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A putsch, a Reich, a war – and the family drama that went on in spite of and because of it.
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This is part two of the story of Alexandra of Mecklenburg-Schwerin’s tiara. If you haven’t read part one, I suggest you start there – we’ll be picking up Alix’s story right where I left off.
You *Can* Go Home Again
When we last left Alix and her family, they were in Denmark with her husband’s sister, Queen Alexandrine. She had agreed to take Alix, Friedrich Franz, and their three kids in after the German revolution.
From their home base at Sorgenfri Palace, Friedrich Franz – no longer the grand duke after his abdication – negotiated with the new Free State of Mecklenburg-Schwerin. He wanted to come home – and he wanted to know where they could live, and how they’d be able to pay for it.
Finally, in late 1919, Friedrich Franz signed a contract with the new government. Although they confiscated Schloss Schwerin and most of its contents, they paid Friedrich Franz a large cash settlement as compensation – almost 3.5 million reichsmarks. (Zajons) They got to keep several estates, apartments, villages, and forests, plus their secondary home, Schloss Ludwigslust.
I didn’t see any mention of jewels in these negotiations. What does this tell us? They were probably considered Alix’s personal property – and I’m guessing she took many, if not all of them, with her to Denmark.
Friedrich Franz scrambled to figure out what he’d do for a job. He wrote: “…no one will expect me to live a life of idleness, and agriculture is the only area in which I will be able to work in the future.” (Bock, 24) In the end, he traded many of the paintings and furnishings in the palaces for agriculture and forestry businesses in the hopes of earning a living.
But when they finally went home in early 1920, it wasn’t business as usual. Instead of pampered rulers, they were now private citizens.
The government also restricted – and watched – their movements. They weren’t allowed to go straight to Schloss Ludwigslust. Instead, they kept a low profile by living in their family’s hunting lodge. The government forbid them to go to the capital city, Schwerin. When Friedrich Franz bought a used car, the government only allowed him to go as far as Rostock, about 20 km away. Just as they were settling in, a new political disturbance looked like it might change everything. In March of 1920, people began roaming the countryside, collecting weapons. But for what? It was all part of an attempted coup, the so-called Kapp Putsch.
This conflict had to do with the restrictions placed on the German army by the Treaty of Versailles after World War I. The government attempted to comply with these restrictions, but many ex-soldiers and officers believed those restrictions were too harsh. Hundreds of thousands of them joined paramilitary organizations known as the Black Reichswehr, claiming they were necessary to defend and protect Germany.
Friedrich Franz and Alix felt so unsafe that they sent their sons to Semlow , a small palace about 30 kilometers away. When the disturbances grew, they joined them.
Not long after they left, a Black Reichswehr group came to their hunting lodge to collect weapons. The steward showed them the only guns left –Friedrich Franz’s old hunting rifles. But since their military cartridges wouldn’t fit, they left the guns alone.
Instead, they took the family’s old used car, a 1910 2-seater. They towed it away and dropped it off at a repair shop. That repairman – loyal to his former grand duke – stalled for time, telling them it would take literally forever to fix. When the coup failed and the disturbances died down, the mechanic gave Friedrich Franz his car back. They had it for so long that Alix’s sons would later learn to drive in that car.
Most descriptions of Alix’s life would probably edit this episode out. But that’s only because now, with hindsight, we know nothing happened to her. At the time, imagine how scary that must have been for her – scary enough for a mom to send her two oldest children away for their own safety.
This is the unsettled world she was now facing.
The New Normal
In the fall of 1920, Alix and her family finally moved into Schloss Ludwigslust and attempted to create their new normal.
They lived in the east wing of the palace; the west wing became a public museum, per the new government – to be run at their expense. So in addition to having tourists wander through the palace, they also had to economize. Post-war inflation destroyed what savings they had, and selling art and precious objects was the fastest way to recoup those losses.
