Frozen in Time—the Kaiser’s Home in Exile

At the end of World War I, the world desperately needed a scapegoat to help come to terms with four long years of human carnage.

And the widely disliked Kaiser Wilhelm II, Emperor of Germany and King of Prussia, was the man in the firing line.

WWI cemetery, Verdun, France. Credit Paul Arps_wilhelm
WWI cemetery, Verdun, France. Credit Paul Arps_wilhelm

As the eldest grandchild of Queen Victoria, Wilhelm was a first cousin of the British Empire’s King George V, who called him “the greatest criminal in history”.

British Prime Minister David Lloyd George proposed that the Kaiser be hanged.

After all, he had been responsible for the invasion of neutral Belgium and was instrumental in starting a war that killed tens of millions.

But since 1916—halfway through the war—Germany had become a military dictatorship under the control of Field Marshal Paul von Hindenburg and his deputy General Erich Ludendorff.

Look at those faces. You didn’t want to mess with these guys.

Field Marshal Paul von Hindenburg and General Erich Ludendorff, 1916
Field Marshal Paul von Hindenburg and General Erich Ludendorff, 1916

Wilhelm’s role had been effectively relegated to awards ceremonies and honorific duties for the last two years of the war.

Deserted by his own military High Command, Wilhelm abdicated in 1918 and fled to the Netherlands, ending 400 years of the Hohenzollern dynasty.

Thanking the Dutch government for granting him asylum in the Netherlands, Wilhelm sent this telegram to Queen Wilhemina of the Netherlands on November 11, 1918:

The events have forced me to enter your country as a private person and put myself under the protection of your government. The hope, that you would take my difficult situation into account, has not disappointed me, and I offer to you and your Government my sincere thanks for so kindly offering me hospitality. Best regards to you and yours.Wilhelm

Although article 227 of the Treaty of Versailles called for the prosecution of Wilhelm “for a supreme offense against international morality and the sanctity of treaties”, the Dutch government refused to extradite him, despite appeals from the Allies.

Settling initially in the 17th-century Amerongen Castle in the little village of Amerongen in the central Netherlands, Wilhelm called this home for two years before moving to nearby Doorn village.

Amerongen Castle, Netherlands. Credit Ben Bender
Amerongen Castle, Netherlands. Credit Ben Bender

And there it was. One day in 1920, while Wilhelm was househunting in Doorn, he spied the place he would call home for the rest of his life.

Doorn House, 1920. Credit German Federal Archives
Doorn House, 1920. Credit German Federal Archives

Owned by Dutch aristocrat Ella van Heemstra—mother of actress Audrey Hepburn—Wilhelm paid 1.35 million guilders for Doorn House.

Doorn House. Credit Zairon
Doorn House. Credit Zairon

Originally a moated 14th-century castle, Doorn House had been converted into an elegant country house in the 1790s.

Doorn House. Credit GVR
Doorn House. Credit GVR
Doorn House. Credit Ben Bender
Doorn House. Credit Ben Bender

The rear side view shows how deceptively large Doorn House actually is.

Covering 35 hectares with English-style landscaped gardens, the house was filled with antique furniture, paintings, silver, and porcelain from Wilhelm’s palaces in Berlin and Potsdam—30,000 pieces in all, requiring 59 train wagons to transport to Doorn.

Doorn House rear side view. Credit Zairon
Doorn House rear side view. Credit Zairon
Doorn House grounds and pond. Credit Ben Bender
Doorn House grounds and pond. Credit Ben Bender

Modest by what Wilhelm had become accustomed to, Doorn House was, nevertheless, deceptively large—this imposing building was just the entrance gatehouse that Wilhelm added to the property.

Entrance Gate House, Doorn House, Netherlands. Credit Zairon
Entrance Gate House, Doorn House, Netherlands. Credit Zairon

Once through the gatehouse, visitors would pass through more gates to cross a little bridge across a real moat.

Ornamental ironwork gates to bridge over the moat around Doorn House. Credit Basvb
Ornamental ironwork gates to bridge over the moat around Doorn House. Credit Basvb

The grounds even had an Orangerie used to protect tropical plants during the cold winter months.

