Everything You Never Knew You Wanted to Know About Berlin
Edward VIII, once King of The United Kingdom, and the Dominions of the British Commonwealth, and Emperor of India, later known as Duke of Windsor – that name rings most of the bells. When on the 10th of December 1936 he signed the abdication papers to be able to marry Mrs Wallis Simpson, a double divorcee and a woman of low morals (as most would have said and in fact did say in those days) the whole world held its breath. Never before had any British monarch dropped the crown with a bigger bang. In fact, no British monarch had ever willingly dropped the aforementioned crown – they had had it removed and sometimes along with the head but never by choice.
Therefore Edward´s decision was a mix of panic, shock and relief (considering his fascination with Hitler, it was really better he went). But when Leopold Ferdinand Salvator of Austria, Archduke of Tuscany and a high-ranking member of the House of Habsburg, announced he would be leaving the family and moving on to live as Leopold Wölfling, the outcry was understandingly smaller. After all, he was only the great-grandson of Emperor Leopold II and immediate candidate to the Austrian-Hungarian throne but strangely enough the reason for the decision seemed to be the same: Leopold Ferdinand wanted to marry a wanton woman, a woman of low morals. And in this case her morals were low not only in metaphor. The Archduke wanted to marry a prostitute.
The unification of Italy made Leopold´s father, Ferdinand IV of Tuscany to leave his Duchy and move with the whole family to Salzburg where they lived a typically plushy Habsburg life, generously supported by Kaiser Franz Joseph. Leopold could have had it all, he thought: excellent family tree and all the side benefits of sitting on it, financial security, traditional military education in the KUK Kriegsmarine and the ensuing career in the same circles. Sadly nothing of this was to happen. The first blow was being re-called by the Kaiser back from Sydney where he and his sea-voyage companion and a cousin, Franz Ferdinand of Austria (yes, the Franz Ferdinand) made a stop-over. The relationship between the cousins was so bad that the latter kept complaining about the former literally from the moment they put their feet on board. And since he was dearer to the imperial heart than the former, Leopold was given withdrawal orders. The key word here being humiliation.
The second time Fate told Leopold that he should not stop looking over his shoulder came when the Archduke wanted to marry for the first time. Elvira, the daughter of Don Carlos VII and the successor to the throne of Spain might sound like a perfect catch for someone of his background but in those days royal politics was much more complicated than today (perhaps because back then they still could actually rule). Kaiser Franz Joseph said Nein! Spain was up to its southern ears in internal squabbles of different degrees of complicity and the emperor didn´t wish to be sucked into them, even if only indirectly.
He most certainly wished he had re-considered his decision then when only a couple of years later Leopold Ferdinand decided to marry somebody even less suitable. Wilhelmine Adamovicz, a daughter of a post office clerk and a prostitute he met in Wien in a park where she definitely wasn´t only taking a stroll. Hearing what the naughty boy was up to, the Emperor had him relocated to Przemysl in Galizien (Poland today and Poland before Austria, Russia and Germany decided to chop us up a bit in 1772) but was unaware that Leopold was not ready to give up his fight for Wilhemine. He took her simply with him and had installed in his house as a housekeeper. Upon hearing this the Emperor chose not to grant him any clemency and had him re-located again. This time to an asylum in Koblenz.
As his pleas to be given a new military post some place else instead met with another Nein!, he was confined to a mental institution. In 1902 in Zürich, where he moved probably with the help of one of his sisters, Leopold decides to give up everything apart from Miss Adamovicz and writes another letter to the Kaiser. On the 14th of December 1902 he writes: Ich bitte Eure Majestät, meine Stellung und Rang als Erzherzog ablegen und den Namen Wölfling annehmen zu dürfen. “I am begging Your Majesty to strip me off my position and my rank and allow me to take on the name of Wölfling instead.” The Kaiser said Ja!
And so on January 27th, 1903 Leopold Wölfling and Wilhelmine married. Since part of the deal with the Kaiser was never returning to Austria again, they lived first in Genf and Zug and afterwards moved to a colony of The People of Nature, set up by another high-society drop-out, Lieutenant Karl Gröser in Ascona. There they ate fruit, wandered about wearing linen robes and tried to become one with the world. After only a couple of weeks Herr Wölfling had enough of spiritual excursions and meat-free diet and moved on. Alone. The divorce would be through only a couple of years later, in 1907. Wilhelmine will be dead less than a year later.
