'Germany's most embarrassing couple' call off their wedding

Wannabe princess with a criminal record and Kaiser's descendant go their separate ways
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The Independent Online

By Ruth Elkins

IN BERLIN

"Foffi" is an ageing heir to the Kaiser, a relative to the crowned heads of Europe. "Sweetie" is a blonde commoner, a surgically modified party girl and convicted criminal who dreams of becoming a princess. And their love affair has been driving Germany's aristocracy mad.

This weekend though, Europe's tackiest royal wedding was dramatically called off after Prince Ferfried of Hohenzollern, 63, dumped his fiancée, Tatjana Gsell, 35, claiming, well, that she was just too young for him. "I just can't spend every weekend in a disco with loud music booming in my ears," Prince Ferfried moaned yesterday. "I am prepared to go to a disco maybe once a month, but not every week."

The prince, dubbed "Foffi" by his lover, and Tatjana, dubbed "Sweetie" by the noble prince, have been a regular fixture of the German tabloid press since they struck up a relationship two years ago. Barely a week goes by without a photographer snapping one of Sweetie's artfully enlarged breasts slipping out of her designer evening dress. Or Foffi, gazing like a spaniel at his 35-year-old trophy girlfriend. Mass-circulation tabloid Bild has branded them "Germany's most embarrassing couple". The country - and not just those with blue blood - seems to agree.

Foffi, whose full name is Ferfried Maximilian Pius Meinrad Maria Hubert Michael Justinus Prince of Hohenzollern-Sigmaringen, is the very cream of European royalty. He is the grandson of the last king of Saxony, his maternal grandmother was the Archduchess of Austria, his paternal grandmother, the Princess of Sicily. The Hohenzollern family supplied the kings of Prussia for centuries before Germany became a republic in 1918 and, like all Hohenzollerns, Prince Ferfried is related to the British Royal Family.

Sweetie is a former cosmetician from Bavaria, who likes clubbing, short skirts and fake nails. She was investigated by police after the mysterious death of her first husband, a wealthy plastic surgeon. Franz Gsell, 45 years her senior, had transformed Tatjana from a dumpy provincial brunette into an attractive silicon package. His death in 2003 at the age of 76 came after Ms Gsell persuaded him to let his car be stolen so that they could claim the insurance. Watched by his wife, the surgeon was beaten up as the car was handed over and died later in hospital. Ms Gsell was given a 16-month suspended sentence and forced to pay a €30,000 (£20,000) fine for faking a crime and attempted insurance fraud.

Then she took up with the prince. Publicity-hungry Tatjana, who had already picked up some TV experience starring in Germany's Big Brother was approached by German broadcaster RTL2. Together the seemingly happy couple created an entire reality TV series around their preparations for a fairy-tale wedding. Foffi and Tatjana: Cinderella Becomes a Princess followed Ms Gsell as she learnt to curtsey, waltz, shoot and fence and memorise her future husband's illustrious family tree. In one episode she was shown preparing the wedding guest list and asking Foffi: "Shall we invite the Queen of England?" The Prince sighed: "I think not, dear."

Nadine Meyden, an etiquette trainer hired by the show's producers to improve Ms Gsell's sometimes dubious manners and groom her into a proper German aristocrat, gave up after two days. "Ms Gsell knows something about how to behave but usually decides not to make use of her knowledge," she said. The programme's climax, a wedding in Dresden on 29 May, was rapidly pulled from the TV schedules after it transpired that the groom's divorce from his third wife, Maja von Hohenzollern, had failed to come through. The couple had failed to set a later date.

Observers have long mooted that the relationship - which has included magazine spreads of the couple posing naked in the bath - was merely a PR act. "They're both doing their bit to bring showbusiness into the aristocracy, but this is just about exhibitionism," said Count Alexander von Schoenburg, former editor of Park Avenue. "It is just too embarrassing for words."

Yet, Foffi and Sweetie, who, until recently shared a lavish Berlin apartment decked out with leopard skins and Versace cushions, maintained it was true love. "Tatjana is the most sensual woman I know," swooned Prince Ferfried. "We get on splendidly and we can learn a lot from each other," said Ms Gsell. The women dubbed the "boob job widow", has said their separation is amicable. "We have drifted apart. We will remain friends. I am not particularly sad; rather more relieved."

As will be Germany's aristocrats, many of whom had refused to attend the planned nuptials. "It is inconceivable that anyone with an ounce of nobility would consider going to the wedding," said Prin- cess Elisabeth of Saxony.

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