PART VI: REPUBLIC VOTED OUT
1937 was the last year of Eckener’s “goodtimes”. Starting with the election of 1938, in which the Monarchists overwhelmingly took control of the Reichstag, going from 113 seats to 202. Adenauer remained the Chancellor, but Vogel and the other SDP members were no longer involved in the Government. When asked by a reporter in Berlin in October of 1938, Eckener stated that he supported the Republic, and was against returning the Hohenzollerns, or any other noble family, to the throne. After this, Eckener would no longer be able to get any usefull cooperation from the Reichstag, despite his good friendship with Adenauer. His power as President stagnated as the popularity and moral authority of Adenauer and the Monarchists grew.
On Decmeber 3, 1938, the Reichstag passed the “Restoration of Monarchy” Act, which set a one year time table for the dissolution of the Republic and the reestablishment of the German Empire. The 1939 presidential elections were cancelled, and a Regency Council was established, with Adenauer as it’s Chairman. A constitutional committee was also establihsed, with the aim of setting up a British-like constitutional monarchy system with a very limited monarch. The tentative coronation date was set for December 1, 1939. The Airship President’s days were now numbered.
-- Liebermann, Dr. William. The Zeppelin President."Chapter 6: The Restoration of Monarchy Act ” Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 2003
GERMAN VOTERS BACK MONARCHY ACT
BERLIN, DEC 20- Germans have voted overwhelmingly in support of the “Restoration of Monarchy Act” that was passed earlier this month by the German Reichstag. This vote was required by the act before the government here in Berlin sets about to fulfill the act and restore the German Empire. Not all here in this country are happy about the vote, including sitting President Hugo Eckener, who stated, “It was my hope that the German people would reject this bill and back the Republic, but it appears that the will of the people is to have a return of the House of Hohenzollern. It is not that I dislike the monarchists, but I feel that Germany would be better served by a republic.”
Eckener isn’t the only one warry of the new act. Leaders throughout Europe have voiced their concearn. In Britain, the government has stated that “While we will continue to support the German government, and have no personal issue with the House of Hohenzollern (as they are cousins of the British Royal Family), we do hope that these events will not result in future conflict, and that the new government that is created will follow after President Eckener’s example and proceed with diplomacy when dealing with their neighbors.”
The French appear to be more fearful, with one official in Paris being quoted as saying, “It is the hope of the French people that the new Imperial government that is to rise in Germany will honor the Treaty of Mainz and not attempt to take back old disputed territories that were delt with in that agreement.” This statement is an obvious refference to Alsace-Lorraine, which Germany dropped all claims to in the treaty the official reffered to.
-“German Voters Back Monarchy Act,” The Times (London), Decemeber 21, 1938
December 25, 1938- This shall be my last Christmas as President of the German Republic. This shall be the last Christmas that Germany has a President. This shall be the last Christmas that Germany is a Republic.
It’s not that I’m agianst the monarchists, or don’t want to see the return of the Imperial Family to power. Some of the papers here in Berlin have even accused me of wanting to try and keep the power to myself and not give it over to another. This is not it at all. I simply feel that a republic is what is best for the German people. That in the long run, reverting back to having a monarchy, even a more limited monarchy, is a step in the wrong direction.
I suppose I could be wrong, of course. Adenauer has repeatedly pointed to the British as an example of a monarchy done right, as he says. That’s the example that the Consitutional Committee is using as they start their work. They meet for the first time next week, and I pray that God guides them and grants them the widsom to establish a good government. I also pray that the Regency Committee is successful in finding just the right person to be crowned as the new Emperor.
- From the personal diary of President Hugo Eckener “Personal Documents of President Eckener.” The Zeppelin Institute, Friedrichshafen.
