End of the line for Germany's Last Emperor
Frozen in time, the Kaiser's final refuge is 'not Dutch enough' to survive
His mummified corpse is draped with a flag displaying the black eagle of Prussia. On the manicured lawn outside the white mausoleum containing his remains, a stone plaque marks the grave of his dog Senta which accompanied him throughout the catastrophe of the First World War. Visitors to the final resting place of Germany's often reviled last monarch, Kaiser Wilhelm II, could be forgiven for thinking they had stumbled on a bizarre attempt to create a modern equivalent of an Egyptian Pharaoh's tomb. Yet the eerie atmosphere of House Doorn – the 17th-century manor house near Utrecht where Queen Victoria's grandson found exile after Germany's defeat in 1918 – does not end there. "We do everything we can to keep the house exactly as it was when the Kaiser lived here," explained Doorn's director, Eymert-Jan Goossens.
If the plans of the Netherlands' recently elected coalition government are implemented, House Doorn will close its doors to the public on 1 January 2013. The country's cultural advisory body, which oversees the manor house and its 15-acre estate, has decreed that it "is not Dutch enough" to warrant its ¤441,000 (£354,000) in annual funding. As part of its austerity budget, the Dutch will cut that down to ¤216, 000, a measure that will force the closure of the house as a museum. "We will not be able to keep the house open to the public. Within a matter of years, the place will be forgotten and I fear that this will be used as a pretext to get rid of the vast collection of photographs and thousands of priceless royal artefacts," Mr Goossens said .
House Doorn is a museum deliberately "frozen" in the year 1930. Its curators constantly study photographs taken more than 80 years ago of each of the 24 rooms in the house to ensure that even table cutlery and pillowcases from the era remain exactly in place. On a table at which Wilhelm once sat on a stool shaped like a cavalry saddle, one of his cigars lies in an ashtray alongside a cigarette holder embossed with a Prussian Eagle. Photographs of German battleships or the Kaiser directing military manoeuvres in full dress uniform adorn the walls of his study.
His slippers remain next to the bed in which he died in 1941. In the manor's attic, cupboards groan with hundreds of uniforms, swords and the spiked Prussian Pickelhaube helmets that Germany's first media-conscious monarch wore with obsessive regal pride. "Our aim is to give visitors the feeling that the Kaiser died only yesterday," Mr Goossens told The Independent on Sunday. Few would contest that the Dutch manor house has managed to achieve its objective.
The closure plan has provoked international criticism. Christopher Clark, an Australian historian and authoritative Kaiser Wilhelm II biographer, protested: "House Doorn has a significance that stretches far beyond Holland and the history of its relations with Germany." The celebrated Dutch author Geert Mak said the end of Doorn would be an "unimaginable loss" for the Netherlands.
After the First World War, the Kaiser fled to the Netherlands, one of the few European countries to have avoided the conflict and the only nation prepared to offer him sanctuary. He bought Doorn from Baroness Heemstra of Beaufort, Audrey Hepburn's aunt, and furnished the house with the contents of his palaces in Berlin and Potsdam, ferried from Germany in 59 railway carriages. The collection was so large that staff at Doorn were still opening the last crates in 1992.
Wilhelm lived there until his death in 1941, having initially tried to court the Nazis. He once entertained Hermann Göring, and sent Hitler a congratulatory telegram after the German invasion of France. But the Führer refused to entertain the idea of a return for the monarch who had subjected Germany to a humiliating defeat, and kept Doorn under military guard during the Nazi occupation.
At Doorn, the man referred to by his cousin King George V as " the greatest criminal in history" grew a beard, entertained guests sympathetic to his cause, went hunting, and even remarried after his first wife, Empress Auguste-Victoria, died in 1921. He could often be found, until his death at the age of 82, chopping wood in the grounds of his estate. Despite the withered arm he had suffered at birth, he had himself filmed while doing so: "The idea was to give the German public the impression that the Kaiser was bursting with health and ready to return to the throne at the drop of a hat," Mr Goossens said.
But it never came to that. After Nazi Germany's defeat, the Dutch government confiscated the house as "war booty". Doorn became a museum, attracting 25,000 visitors a year, but the Kaiser remains an embarrassing figure whom most prefer to forget.
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