The German monarchy was abolished a century ago, but the business of aristocratic titles is still booming.
| Respect bought by money |
After the war, Germany was devastated and financially deprived. Horst Koch, who was born here, was eager to break free from the shackles of the small town. At the age of 21, Koch found a way out at the poker table-he learned how to emptied the pockets of novice poker players. In Koch’s words, for decades, he has lived a solid life by playing cards in Baden-Baden, Aruba and Las Vegas. However, he is always greedy for respect, a respect that even a five-card stud champion can’t win at the poker table.
In 2013, when Koch heard that he could spend money to buy the title of nobility, he felt that this was a way to gain respect and appreciation. Now, whether in legal or other levels, the humble Horst Koch has become Horst Walter, Earl of Hessen-Humboldt. He has his own coat of arms and a glorious family history dating back hundreds of years.
As long as the money is in place, the Earl of Hesse-Humboldt is happy to do the same for you. “The door that was once closed suddenly opens. You can reach different people and everything is easier.” He said, “You can pass unimpeded, and’unworkable becomes’ OK.”
A century ago, the royal family held by William II collapsed after World War I. Since then, Germany has abolished the legal privileges of nobility, but allowed the former upper class to retain the title of nobility in their names. Even today, the aura of a special social class can still bring a lot of benefits to the nobility-at least in the imagination of hardcover fashion magazines and ordinary people.
| Ways to exploit loopholes |
To a certain extent, the value of a title depends on its scarcity. About 0.1% of Germans are descendants of nobles, that is to say, there are approximately 80,000 descendants of nobles in the German population of nearly 84 million. In the UK, this ratio is close to 0.01%. As for who can join the ranks of the nobility, there are also clear rules: Generally speaking, either born in an upper-class family or married to an upper-class person, and only men can legally pass the title to their spouse or descendants.
However, there is another way to take advantage of it-adoption. Adopters are usually nobles who cannot afford to maintain their dilapidated farms, or can not afford to hire people to help them polish their belongings. This method of obtaining titles is nothing more than a transaction between aristocratic sellers and Pangaozhi buyers, and most of them involve middlemen like the Earl of Hessian-Humboldt.
The Earl of Hesse-Humboldt said that he can facilitate more than a dozen transactions every year, with prices ranging from 80,000 euros to more than 1 million euros, depending on the degree of affinity between the name and the royal family, and whether it needs accessories, such as careful customization. The coat of arms or a very interesting genealogy. The new name is legally binding and can be used for all official documents in Germany, such as driving licenses, credit cards, passports, and even new birth certificates if necessary.
It works well in theory, but it can be difficult to persuade a nobleman to resell a title he cherishes very much. Although there is no limit to the number of buyers a new earl or baron can lead, families with aristocratic ancestry usually prefer to maintain the exclusivity of their ancestry. The National Archives of Nobles, funded by an independent foundation in Marlborough, often receives requests from noble families to expose potential imposters.
But if a cousin or uncle adopts a Pangaozhi civilian, there is nothing that other family members can do except to exclude the buyer and the seller. Hans Tolmeier, a lawyer specializing in family law, said: “People may find this kind of transaction unappetizing. But if two adults decide to establish an adoption relationship, there is no practical way for outsiders to intervene.”
The ninth husband of the late film queen Sasha Garbo, Prince Frederick of Anhalt, is an example. His real name is Hans Lichtenberg, he was born in Bad Kreuznach, a depressed spa town located an hour west of Frankfurt. When he grew up, he became a baker and later opened a chain of massage shops. In 1980, in exchange for a monthly pension of 2,000 German marks (about 3,600 US dollars today), the impoverished royal descendant Princess Marie August of Anhalt adopted him, and he was awarded the title of prince.
This is a lucrative investment. As of the death of the princess, Prince Anhalt paid a total of two years of pension. Since then, he sold his prince title to second-generation customers. One of the clients, Michael, owns two fitness clubs called “Killer Sports” near Frankfurt. He also likes to parade around in a fringed uniform. Another client, Marcus, went from a butcher to a brothel owner, often driving his pink Bentley or white Rolls Royce through the streets of Dubai. In 2005, Marcus bought the title of nobility for less than $10,000. “This is the most correct choice in my life.” He said, “If you are from a red light district, no one will invite you to a fancy dress party or Oscars, but if you are a prince, the situation is different.”
However, not all people who squeeze into the upper class can enjoy the remarkable wealth and status like Marcus. Hessen-Earl of Humboldt’s clients include a university professor, the owner of a large family business, and a young man who has just graduated from university. He said that he only wanted to use the new name on special occasions.
Before 1871, Germany was composed of hundreds of small states. This state of division left an unusually large aristocratic class in Germany, which was further expanded by the Prussian army tradition. As a result, more noble families emerged, especially in the last few years of World War I. Relatively abundant aristocratic resources make Germany the first choice for title buyers. Although some Eastern European countries and the United Kingdom have hundreds of years of title trading history, the market size is much smaller. In 1611, in order to raise funds for the debt-laden royal family, King James I of England established the title of “Second Baron” and gave this noble title to hundreds of men.
| Aura of the nobility has mixed blessings and misfortunes |
Foreigners are becoming more interested in buying and selling titles, especially Americans. They believe that a slurred noble name has inherited the talent of the old world and can make its owner the focus of the dinner. Although the U.S. government does not allow the use of noble titles on official documents such as passports, it is completely unrestricted to use gorgeous rhetoric on credit cards to decorate one’s own name.
Although the descendants of German aristocrats have lost their hereditary privileges, many of them still live slightly different lives. The men who went out in tweed clothes during the traditional hunting period, and the lovers who circled in the candlelight dance hall-they recalled a past era and reproduced a mythical way of life. Their approach can attract the group of civilians who are eager to nibble on crumbs from the noble pastry crust. “If you think that your family has been superior for generations, then you will naturally have a lot of confidence.” Munich writer Joseph von Westfalen said. The coat of nobility is a mixed blessing. The junior was disgusted by kissing the hand of an older relative, but found that the title of nobility really helped him succeed, whether it was being elected as a monitor in high school or building relationships with the right people in the workplace.
Among the clients of the Earl of Hesse-Humboldt is another Countess from Munich. She was over eighty years old and had no children. Her husband passed away in 1994. A few years ago, a salesperson asked her half-jokingly if she was considering adopting herself. It was this joke that made her make up her mind. As an East German war refugee who was married to a nobleman, she had no interest in the way of life of the nobleman. Sometimes people would bow or greet spontaneously after hearing her name, but this behavior seemed “absolutely absurd” to her. Her husband will use his title in appropriate occasions, such as when taking a loan, but in general it is not often used. Considering the sensitivity of the adoption issue, the countess did not reveal her name.
Today, the countess lives in a simple apartment in a quiet neighborhood. She said that by squeezing the value of the title of nobility and making a considerable amount of money to nourish her retirement life, it is really a good deal. “I didn’t have the blood of a nobleman, so it doesn’t matter to me to share the title of nobility with others.” She said, “My aristocratic relatives have always regarded me as an outsider. I can afford the rent, but if I can use it. The title of nobility earns a little extra, why not?”
However, no matter who inherited her name, title and coat of arms in the end, in her words, one thing is certain: “We will not hold hands under the Christmas tree.”