But there was a catch. The new government refused to let paintings and valuable treasures leave the country – so the most expensive items they had stayed put. That included a famous Gainsborough painting of Queen Charlotte of Mecklenburg- Strelitz – but because there was also a copy in Buckingham Palace, no one knew which one was the original – and thus the more valuable.
At this point, Alix’s boys were 10 and 8 and her new baby daughter was one year old. With no royal duties to perform, Alix and Friedrich Franz had more time for the kids. They ate lunch and dinner together every day. Sometimes, their son’s friends came over to play outside. Alix went out most afternoons, either on horseback or in a carriage with Friedrich Franz. According to her son, Alix never got a driver’s license – she failed all her driving tests and ran straight into the bushes every time. When she needed to go out, she drove a carriage or called a chauffeur.
Christian Ludwig said people who didn’t know her thought she was stern and aloof, but it was just shyness. She was funny and warm with family members.
Every Christmas, they visited the estates and farms they owned and had a party for all the workers. A pastor read the Christmas story, they sang carols, and Alix and Friedrich Franz handed out toys to the kids and household goods like shoes and fabric to the parents.
1922 and 1923 were rough years for their family. In March of 1922, Alix’s mother-in-law, Anastasia Mikhailovna, died. In 1923, her father, Ernst August, died. When she had her last baby, on November 11, 1923, she named the new baby girl Anastasia. Her son Christian Ludwig said the rest of the family hated the name, and called her Putti instead.
In 1929, Alix and Friedrich Franz had their 25th wedding anniversary. The entire family gathered together and acted out scenes from their life. After dinner, there was a torchlight procession in front of the castle where thousands of Mecklenburg citizens came to congratulate them.
Let’s take a moment to appreciate this part of the story – because things are about to get ugly.
“Nazis…I Hate These Guys”
Because this was Germany in the 1930s, we’re gonna have to talk about the Nazis. Indiana Jones couldn’t escape them, and in this story, neither can we. Take a deep breath (or a shot of whiskey) and let’s keep going.
In the 1920s and early 1930s, Adolph Hitler found it was in his best interest to cultivate friendships with German royals and aristocrats. Having them at your party was a great way to lure in wealthy supporters. It was also a confidence-builder for people still on the fence about supporting the party. Would the royals and aristocrats really support men who were bad for Germany? It was all about the optics, and royalty provided great optics.
But what did the Nazis have to offer the royals?
For hundreds of years, the younger sons of royals and aristocrats had made their livings in the army (and, later, the navy). Combine a long-standing habit with the lure of Hitler’s rhetoric about Germany’s rightful place in the world, and it took only a nudge to convince some high-born men to support the Nazis emotionally, financially, or physically.
Also, Hitler wasn’t above flat-out lying about the possibility of restoring some of their property and wealth. For people who had seen their time-honored heritage, inheritance, and sense of self-worth crumble in the past decade, those were false promises they wanted to believe.
But not everyone took the bait. Only about 80 princes officially joined the Nazi party before January of 1933 when Hitler became the new German chancellor.
Alix’s firstborn son was one of these OG Nazis.
On May 1, 1931, her son Friedrich Franz joined the SS and the Nazi party against his father’s will, receiving the Nazi party number 504973. Alix’s husband wasn’t the only one with a negative reaction. Two years later, when their son Friedrich Franz went to England to visit the Prince of Wales (the future Edward VIII), his name was kept out of the court circular because he was in the SS.
So what did Alix feel about this? I wish I could tell you. But her son wasn’t the only one who liked the Nazis’ “Make Germany Great Again” shtick. In the 1932 elections in Mecklenburg-Schwerin, the New York Times announced “Hitlerites Sweep the Polls.”
And what about Alix’s husband?
At first, he got along with the Reich Governor of Mecklenburg-Schwerin, Friedrich Hildebrandt. But Hildebrandt resented the way Friedrich Franz and his family had survived the German revolution and Nazi takeover relatively intact. He viewed their survival as some form of protest or reaction to the Nazi regime.