HEIR APPARENT KILLED BY LEFTIST
KOLN, JAN 17- Crown Prince Wilhelm, son of the last German Emperor Wilhelm II and for many people the obvious choice as the person to be chosen by the Regency Council, was killed today in Koln by a Marxist. His Imperial Highness was in the city to meet with Monarchists leaders who had planned on supporting his candidacy to become the new German Emperor, when Heinrich Nollert, a former member of the RFKF, attacked the Crown Prince in his hotel suit. Nollert had gotten around the Prince’s security detail by pretending to be a member of the hotel staff.
Nollert is now in the custody of the Reichspolizi. RP officials have searched the man’s home, and found evidence to suggest that he had been planning this event for weeks. He also appears to have been planning a bomb attack on the Chancellor with other former RFKF members in Berlin. RP spokesman in Koln said that this information would be very helpful in preventing further attacks.
-“Heir Apparent Killed by Leftist,” Frankfurter Zeitung, January 18, 1938
My fellow Germans,
I come to you this evening via the radio to speak publicially about the horrible events of today. At 11:14 this morning, Crown Prince Wilhelm of the House of Hohenzollern, was killed in cold blood by a man once belonging to the RFKF. I am so grieved that this communist terrorist was able to snuff out the light of such an important leader, a man that could have very likely been the next Emperor of the Germans. I offer the sincere condolences of myself and my family to the Crown Prince’s family and friends, and offer them anything that I can to help them in this time of sorrow.
And now I make a promise to the German people. Many have criticized me of late for my stance on the recent “Restoration Act”, trying to paint me as someone who would stand in the way of the people’s decision. That is not the case ladies and gentlemen. My unwavering support is behind the will of the people of this country, no matter what that will may be. As such, I have issued orders to the Reichspolizei to render round-the-clock protection to all members of the former Imperial Family, along with anyone else being considered by the Regency Council. In addition, I have ordered the RP to hunt down all former members of the RFKF that might be involved in the plot to kill the Prince, or other related plots that have since been uncovered.
I am also declareing a state of public mourning for the next 2 months in honor of the life of Crown Prince Wilhelm. All flags will be lowered to half-staff around the country. And now, I ask that you all join me in a moment of silence in honor of His Imperial Highness.
Thank you all, may God bless each of you and may he guide us through this hardship.
- Radio Address given from Berlin by President Eckener on January 17, 1939. Reichs Historiches Institue, Berlin.
President Eckener’s handling of the death of the Crown Prince won him great respect amongst the public, especially among those who had been very critical of his attitude regarding the Restoration of Monarchy Act. At the funeral, he gave a very moving speech in honor of the Prince and the Imperial Family. One of the most famous photos of Eckener was taken at the funeral of Crown Prince Wilehelm on January 25, 1939. It is of him embracing the Prince’s widow, as she weeps, mournful of the loss of her husband. This photograph was reprinted in newspapers around the country, and the world, and appeared in TIME magazine that year.
After the funeral, events moved quickly. On June 3, the Consitutional Committee submitted it’s draft consitution for review and approval by the Reichstag. The legislature passed the document on June 12. Then on August 1, the Regency Council made it’s big announcement. The new German Emperor would be His Imperial Highness Prince Louis Ferdinand, the 32 year old son of the late Crown Prince Wilhelm. This surprised some, who expected the Coucnil to choose one of the Prince’s older brothers.
On November 30, 1939, President Eckener handed over power to Prince Louis Ferdinand in a cereomny at the Reichstag. During the ceremony, the red, black, and gold flag of the German Republic was lowered, and the old red, white, and black flag of the German Empire was raised above the Reichstag. The next day, in a glorious ceremony in the Berliner Dom, the Prince was crowned as Kaiser Louis Ferdinand I, German Emperor. The nation was jubilant and proud.
Eckener announced that he would retire from public life and return to Friedrichshafen, despite initial requsts from Adenauer to stay on as part of the Government. Eckener said that it was his time to return home to his airships, and see what his son and the others had been up to all this time. On December 20, Eckener boarded the Gtaf Zeppelin and returned to his home on the shores of Lake Constance.