The Orangerie ay Doorn House. Credit Basvb
The Orangerie ay Doorn House. Credit Basvb

The tasteful dining room once hosted an uneasy dinner with the powerful Nazi Party figure, Hermann Göring.

Dining Room, Doorn House. Credit Sebastiaan ter Burg
Dining Room, Doorn House. Credit Sebastiaan ter Burg

Now a museum, the rooms have been left unchanged since the time the Kaiser lived here.

Doorn House is frozen in time.

Dining Room, Doorn House. Credit Zairon
Dining Room, Doorn House. Credit Zairon
Dining Table centre display, Doorn House. Credit Sebastiaan ter Burg
Dining Table centre display, Doorn House. Credit Sebastiaan ter Burg
Dining Table detail, Doorn House. Credit Sebastiaan ter Burg
Dining Table detail, Doorn House. Credit Sebastiaan ter Burg
The corridor between the men's and women's room on the 1st floor in Doorn House. Credit Sebastiaan ter Burg
The corridor between the men’s and women’s room on the 1st floor in Doorn House. Credit Sebastiaan ter Burg
Doorn House bureau. Credit Hans Splinter, flickr
Doorn House bureau. Credit Hans Splinter, flickr
Living Rooms of the (German) Imperial Family at Doorn House. Credit Zairon
Living Rooms of the (German) Imperial Family at Doorn House. Credit Zairon
Study, Doorn House. Credit Zairon
Study, Doorn House. Credit Zairon
Bedroom, Doorn House. Credit Zairon
Bedroom, Doorn House. Credit Zairon
Bedroom, Doorn House. Credit Zairon
Bedroom, Doorn House. Credit Zairon
Bedroom, Doorn House. Credit Zairon
Bedroom, Doorn House. Credit Zairon
Doorn House dressing table. Credit Hans Splinter, flickr
Doorn House dressing table. Credit Hans Splinter, flickr
Drawing Room, Doorn House. Credit Sebastiaan ter Burg
Drawing Room, Doorn House. Credit Sebastiaan ter Burg

Wilhelm even had the saddle that he sat on while working in Berlin shipped to Doorn.

Study room with saddle used by Kaiser in Berlin. Credit Sebastiaan ter Burg
Study room with saddle used by Kaiser in Berlin. Credit Sebastiaan ter Burg
Doorn House work table. Credit Hans Splinter, flickr
Doorn House work table. Credit Hans Splinter, flickr
Bedroom at Doorn House. Credit Sebastiaan ter Burg
Bedroom at Doorn House. Credit Sebastiaan ter Burg
Oddments on the desk at Doorn House. Credit Hans Splinter, flickr
Oddments on the desk at Doorn House. Credit Hans Splinter, flickr
Doorn House decorative mirror. Credit Hans Splinter, flickr
Doorn House decorative mirror. Credit Hans Splinter, flickr

The Doorn House collection includes snuffboxes and watches that belonged to Frederick the Great.

Snuffboxes at Doorn House. Credit Sebastiaan ter Burg
Snuffboxes at Doorn House. Credit Sebastiaan ter Burg
Mantelpiece clock at Doorn House. Credit Sebastiaan ter Burg
Mantelpiece clock at Doorn House. Credit Sebastiaan ter Burg

Queen Wilhelmina of the Netherlands bought this lamp as a gift for the exiled Kaiser and his wife.

Lamp donated by Queen Wilhelmina in House Doorn. Credit Sebastiaan ter Burg
Lamp donated by Queen Wilhelmina in House Doorn. Credit Sebastiaan ter Burg

A real water closet—a flush toilet inside of an armoire.

Toilet Closet. Credit Vera de Kok
Toilet Closet. Credit Vera de Kok
Teacups in carriage saucers. Credit Sebastiaan ter Burg
Teacups in carriage saucers. Credit Sebastiaan ter Burg
The kitchen at Doorn House. Credit Sebastiaan ter Burg
The kitchen at Doorn House. Credit Sebastiaan ter Burg
Doorn House detail of ornaments. Credit Hans Splinter, flickr
Doorn House detail of ornaments. Credit Hans Splinter, flickr
Wilhelm's Cantonese ivory chess set. Credit Peter Nederlof, flickr
Wilhelm’s Cantonese ivory chess set. Credit Peter Nederlof, flickr

Wilhelm liked to surround himself with reminders of Prussia’s military hegemony.