But as we’re about to see, everyone’s survival was about to be called into question. In a moment of calm before the storm, the Duke and Duchess of Kent – Prince George of Great Britain and Ireland and Princess Marina of Greece and Denmark – came for a visit in July of 1937. They stayed at Heiligendamm, a popular seaside resort, with Alix. After a few days, they drove on to Munich to see Marina’s sister. You have to wonder – did they talk about the political situation?
Probably. But if they did, I doubt Alix could foresee what was about to happen.
The War to End All Wars…Again
It’s easy to think the whole world stopped during the years 1939-1945. Borders and countries were moving or vanishing. People were dying, homes were destroyed, and atrocities were happening. But at the same time, Alix’s kids were growing up and living their own lives. There were still weddings, funerals, and all the associated family drama.
In 1939, Alix’s second son, Christian Ludwig, was called up for service. His two sisters went with him to the train station to say goodbye to all the enlisted men from Mecklenburg-Schwerin.
Alix’s eldest, Friedrich Franz (the one who had joined the SS), was now an SS Captain. First, he was posted to the German legation in Belgrade and then to Copenhagen. There, he was a personal aide to the Nazi ambassador and SS General, Werner Best.
The Nazis occupied Denmark from 1940-1945. This created an awkward situation for, well, everyone, but specifically for Queen Alexandrine. The Danish royal family did not want to associate with the Nazis, but that now included her nephew. Friedrich Franz didn’t make this any easier for them. In fact, he made things worse by visiting the queen (his aunt) and his cousin (the crown prince) wearing his Nazi uniform.
While all this was going on, in 1941, he married a woman named Karin von Schaper. Although Karin had noble ancestry, including the famous Baron Münchausen, she wasn’t from a ruling family. As romantic as we think it is to marry for love, Alix’s husband considered this a morganatic marriage.
So in 1943, he called a family meeting. There, the family decided to bypass Friedrich Franz Jr. in the line of succession, making Christian Ludwig the next Mecklenburg heir. Not everyone agreed with this decision. Later, Heinrich Schushnigg, the nephew of the former chancellor of Austria said, “He was treated like an archduke who married a prostitute.” (profil.at)
To us, it might seem silly for a dethroned grand duke to worry about the rights of succession. But it mattered to the family because by this point, Alix’s husband was terminally ill. He was weak and needed frequent blood transfusions. The doctors told him to avoid stress, which was like telling someone in 2020 to stop doomscrolling. Not gonna happen.
Also in 1943, Alix’s youngest daughter, Anastasia, married Prince Friedrich Ferdinand of Schleswig-Holstein-Sonderburg-Glücksburg – but we’re gonna call him by his nickname, Casimir.
He and Anastasia had met years earlier, when he was a Black Reichswehr officer candidate stationed in Ludwigslust. Remember the Black Reichswehr? This was a paramilitary group originally created to get around the military restrictions placed on Germany by the Treaty of Versailles. Later, it grew to include a number of independent army and militia groups, including the SA.
So does this mean Casimir was a Nazi?
As far as I know, this branch of the family hasn’t opened their archives, so no one has been able to research this thoroughly. We do know Casimir was a soldier in the German army – he served in Serbia, and later testified on behalf of his commanding officer at the Nuremburg trials. He doesn’t show up on the list of German nobility who officially joined the Nazi party.
In any case, Anastasia went to live in a house he’d inherited, Schloss Kunzendorf, which is in modern-day Poland. She spent most of the war there, alone, with only a French tractor driver to keep her company.
But as it turns out, Casimir’s family connections were about to become very important to Alix and her family.
Fight or Flight
By late 1944, the Soviet army had pushed back the German invasion…and began chasing them back to Berlin. Rape, robbery, and murder were common – just as they had been during the initial German invasion. If you want to sleep well at night, never look into military actions on the eastern front during World War II.
Refugees streamed westward by land and sea from East Prussia and Pomerania, in present-day Poland. Many of those refugees crossed into Mecklenburg.
