgic for the long, sunny days. But the months leading up to Christmas can also be an immensely vibrant time to be in Germany – if you know how.

So as you swap your summer t-shirts for woolly jumpers, why not participate in some quintessentially German customs, from whipping up pumpkin dishes to collecting chestnuts in the park? 

If you’re not sure where to start, here are 10 ways to make the most of autumn in true German style this year. 

1. Give thanks for the harvest

Since the third century, Christian countries have organised festivals to thank God for the gift of the autumn harvest – and in Germany, these religious celebrations continue to this day.

Traditionally, Erntedankfest (Harvest Thanksgiving) is celebrated on the first Sunday of October in rural communities with church services, a parade (complete with a harvest queen), music and a country fair. Food is also collected for those in need. In some regions, the celebrations coincide with the wine harvest, and vineyard owners set up stalls where locals can sample the season’s wines.

A church in Lower Saxony collect food donations at harvest time.

A church in Lower Saxony collect food donations at harvest time. Photo: picture alliance/dpa | Friso Gentsch

2. Eat pumpkin with everything

Say goodbye to Spargelzeit, the time of year when white asparagus is served on special menus in just about every German restaurant – autumn marks the start of Kürbiszeit, when Germans get creative with the humble pumpkin. 

From spicy soups to creamy pumpkin risotto, you may be surprised at how versatile pumpkin can be. In fact, if you happen to visit a farmer’s market in the next month or two, you may discover that there are far more varieties of pumpkin than you ever imagined.

And if you do start to get bored of pumpkin dishes as the season wears on, there’s plenty more seasonal produce to experiment with, from Grünkohl (kale) to Pfefferlinge (chanterelle mushrooms). 

READ ALSO: German Word of the Day: Der Kürbis

3. Go foraging for mushrooms

As soon as the first touch of autumn frost is in the air, many Germans wrap up warm and head out to the forest for a popular national pastime: mushroom foraging. The idea is simply to head out into nature, basket in tow, and see what wild mushrooms you can find, from the beefy Steinpilz to the slippery Butterpilz

A word of warning, though. Legally speaking, the mushrooms should only be for personal use (i.e. not to sell), and some mushrooms may not be edible at all. If you’re a beginner forager, it’s a good idea to head out with some experienced mushroom gatherers to start with, or take your treasure to your local Pilzberater (mushroom consultant) who can let you know if your mushrooms are safe to eat. 

READ ALSO: What’s behind the German fascination with foraging for wild mushrooms?

Mushroom foraging in Brandenburg

A forager collects mushrooms in a basket in Brandenburg. Photo: picture alliance/dpa | Patrick Pleul

4. Visit your local Herbstfest 

Though the days are getting shorter and colder, there’s no excuse to hibernate just yet. Whether you live in a small town or a big city, there’s bound to be at least one Herbstfest (or autumn festival) going on, which can be a great reason to get out of the house and spend time with friends.

The most famous autumn festival in Germany is obviously Oktoberfest – an enormous fairground and beer festival that runs in Munich from late September to early October. If you can’t make it to Bavaria, there are usually little copy-cat festivals dotted around Germany, as well as other local events where you can enjoy delicious seasonal favourites from Apfelwein (apple wine) to Flammkuchen and Käsespätzle

5. Celebrate the reunification of East and West Germany

October 3rd is a special day in the German calendar, marking the date on which East and West Germany were reunified after 41 years apart. Though reunification can bring up complex feelings for some Germans, Unity Day (Tag der Einheit) is a national bank holiday, which is reason to celebrate in itself.

This year, the date falls on a Monday, meaning people can look forward to a long weekend with fireworks and local celebrations. Why not get a group of friends together and check out what’s going on in your area? In Berlin, for instance, stages are set up all around Brandenburg Gate each year, with music performances, comedy and street theatre. 

6. Make paper lanterns on St. Martin’s Day 

Largely celebrated in Germany’s catholic states, Martinstag (St. Martin’s Day) on November 11th is a charming German custom that has a fair bit in common with Halloween. Traditionally, children dress up and head out onto the streets in a little procession with paper lanterns. In some regions, they also go door to door and sing for sweets, fruit or cookies. 

Families marking St. Martin’s Day will generally eat a Martinsgans (Martin’s Goose) for dinner. This is in reference to a part of the legend of St. Martin in which Martin, believing himself unworthy of becoming a bishop, attempts to hide himself in a stable filled with geese. 

In protestant Berlin and other parts of northern Germany, the processions have been rebranded as the secular Laternenfest (Lantern Festival).

St. Martin's Day procession Thuringia

Thousands of people join a St. Martin’s Day procession in Erfurt, Thuringia. Photo: picture alliance/dpa | Michael Reichel

READ ALSO: Six signs autumn has arrived in Germany

7. Collect chestnuts in the park

As the leaves starts to fall, you may notice something else lying on the ground on your street or in your local park: chestnuts. Heading out on a walk to collect chestnuts can be a great way to while away a bright autumnal afternoon, not to mention a fun activity for children. 

If you do go chestnut collecting, however, make sure you follow the rules: only chestnuts that have fallen to the ground can be picked up. Also take note that horse chestnuts, which are the ones usually found in cities, are poisonous – so don’t eat them. 

8. Dress up for Halloween

Though celebrating Halloween is much more popular in the United States, some American traditions – from fancy dress to trick-or-treating – have slowly but surely taken hold in Germany over the past few decades. 

Instead of saying “trick or treat”, German children tend to say, “Süßes oder Saures” (sweet or sour?) as they blackmail their neighbours into emptying their sweet cupboards.

But even if you’re not keen on an American-style Halloween, there are ways to celebrate Halloween like a true German. Why not spend the day carving pumpkins and then head out for a spooky tour of a haunted castle in the evening? 

READ ALSO: What are Germany’s 8 spookiest places?

9. Fly a kite 

The hot, humid days are over and a chill wind is in the air, so what better time to indulge in another German obsession – flying kites? 

Adorably known as Drachen (dragons) in German, autumn is prime kite-flying season in Germany, so be sure to take your kite (and your family) out to your park on the next windy Sunday afternoon to see what all the fuss is about.  

Kite flying in Berlin

People fly dragon kites at the Drachenfest on Berlin Tempelhofer Feld. Photo: picture alliance/dpa | Jörg Carstensen

10. Remember lost loved ones 

In a more sombre autumnal tradition, All Saint’s Day on November 1st is a time to remember loved ones who are no longer with us.

Taking place on November 1st, the day after All Hallow’s Eve, many Germans will take the opportunity to place candles or wreaths on the graves of their relatives. Churches will generally hold sermons dedicated to the theme of remembrance and in the evening, religious families may gather together for dinner. The following morning, on All Soul’s Day, there are more religious services and prayers for the dead. 

Even for those who aren’t believers, November 1st can offer an opportunity for reflection, contemplation and most importantly, a chance to spend time with the people you love.