Doorn House model soldier. Credit Sebastiaan ter Burg
Doorn House model soldier. Credit Sebastiaan ter Burg
Some of Wilhelm's war regalia. Credit Ziko van Dijk
Some of Wilhelm’s war regalia. Credit Ziko van Dijk

From bombastic Emperor to elderly statesman in exile.

Aging mellows most of us, but was this the case with Wilhelm?

Wilhelm II in 1905 and 1933
Wilhelm II in 1905 and 1933

Shortly after moving into Dorn House, Wilhelm learned that his youngest son, Prince Joachim of Prussia, had committed suicide by gunshot.

Believed to be directly related to Wilhelm’s abdication, 29-year-old Joachim could not accept his new status as a commoner and fell into a deep depression.

Affectionately known as “Dona”, Wilhelm’s first wife, who had been his companion for 40 years, died in the spring the following year.

Empress Auguste Viktoria (1858-1921) and emperor Wilhem II (1859-1941) of Germany
Empress Auguste Viktoria (1858-1921) and emperor Wilhem II (1859-1941) of Germany

When Wilhelm received a birthday greeting in January of 1922 from the son of a recently widowed German Princess, he invited the boy and his mother to Doorn House.

Finding much in common with Princess Hermine, and both being recently widowed, Wilhelm proposed and the two were married in November, 1922.

The Kaiser with his second wife, Hermine, and her daughter, Princess Henriette, 1931
The Kaiser with his second wife, Hermine, and her daughter, Princess Henriette, 1931

Hermine remained a constant companion to the aging emperor until his death in 1941

The Kaiser and his second wife Hermione at Doorn House, 1933
The Kaiser and his second wife Hermione at Doorn House, 1933

It would appear that Wilhelm mellowed in later years and settled for a simple life.

He spent much of his time walking the grounds, chopping wood, and feeding the ducks.

Ex-Kaiser Wilhelm II of Germany walking alone on his estate, with cane in hand, 1922. Credit Library of Congress
Ex-Kaiser Wilhelm II of Germany walking alone on his estate, with cane in hand, 1922. Credit Library of Congress

There were some great things he had done for Germany.

He promoted art, science, public education, and social welfare.

He sponsored scientific research, helped modernize secondary education, and tried to position Germany at the forefront of modern medical practices.

But historians believe he lacked the personal qualities of a good leader at such a critical juncture in history.

Bluster, rhetoric, and martial swagger cloaked a profound emptiness, for ignorance and self-indulgence were his primary characteristics.Lamar Cecil.
superficial, hasty, restless, unable to relax, without any deeper level of seriousness, without any desire for hard work or drive to see things through to the end, without any sense of sobriety, for balance and boundaries, or even for reality and real problems, uncontrollable and scarcely capable of learning from experience, desperate for applause and successThomas Nipperdey.

Deeply antisemitic and paranoid about a British-led conspiracy to destroy Germany, he did, however, recognize the evils of Nazism:

Of Germany, which was a nation of poets and musicians, of artists and soldiers, Hitler has made a nation of hysterics and hermits, engulfed in a mob and led by a thousand liars or fanatics.Wilhelm on Hitler, December 1938.

Declining an offer of asylum from Winston Churchill when Hitler invaded the Netherlands in May of 1940, Wilhelm must have known the winter of his life was drawing to a close.

Doorn, Netherlands. Credit Ben Bender
Doorn, Netherlands. Credit Ben Bender

He died of pulmonary embolus on 4th June 1941, aged 82, just weeks before the Axis invasion of the Soviet Union.

What a time he had lived through.

A time when Emperors toyed with millions of lives like they were little more than model soldiers in a game of war.

Wilhelm’s dream of returning to Germany as monarch died with him in Doorn, where he is buried in a mausoleum in the gardens.

Mausoleum of Wilhelm II in the grounds of Doorn House, The Netherlands. Credit Basvb
Mausoleum of Wilhelm II in the grounds of Doorn House, The Netherlands. Credit Basvb
A man so various that he seemed to be,
Not one, but all of mankind’s epitome
Fixed in opinion, ever in the wrong
Was all by fits and starts, and nothing long.
English poet Alexander Pope (1688 - 1744)