Next to Schloss Ludwigslust, there was an open space called the Schlossplatz. Refugees made their way across it, pushing or pulling carts stacked with their belongings. Alix and her family did what they could to help, setting up refugees in Ludwigslust’s spare rooms and allowing mattress camps on palace grounds. On some days, British planes strafed the castle with machine gun fire, but they never hit it.
In January of 1945, fully aware that the Red Army was getting closer, Casimir and Christian Ludwig began moving their valuables west to Casimir’s uncle’s home, Schloss Glücksborg.
But it seems that Alix and Friedrich Franz were either kept out of the loop – or didn’t understand just how serious the situation was. Because early that spring, Prince Paul Metternich – a lieutenant in the German army – was posted to Ludwigslust, and his Russian wife Tatiana set out to join him.
One day, in her hotel in Ludwigslust, there was a knock on the door. Alix’s daughters, Thyra and Anastasia, and her daughter-in-law Karin, had come to get her. Someone had told them Paul and Tatiana were there, and asked them to take care of the couple.
But Paul had just been transferred to Stettin as part of Hitler’s desperate defense of the German border. So Tatiana joined the family at Schloss Ludwigslust to wait for him.
In her memoir, Tatiana describes laying on the roof to bask in the warm spring sunshine, watching the Allied planes overhead make their way to Berlin. She and Friedrich Franz had a lot to talk about, since her grandmother had been a friend of Anastasia Mikhailovna’s back in the day. But as talkative as he was about the past, Tatiana said he seemed oblivious to the present. “For them,” she wrote, “the world had not changed colour.” (224)
Later, when Paul Metternich arrived from Stettin, Friedrich Franz and Alix took him in, too.
When Easter arrived, Friedrich Franz gave Tatiana one of his mother’s enameled Russian Easter eggs, featuring the Russian imperial emblem. He said it was “to remember me by in happier days.” (224)
Paul and Tatiana tried to convince Alix and Friedrich Franz that they needed to start moving their most treasured possessions to the West – while there was still time. Maybe they didn’t know Christian Ludwig had already started doing exactly that. Because according to Tatiana, Alix and Friedrich Franz didn’t seem to accept the idea that they might have to flee at all. They knew Berlin would fall to the Allies, but they thought it was their duty to stay put and wait for whatever sort of government followed the Nazis. Here’s how Tatiana described the situation: “They were so remote, so well-meaning. News of concentration camps had not filtered past the entry sentry boxes.” (225)
All that changed when another refugee named Ann-Mari von Bismarck arrived with the Red Cross. If you read the first post I did on Alix, you know the role Otto von Bismarck played in annexing Hanover and essentially stealing Alix’s grandfather’s crown. Ann-Mari was married to that Bismarck’s grandson.
But the lost throne of Hanover was ancient history by now, and Alix welcomed Ann-Mari to Ludwigslust. Ann-Mari curtseyed to her hosts…and immediately started telling them about the terrible conditions in the concentration camps.
Tatiana Metternich wrote, “The horror on the faces around her, and this sudden confrontation with reality, would, we hoped, at last induce some decision, for did they not feel on what tenterhooks we were, poised for flight?” (225)
But before Paul and Tatiana Metternich could convince Alix and Friedrich Franz to flee, Paul was discharged from the army with diphtheria and the couple immediately left for home. As they said goodbye, Tatiana urged Alix to evacuate. Later, she wrote, “We were gone in a cloud of dust as the little carriage taking us to the station wheeled out of the wide square, leaving a startled and disconsolate group in the archway of Ludwigslust Castle.” (226)
In the end, Alix and Friedrich Franz didn’t take Tatiana Metternich’s advice.
That is, until the end of March, when a Nazi official knocked on the door and told them it was time to evacuate, like, now – the Soviets were within striking distance. He had brought enough fuel to fill up Friedrich Franz’s Mercedes, which could hold five people. Six of them crammed inside: Alix, Friedrich Franz, their son Christian Ludwig, their daughter Thyra, their pregnant daughter Anastasia, and their daughter-in-law Karin.
