The Kaiser loved to wear military uniforms. When he ate plum pudding, he put on the uniform of a British admiral.
While the jury is still out on whether Adolf Hitler was insane or evil, documented evidence from the correspondence of the kaiser’s relatives as well as his own letters suggests that the German emperor was clinically nuts.
Wilhelm’s life reads like one long excerpt from the DSM-IV, an encyclopedia of pathological behavior compiled by the American Psychiatric Association.
Two psychiatrists and contemporaries of the kaiser speculated that he suffered from bipolar disorder, more commonly known as manic-depression.
A present-day psychologist believes that Wilhelm displayed symptoms of narcissistic personality disorder.
In the clinical rather than popular use of the term narcissism, a narcissist is someone who feels that his needs are all important, and everyone else’s, if the narcissist notices them at all, don’t matter.
The disorder represents a lack of empathy skills so severe that the narcissist can lie, cheat, and kill without any of the remorse a healthy individual would feel.
When the affliction causes the death of millions, the perpetrator is called a "malign" narcissist. Hitler, Stalin, and Saddam Hussein, who enjoyed feeding his enemies to a wood chip shredder, were all malign narcissists.
Churchill said that history is written by the victors, so it would be easy to dismiss diagnoses of the kaiser’s madness as propaganda perpetuated by his victorious enemies.
Wilhelm's Worried Relatives
But royal relatives of the kaiser also feared that their powerful kinsman was mentally ill, especially because insanity ran in the family, whose most famous victim was Wilhelm’s cousin, King Ludwig II of Bavaria. The letters of the kaiser’s relatives and others was not translated into English until now.
An Austrian attaché at the German court believed that the emperor was “not quite sane” and that he had “a screw loose.”
A Prussian diplomat speculated that Wilhelm was possessed “by an evil spirit, bewitching his mind and compelling him to make speeches which insult the nation to the quick.”
Chancellor Otto von Bismarck wrote that the emperor suffered from an “abnormal mental condition.”
An American envoy to Germany, Colonel Edward House, wondered aloud if the kaiser was, in the diplomat’s undiplomatic language, “crazy.”
Prince Philipp zu Eulenburg, the kaiser's best friend and alleged lover
The emperor’s best friend and aide-de-camp, Prince Philipp zu Eulenburg, noted the fragile mental state that made Wilhelm erupt over inconsequential events.
Eulenburg wrote, “His Majesty is no longer in control of himself when he is seized by rage,” which Eulenburg saw as a “weakening of the nervous system.”
When the prince was outed by a homosexual lover, Bismarck spread the rumor that Wilhelm had also had an affair with Eulenburg.
Testimony during Eulenburg’s trial on charges of homosexuality in 1908 revealed that Wilhelm’s inner circle was largely comprised of gay men, who referred to Wilhelm as “Liebchen,” German for “darling.”
The kaiser had a Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde personality, which supports the forensic diagnosis that he suffered from bipolar disorder.
When Wilhelm wasn’t furious about the “most harmless remark,” Eulenburg wrote, he was “friendly, not obstinate, and relatively easy to be with and to handle.”
Crazy Unlike a Fox
Belief in the emperor’s mental illness was borne out by a nervous breakdown he suffered in 1908 after a disastrous interview with a reporter from Britain’s Daily Telegraph.
The kaiser told the interviewer that the British were “as mad as march hares” and claimed that the majority of Germans hated Britain.
Wilhelm had granted the interview with the newspaper in an attempt to gain the friendship of Britain, which was alarmed by the rapid buildup of Germany’s navy. His comments had the opposite effect.
Willy, We Hardly Knew Ye
The alternately grim and farcical behavior of the kaiser merits a revival of public interest.
Isabel V. Hull writes in her 2004 account, The Entourage of Kaiser Wilhelm II, 1888-1918: “To an extraordinary degree [Wilhelm] was representative of his epoch: brilliant, bizarre, aggressive, insecure. Yet German historians have virtually ignored him.” [emphasis added]
Not this American historian.
Historians of all nations have exhibited even less interest in other pivotal figure of the past.
