PRINCE Louis Ferdinand, pretender to the German throne, was a composer of some distinction, an author and an economist, and had been head of the House of Hohenzollern since 1951, following the death of his father, the former German Crown Prince Wilhelm. Moreover, he was the grandson of the last German Emperor, Wilhelm II, whom he greatly admired and loved. His great-grandmother was the Empress Victoria, a daughter of Queen Victoria, and the wife of the German Emperor Frederick III.
Louis Ferdinand was born in 1907 at the Marmorpalais in Potsdam, the second son of Crown Prince Wilhelm and Crown Princess Cecilie. His childhood in Potsdam and at the Crown Prince's Palace in Berlin was radically altered when the monarchy collapsed at the end of the First World War with the abdication of Wilhelm II. Freed from the restraints imposed upon royalty, he could now start a life of greater freedom during the remaining years at school and beyond.
In his early years he travelled widely, in particular through Latin America and the United States, where for a time he worked as a mechanic in preparation for taking over the Ford Motor Company's representation for Europe which Henry Ford was pressing him to accept. It was his own wish to learn his new trade from scratch rather than stepping in at the top. However, his extended stay in the US was also connected with his romance with the film star Lily Damita (almost leading to marriage) which took him to Hollywood. These journeys are well documented in his informative and entertaining book Als Kaiserenkel durch die Welt ('As the Emperor's Grandson through the World', 1952).
Before his American years he read economics, philosophy and history at the Humboldt University of Berlin. He was awarded his doctorate in 1929 for his thesis on the theory of immigration and its application to Argentina, an achievement he valued highly.
The dubious role which some members of the deposed German Imperial family played during the Nazi period was not shared by Prince Louis Ferdinand. Far from it, his spell as an officer in the German Air Force during the Second World War was short-lived, as in 1940 he retreated to his country estate after being expelled from military service by Hitler's new law restricting the military activities of members of the former Imperial family. He later had close contacts with members of the German underground movement, among them Claus Schenk Graf von Stauffenberg and Dr Carl Goerdeler - who were executed after their involvement in the failed attempt in July 1944 to kill Hitler - and with Klaus Bonhoefer, Otto John and Field Marshal Georg von Kuchler. These activities are described in greater detail in Prince Louis Ferdinand's fascinating autobiography, Im Strom der Geschichte: die Heimkehr noch Potsdam. This book was first published in 1983 as an extension and amended version of his earlier book Die Geschichte meine Lebens ('The History of my Life', 1968). Documents of the underground movement show that he was in fact seriously considered a possible future head of state in the event that the coup planned for 20 July 1944 against Hitler succeeded. Of his three journeys to Israel after 1945, the last was the most memorable, the occasion being the erection of an obelisk dedicated to Wilhelm II and the Empress Auguste Victoria.
At the end of the Second World War, Prince Louis Ferdinand had to flee with his family from his Eastern estates to West Germany and made the Wummehof in Bremen his private residence, concentrating on the administration of the rather reduced assets left to the Hohenzollern family and on an extensive restoration of Burg Hohenzollern in Hechingen, southern Germany, the family's original seat.
His marriage to Kira, Grand Duchess of Russia and niece of the last Russian Tsar, Nicholas II, was an exceptionally happy one, producing four sons and three daughters. Her early death in 1967 and the tragic death of one of their daughters and of his heir Louis Ferdinand, when 33, left a deep mark on Louis Ferdinand, but he bore these losses with remarkable dignity. In memory of his wife he established the Princess Kira of Prussia Foundation which enables children in need from Berlin to spend holidays at the castle of Hohenzollern, where annually a fund-raising concert is held at which many of Louis Ferdinand's own compositions are performed.
The last member of the British Royal Family that he was in close contact with was Queen Mary, who received him with great warmth shortly after the accession to the throne of Edward VIII and, on several occasions, after the Second World War. It was with some sadness that he spoke to me of his almost complete lack of contact with his English relatives, the present members of the British Royal Family.
With a great sense of history, Louis Ferdinand agreed, after German reunification, to the transfer from the castle of Hohenzollern of the sarcophagus of perhaps his greatest ancestors, Friedrich Wilhelm I and Frederick the Great. The ceremony took place on 17 August 1991 at Schloss Sanssouci, where Frederick the Great wanted to be buried, and the music for the occasion, Fredericus Rex, was composed by Prince Louis Ferdinand himself. He was convinced of Prussian virtues, which, though tarnished, he felt, were indestructible and would remain so. He regarded restoring confidence in them and making them politically effective, as being his main task. He was a firm believer in democracy, but also in constitutional monarchy. He never renounced his right to the throne but accepted wholeheartedly that the will of the people has to decide.
Nevertheless, when questioned about his feelings after German reunification in 1989 he always stressed his readiness to serve his country if asked to do so.
Prince Louis Ferdinand had tremendous warmth, depth and a true sense of friendship. An evening with him at a dinner party was an unforgettable occasion. Genuinely modest by nature and shy, he had a great sense of etiquette and expected to be addressed as 'Imperial Highness'; both the German President and Chancellor Helmut Kohl complied.