They joined the flood of refugees streaming north, stopping at their Wiligrad property. Christian Ludwig took the women further north to Gut Grünholz, Casimir’s home, then went back to Wiligrad for his ailing father.
But instead of doing the sensible thing – heading back north – Friedrich Franz and Christian Ludwig went back to Schloss Ludwigslust. Why? Odds are they were retrieving more valuables, hiding others, or burning documents. When that same Nazi official shooed them away, they rejoined Alix and the other women.
Alix’s oldest son, Friedrich Franz, was at Ludwigslust when American soldiers arrived on May 1. He asked them to treat the palace well, and after giving him a little bit of a hard time, they said they would. As he left, Alix’s son waved goodbye to a painting of his grandmother, Grand Duchess Anastasia Mikhailovna.
After the Third Reich surrendered to the Allies on May 8, Christian Ludwig scored a permit from an officer he knew to go back to Ludwigslust. Meanwhile, the British confiscated the house in Gut Grünholz. So Alix and her husband fled further north to Schloss Glücksborg, near the Danish border.
They were far from the only refugees there. With them was a distant relative, Princess Feodora of Schamburg-Lippe (Friedrich Franz’s nephew’s sister-in-law), her husband, and their two kids. But there was someone else also at Glücksborg – someone infamous, someone the Allies wanted to get their hands on at any cost…
And that’s where I’m going to leave part 2. Our story will conclude in part 3, when we find out what happened at Glücksborg – and how the aftermath of World War II turned Alix’s life upside down.
The Story of Alexandra of Mecklenburg-Schwerin and her tiara
Missed part one? Click or tap here to catch up
Ready for the epic conclusion? Click or tap here to go to Part 3
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Books & Articles
Berlin Diaries 1940-1945 by Marie Vassiltchikov
Blood and Banquets by Bella Fromm
Erzählungen aus Meinem Leben by Christian Ludwig Herzog zu Mecklenburg
Huset Glücksborg by Bo Bramsen
Die Junker: adel und Bauer im deutschen Osten by Walter Görlitz
Kunst in Schloss Ludwigslust by Sabine Bock
Mecklenburg im Zweiten Weltkrieg. die Tagungen des Gauleiters Friedrich Hildebrandt mit den NS-Führungsgremien des Gaues Mecklenburg 1939-1945:eine Edition der Sitzungsprotokolle by Friedrich Hildebrandt, Michael Buddrus, Sigrid Fritzlar, Karsten Schröder
Nazis and Nobles by Stephen Malinowski
Royals and the Reich by Jonathan Petropoulos
Tatiana: Five Passports in a Shifting Europe by Tatiana Metternich
“Waiting for Schwerin” by Michael Zajons in Kultur Stiftung der Lander
“German citizens defend democracy against Kapp Putsch, 1920” in the Global Nonviolent Action Database at Swarthmore College
“Kaffee mit dem Gestapo-Chef” in taz.de
“Man verkehrte mit diesen Leuten nicht,” interview with Heinrich Schuschnigg in profil.at
“Revolution in Mecklenburg: Der letzte Großherzog dankt ab” by Heike Mayer
“Sieroszowice” on glowgow.pl
“Transcript for NMT 7: Hostage Case” at the Harvard Law School Library Nuremberg Trials Project
- Leicester Evening Mail
- The New York Times
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- Header image, Alix: Gogmsite.net
- Header image background: Schloss Schwerin, print no. “6812” from the Detroit Publishing Co., catalogue J-foreign section. Detroit, Mich.: Detroit Photographic Company, 1905. Library of Congress via Wikimedia Commons, public domain.
- Music, post audio: All via Artlist.io.
- Creative Commons licenses: CC BY-SA 3.0, CC BY-SA 3.0 DE, CC BY-SA 4.0
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