Besides Hitler stealing the Kaiser’s limelight, another likely reason that German historians and biographers have turned into a silent majority is that they’re simply embarrassed by the antics of a leader once revered by their fellow citizens.
Some Germans, like Russians who romanticize Stalin’s genocide, still hold a minority opinion of the Kaiser’s greatness. The esteem is comparable to the reverence accorded America’s Founding Fathers.
Imagine the presidential idolater, uh, biographer, Pulitzer-Prize winning plagiarist Doris Kearns Goodwin, revealing that George Washington enjoyed getting sponge baths from Thomas Jefferson.
If that hypothetical joke were real, descriptions of Wilhelm’s foibles would be more embarrassing, a tragicomedy that would make readers of the kaiser’s biography alternately laugh and gasp.
Invisible People of the Past
Another cause for the historical blackout on Germany’s last monarch is the same as the self-censorship imposed on so many of the other figures historians shove into a closet their subjects never occupied in their lifetime:
Wilhelm’s sexual orientation, one of the worst-kept secrets in his day and one of the best-kept secrets of the present.
The absence of Wilhelm’s madness in modern accounts disproves the claim that you can’t shove the genie back into the bottle – or the bisexual back into the closet.
The kaiser’s courtiers and relatives were treated with a contempt one biographer characterized as “physical sadism.” Wilhelm once beat up his cousin, his grandmother Queen Victoria’s nephew, the Duke of Saxe-Coburg-Gotha and sovereign ruler of the duchy his title refers to.
On several occasions, the emperor forced the royal duke to lie on his back while Wilhelm sat on his stomach. Acting like a sadistic personal trainer, the kaiser forced elderly ministers to perform strenuous exercises - knee jerks and jumping jacks – which amounted to torture since it was inflicted on senior citizens.
Dietrich von Hulsen, commander in chief of Germany’s High Command and a Prussian aristocrat of advanced years and ancient lineage, died of a heart attack while dancing at the kaiser’s request in a large feathered hat and tutu.
Naughty, naughty, nutty
Other courtiers courted their sovereign’s favor by happily participating in their humiliation. The obese Count Emil Görtz von Schlitz once dressed up like a circus poodle, barking and crawling on all fours, with a “marked rectal opening” under his costume’s tail, according to the correspondence of an eyewitness.
The count put a healthy spin on his aberrant behavior by claiming the kaiser’s laughter helped him forget that Görtz’s “beloved sister – the dearest thing I have on earth – is at this moment dying in Breslau.”
Meanwhile, the dying woman's brother was doing a dog without a pony show for the adolescent amusement of his sovereign. The homoerotic flavor of the feathered hat, tutu, and anal aperture was probably not coincidental.
An even more pervasive silence hides widespread rumors at the time but no longer mentioned that the kaiser was a precocious bisexual, who displayed his affinity for the same sex as early as high school.
An incident from those years also diminishes the severity of the kaiser’s anti-Semitism, suggesting that like so many other bigots then and now, he hated Jewry in the abstract but subscribed to the condescending cliché, “Some of my best friends are Jewish.”
The Kaiser’s Childhood Crush on a Jewish Boy
Wilhelm's friend at the Friedrichsgymnasium, a private high school in Kassel, Germany, Siegfried Sommer, who exited the closet during adulthood, was Jewish.
He ate all his meals with Wilhelm, an unheard of honor for a royal to grant a commoner in a society with a caste-system almost as rigid as India’s.
Circumstantial evidence that relationship was more than platonic comes, ironically, from one of the most vociferous defenders of the kaiser’s heterosexuality, the Anglo-German don, John C.G. Röhl, who wrote that Wilhelm on one occasion put his arm around his “friend’s” waist “as one might around a pretty girl’s.”
Besides this incident, there is much stronger, documented evidence of the kaiser’s bisexual inclinations described in testimony from several libel trials in 1906 and 1907, forgotten now but as much an object of international obsession in its day as Michael Jackson’s or O.J.’s trials almost a century later.
In 1888, Germany's prime minister (Ministerpräsident), Otto von Bismarck, wrote to his son that the relationship between Wilhelm and his best friend, Prince Eulenburg, “could not be confided to paper” - then proceeded to do so in a letter to his son.