Leopold Wölfling clearly wasn´t a child of sorrow for some months after separating his first wife he was getting married again. And again his beloved was of poor morals though she was not cheap: he had to pay 4,000 Marks for her to her pimp. The newly-weds moved to Paris (where else, I say, where else?) but in 1912 chose Germany instead. In Schlangenbad near Wiesbaden they rented Villa Dagmar where Maria Magdalena Wölfling nee Ritter (born in Plottnitz in Upper Silesia, today Blotnica in Poland – see where I am going here?) wished to lead an upper-class life. In short, she went out or stayed in bed while Leopold was supposed to care for the household. Nothing wrong with it these days but in 1900s the approach was a tad unorthodox. So in 1916 Leopold took a leave. He vanished from his wife´s life on May 31, having left behind a letter saying: “I am not going to return. No reason to worry. Greetings and thanks. Leopold” The aptly christened Maria Magdalena and the former Archduke never saw each other again. She also died eight years later.
Things took a much worse turn for Leopold in 1919 when the Kaiser was no longer there to make sure something was always jingling in his pockets. The money was gone and Leopold Wölfling had no professional education to bring him the necessary cash-flow. He tried to live in Vienna where he run a grocery shop (Badener Zeitung, 30.10.1926):
And then he tried his hand at giving guided tours in the royal castle and palaces in Austrian capital:
Sadly, the interest he awoke in people proved to be so disturbing that he decided to leave the city again. He moved to Berlin.
Without money, without connections (not anymore) and without any idea how to manage he begins to take on anything to earn something. Some jobs are better than others: when he was employed to provide a live commentary to a silent film about the Habsburgs, whose premiere took place in no longer existing Primus Palast Kino in Potsdamer Straße, so pleased was the audience with his performance that he was booked to tour the whole of Germany with the film and do the same job wherever it was shown. But after his return he was back to where he started: nowhere. That is why when one of the rather seedy little theatres in Charlottenburg, “Rakete”, placed an announcement saying a doorman was needed, he applied. Hearing that Leopold Wölfling is in fact of very much royal blood and not some such but of Habsburg blue, the owner gave him a part in a little one-act show. In it Leopold was to play an aristocrat returning to the house of his once beloved only to discover – to his utter mortification and disgust – that the said lady owns a business of her own now and that it is not potatoes that she sells there. And not even those giggling girls hoisting their skirts as he passes by in the corridor make him suspicious first. Of course, any similarity to real people and their fates was totally unintended and purely accidental. The play was bad, he was terrible and the reviews proved scathing. Here is one from the New York Times (I know, would they have written anything about it if Leopold had not been a Habsburg? Did not think so either):
Here is the link if you wish to read and weep some more: http://query.nytimes.com/gst/abstract.html?res=9A04E2DE103FEE3ABC4950DFB566838A639EDE&scp=10&sq=leopold+w%F6lfling&st=p.
So acting was not his thing after all. Perhaps writing would be? After all, he was a man of class and knew some things that very few other people could have known: what the Habsburgs were really like, for example. The royal cow was truly the only one he would have possibly milked and thus he had a book published: Habsburger Unter Sich – Freimütige Aufzeichnungen Eines Ehemaliges Erzherzogs (no English translation exists as far as we know). Following his first literary success the first newspaper article followed: in October 1932 in Berliner Morgenpost. The newspaper asked him to develop the topic a bit and a series titled “Habsburger Kaiserinnen, die ich kannte” (“Habsburg Empresses that I knew”) was ordered. But Herrr Wölfling refused to provide what the editors wanted in fact the most, namely his memoirs with a very particular focus on the “lady-adventures” (actually, he could have possibly skipped everything else, like his childhood, his life in the marine and on the imperial court, his interests and his hopes). He didn´t want to. Even for entirely pecuniary reasons. Perhaps he was a romantic.
And since we are at it: enter Frau Wölfling number 3., a divorcee Klara Hedwig Pawlowski, born as Klara Hedwig Gröger in Güldenbogen/Bogaczewo in East Prussia/Poland. For a change not a prostitute but a daughter of a railway employee and 34 years his junior. They married on July 3rd 1933 in Niederschönweide, Berlin and moved to a small, darkish flat in a backhouse (Hinterhouse) of a typical 19th-century Berlin townhouse, 2nd floor, left to the stairs and with a view onto a grim factory building. There he wrote another book, Als Ich Herzog War – My Life Story: From Archduke To Grocer and there he died in his wife´s arms on July 4th, 1935. Their address at the time was Belle-Alliance-Strasse 32. Since 1947 called Mehringdamm 53. And Leopold Wölfling is still in Kreuzberg: in the 3rd Jerusalems- und Neue Kirche Friedhof in the same street where died. In 1978 he was joined by his wife, Klara, whose name in 1945 was still on the tenants list of Mehringdamm 53.