The Emperor’s Dirty Laundry

Did Wilhelm II., Germany’s last emperor and first media star, live a tragic double life? Was the monarch who led into World War I at the same time the treasured hero of a circle of art -lovers opposed to anything military? Was he put under pressure, because his intimates were brought to court and accused of being homosexual?
Along the historic processes against the members of the emperor’s entourage, the film reflects on the morals, customs and taboos and draws a picture of the last years of the German Empire by a unique approach.


The Emperor’s Dirty Laundry

Until today the last German emperor, Wilhelm II.von Hohenzollern, is a synonym for the conservative, militarised, patriarchal Prussian society of the pre-war era. At the same time he was the most photographed and filmed media star of the early 20th century, but one fact remained a secret: Wilhelm II. lived a strange double life. The old fashioned, conservative emperor, standing for morals, discipline and a bizarre sense of humour, was the idolized centre of a circle of homosexuals, who met regularly at Liebenberg Castle near Berlin, the home of Philipp zu Eulenburg
Philipp zu Eulenburg was one of Wilhelm’s closest friends for almost 20 years. The art-loving Earl kept the young prince grounded and gave him guidance. In his castle, the Earl charmed Prince Wilhelm and his noble friends in a cultivated, high-class atmosphere of music and literature. Even after Wilhelm’s coronation in 1888, the people in the “Liebenberg Circle” continued with their meetings. The most intimate friends of the “Liebenberg Circle” became the emperor’s closest advisers.
Earl Philipp zu Eulenburg gave Wilhelm II the warmth and affection he did not find at the Prussian court. In January 1907 the Emperor gave Philipp zu Eulenburg a Prussian principality, a measure seen as contoversial by many at the Prussian court and in Berlin’s society. Jokes were made and more then a few envied Eulenburg. On April 27th, 1907 Eulenburg was outed by the journalist Maximilian Harden: he had made a sarcastic remark about a caricature, showing Eulenburg as a harp-player with his “sweetheart” Kuno von Moltke.
Wilhelm II. asked von Moltke to resign and demanded from Eulenburg to explain himself. Moltke’s lawyer sued Harden for libel. Eulenburg denied any punishable homosexual activity The well-set intrigue ended in mudslinging: denunciations, challenges to duels, defamation suits, and secret police dossiers – everything was brought up. Bavarian witnesses even received Prussian interpreters to give statements in court!
The Eulenburg-affair opened a “ritual of public damnation” and was followed by a flood of publications: theatre-plays, rumour-mongering, songs, illustrated postcards and caricatures. These images, but also the media frenzy, give an impression of the general atmosphere in Prussian Germany at the time.
In the film, original sites like Liebenberg Castle and the Moabit court-house in Berlin will help to visualize the code of ethics at the beginning of the 20th century, a time when Sigmund Freud’s work was discussed in scientific circles for the first time, where the playwright Arthur Schnitzler caused a huge scandal in Austria and Germany with his play “Der Reigen” (The Round Dance) and where sexual politics could influence the fate of a dynasty.

Script / director: Claus Bredenbrock
DOP: Johannes Imdahl
Cutter: Volker Gehrke
Production Accounting: Daniela Schöne
Production manager: Nick Pastucha
Archives: Eva Schellenbeck, Paula Zettelmann
Line producer: Susanne Heinz, Kathrin Isberner
Producer: Anahita Nazemi, Sarah Maret
Executive producer: Christian Beetz
Commissioning editor: Martin Pieper (ZDF/ARTE)

Koproduktion

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