Public exposure of Eulenburg’s bisexuality originated with a series of editorials written by Maximilian Harden, the Jewish, anti-monarchist publisher of an obscure weekly newspaper, Die Zukunft (The Future).
In a country without our First Amendment rights, the editorials claimed, without naming names, that Eulenburg and another courtier, Count Kuno von Moltke, a scion of a prominent military family and commandant of Berlin, were lovers.
Harden hoped that some of taint would rub off on Eulenburg’s best friend, Wilhelm, in a classic case of guilt by sexual association and orientation.
The Kaiser’s Gay Camarilla
To make sure readers would read between the lines of his editorials, he dropped enough hints about the alleged lovers, including Moltke’s well-known nickname, “Tutu,” and referred to the unnamed Eulenburg as “leader of a sinister and effeminate camarilla.”
One editorial of the time contained a fictitious conversation between Moltke and Eulenburg, in which they discussed a mutual gay friend identified only as “Liebchen,” whom readers easily recognized as the affectionate nickname for the kaiser among his inner circle. “Liebchen’s” literal translation is “sweetheart.”
Today, German gays consider the term campy, effeminate and pejorative, much as prior to the gay lib movement in America some male homosexuals called each other “Mary” and used feminine pronouns when referring to one another.
Syntax served as the Esperanto of an international subculture, from “Liebchen,” to “camarilla” to “Mary, she’s such a queen!”
A panicky kaiser turned out to be a fair-weather lover, if indeed that’s what Eulenburg and he were.
Wilhelm ordered Eulenburg to either disprove the editorials’ insinuations or forfeit his palatial estate and income and leave the country. Their estate had made the Eulenburgs one of the richest families in Germany.
There must have been some truth to the stories, because a heart-broken Eulenburg chose exile, but almost immediately had a change of heart and returned to Germany.
There, the prince hired an attorney who made a secret deal with a sympathetic prosecutor by admitting his homosexual behavior and violation of Paragraph 175 of the German penal code that forbade “unnatural vices” between men.
The law remained on the books until German reunification in 1994. Strangely, even in the Third Reich, lesbianism was not a criminal offense, although the Marxist government of the Weimar Republic (1919-1933) tried to criminalize sex between women.
In return for Eulenburg’s confession, the prosecutor promised not to file criminal charges that would have sent the prince to prison, as similar charges a few years earlier had resulted in Oscar Wilde’s incarceration in England’s Reading Gaol. Eulenburg’s admission was never made public, but it satisfied the kaiser, who restored his friend to favor.
Moltke employed a more aggressive strategy and sued the publisher for civil libel, which was easier to prove. The plaintiff seriously undercut the charges against the defendant with his flamboyant, effeminate behavior during the trial, frustrated and abetted by the testimony of a star witness, a quack, and an eyewitness.
The star of the show trial was Moltke’s disgruntled ex-wife, Lili, who testified that during their two-year marriage, the couple only had sex once. She also complained that her husband spent all his time with Eulenburg, including Christmas.
Cosmetic Proof of Guilt
The trial degenerated into farce when an “expert” witness, a famous sex researcher and early gay rights advocate, offered “proof” of Moltke’s homosexuality by noting that the plaintiff was wearing makeup. At least Moltke had the wisdom not to appear in the ballerina outfit that had earned him the nickname “Tutu.”
The mountain of evidence against Moltke turned into an avalanche that buried him when a young soldier and courtier, unlike the cautious newspaper publisher, was willing to name names and testified.
The soldier testified that many members of the kaiser’s inner circle were gay and engaged in orgies. The young man testified that he once saw Eulenburg and Moltke having sex.
The alleged witness didn’t seem to realize he was incriminating himself by revealing he had attended the same orgy that Moltke and Eulenburg had. The non-jury trial ended with the judge acquitting the publisher of all charges.
Undeterred by his public humiliation, Moltke persisted and filed new charges, this time, of criminal libel. The new judge shared the public’s respect and admiration for the aristocracy, the celebrities of the pre-movie star era. The groupie jurist found the publisher guilty and sent him to prison for four years.
