Prince Punchy and the trouble with redundant Euroroyals

The prince and the punch-ups
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The Independent Online

Prince Ernst August of Hanover, a Euroroyal bad boy who happens to be the Queen's cousin, is to appear in court this week in a grievous bodily harm case that could land him in jail for the next decade.

Prince Ernst August of Hanover, a Euroroyal bad boy who happens to be the Queen's cousin, is to appear in court this week in a grievous bodily harm case that could land him in jail for the next decade.

A German and British citizen who is 35th in line to the British throne, "Prince Punchy", as he is dubbed in Germany, is appealing against a January 2002 conviction for two assaults. He fiercely denies any wrongdoing, but the prosecution has also appealed. Not only was the original sentence - eight months suspended and a €250,000 (£175,000) fine - too lenient, say prosecutors, but the prince's subsequent behaviour should be taken into account. If the state prevails, the maximum sentence he could face is 10 years.

Ernst August, who broke protocol by kissing the Queen at a state banquet in Berlin this month, was fined €10,000 last year for another contretemps, this time in Austria. Other troubles include a bust-up with the mass-circulation tabloid Bild, which published pictures of him urinating against the Turkish Pavilion at the 2000 World-Expo in Hanover - hence Ernst August's other tabloid title, "The Peeing Prince".

The court saga is just the latest lurid episode to embroil Germany's increasingly redundant aristocracy. Ernst August's brother, Prince Heinrich of Hanover, has had an equally poisonous relationship with the media since his affair several years ago with a former religious education teacher turned cabaret artist. And Prince Ferfried von Hohenzollern, 62, has just dumped his wife to shack up with 33-year-old Tatjana Gsell, a surgically enhanced B-list celebrity. Unsurprisingly, Prince Friedrich Wilhelm von Hohenzollern, the Kaiser's great-grandson, stresses that Ferfried is "from a different strand of the family".

The essential problem is that Germany, once a patchwork of over 300 small duchies and principalities, is awash with ex-aristocrats without a clear mission in life. Often not as rich as they make out, and forbidden by law to use their titles - they get around this by incorporating them into their surnames: technically Ferfried is "Mr Ferfried Prince of Hohenzollern" - they have to get by somehow. While some become bankers or diplomats, the more exhibitionist perform for a tabloid press starved of genuine aristocrats.

"Since the Germans don't have a Kaiser any more, they simply turn to the next best thing: becoming obsessed with their own minor pseudo-royals," said Dr James Kennaway, a Berlin-based social historian. Some minor nobles agree. "It's crazy," said Caspar von Wrede, a slightly reluctant baron in his 20s who grew up in Britain, but recently returned to Germany to attend university. "Even though Germany is meant to be a republic, everyone is still obsessed by class here. Everyone was, like, 'Wow, do you live in a castle or something?'. Even the cashier at my local supermarket thought I was some kind of celebrity when she saw the title on my credit card."

To improve their image a little, German aristocrats have lent their works of art, sculpture and royal jewels to a high-profile exhibition, "Schatz- häuser Deutschlands", (Germany's Treasure Houses), which opened on Friday in Munich. Prince Georg Friedrich of Prussia dug out the "Le Beau Sancy" diamond, the most important jewel owned by Prussia's former royals. Alexander zu Schaumburg-Lippe has sent Adriaen de Vries, one of Europe's most famous bronze sculptures. Ernst August himself has loaned some modern art. How far this will put German public opinion on his side, or dispel the whiff of scandal which trails many other members of his class, remains to be seen.

Prince Ernst August of Hanover(above), husband of Princess Caroline of Monaco, is appealing against convictions for two assaults, oneof which allegedly put Josef Brunlehner, owner of a hotel on the Kenyan island of Lamu, in hospital. He was also found guilty of hitting and insulting a society photographer, Sabine Brauer, a year earlier. He was fined €10,000 last year for kicking a sound technician at a party in Zürs, Austria. His lawyers have also admitted that he verbally abused two newspaper executives, one of whom he called a 'super pig' and 'a homosexual who collects uniforms and lies in them naked'.

The prince and the showgirl

Prince Heinrich of Hanover had a child with Désirée Nick, a cabaret artist, an affair gleefully rehashed when she won the latest German edition of I'm a Celebrity, Get Me Out of Here! - their son, Oscar, is now eight, but his parents fell out long ago.

Heinrich initially refused to accept that the boy was his, and won a court order preventing Ms Nick from pestering him. He now pays €300 a month for Oscar's maintenance, though when his erstwhile amour came back into the public eye through the TV reality show, it was alleged that Heinrich hadn't seen the child for years.

The prince and the widow

Prince Ferfried von Hohenzollern, whose dynasty once ruled Prussia and Germany, left his estate agent wife for Tatjana Gsell. She was accused of murdering her much older husband, a wealthy plastic surgeon, but charges were dropped. The new millionairess appeared on Big Brother and the covers of downmarket women's weeklies, and now has her sights on becoming a princess. 'Sweety' (Tatjana) and 'Foffi' (Ferfried), as the couple like to call each other, have spent the past weeks marketing their romance in the German tabloids, swooning about their marriage and baby plans and posing naked in the bath.

The prince and the designer

Alexander zu Schaumburg-Lippe is a hereditary prince (slightly lower in the pecking order). His three-year, on-off relationship with jewellery designer Jette Joop had the tabloids enraptured - even more so when she dumped him for his caddish, jealous behaviour and faxed the papers to tell them all about it.