The same clueless history professor, John C.G. Röhl, who wrote about the future Kaiser’s boyhood tryst with a male classmate, only to deny it represented a homosexual romance, contradicted his denial with another assertion.
Writing in a supposedly more enlightened era – 1997, Röhl demonstrated his ignorance of psychology and history by serving up two more fatuous arguments to shove Wilhelm back into the closet:
1) The kaiser’s numerous extramarital, heterosexual affairs, Röhl claimed, “proved” that Wilhelm wasn’t bisexual. Tell that to Hugh Hefner, who recently admitted to engaging in ménage à trois which included gay sex, but “only in a heterosexual context,” as Hef explained, sort of.
2) Röhl also claimed what no other historian has even hinted at: Handsome homosexuals, not international Jewry – Hitler’s scapegoats - had caused Germany’s defeat in World War I:
“It is indeed disturbing to reflect that the generals who took Germany and Europe into the Armageddon of 1914 not infrequently owed their career to the kaiser’s admiration for their height and good looks in their splendid uniforms.”
To which a more astute observer of human nature and history might respond with a vulgar variant of the Marx Brothers’ movie title, “Horsefeathers!”
The Male Models Who Waged World War I?
Germany's World War I leaders, Hindenburg and Ludendorff. The kaiser allegedly chose his officers based on their good looks.
Germany’s military leaders during both world wars consisted almost exclusively of Prussian aristocrats, called Junkers, who for centuries comprised Prussia’s, then post-unification Germany’s warrior caste.
Photographic evidence discredits Röhl’s implication that the German high command during the First World War might have stepped off the cover of GQ or moonlighted as Playgirl centerfolds had they been around today.
Photos of the top two military leaders, Field Marshal Paul von Hindenburg and General Erich Ludendorff (above), who led Germany to defeat, prove that they would never have found employment by a modeling agency or posed for a magazine centerfold with the possible exception of AARP’s.
Both men were ancient and obese. The gay aesthetic considers even a bit of extra poundage a worse affliction than leprosy, which is at least susceptible to antibiotics. As British actor Rupert Everett said, “The only cure for old age in the gay community is euthanasia.”
The Color-coordinated Uniform Kaiser Wilhelm Admired
Röhl unwittingly suggested that the kaiser did share another aesthetic stereotypically attributed to gay men, a greater fashion sense than their heterosexual peers. The historian quoted a courtier who had been questioned by Wilhelm:
“After he [the kaiser] had duly admired my yellow boots and colour co-ordinated riding costume, he asked me, ‘Don’t you know anything about Kuno? I can’t get anything out of either him or Philly.” “Kuno” was Moltke, and “Philly,” Eulenburg.
The kaiser also loved to dress up, another gay stereotype. His massive wardrobe was macho, however, filled with military uniforms - not gowns - from all over the world.
Before he ate plum pudding, Wilhelm would don the outfit of a British admiral, according to Röhl, who remained unpersuaded by the implications of the kaiser’s fashion fetish and another (true) stereotype that the majority of male fashionistas are gay.
Homophobic commentators claim that misogynistic couturiers dress up women in grotesque, expensive haute couture.
Why the Kaiser Abandoned Anti-Semitism
Toward the end of his life, Wilhelm did a volte-face about the Jews, whom he also believed had stabbed Germany in the back, leading to its defeat in the First World War. Among others, one gay-related event shocked Wilhelm into temporary sanity and transformed him from Jew-baiter to Nazi-hater.
Was the kaiser mad or evil or both? Almost a century later, the question may seem sensational to some, irrelevant to most with the exception of history buffs.
But the answer remains of deadly importance to the 20 million souls who perished in the conflict the Madness of Kaiser Wilhelm II ignited.
Keegan, John. The First World War (Knopf, 1999)
Röhl, C.G. The Kaiser and His Court: Wilhelm II and the Government of Germany (Cambridge University Press, 1994)
Sanello, Frank. Invisible People: History's Homosexuals Unhidden (Genesee Avenue Books, 2011)
Next up: The Strange Private Lives of Kaiser Wilhelm and Adolf Hitler
Causes Frank Sanello Supports
ACLU, ASPCA, Amnesty International, Doctors Without Borders