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The German conspiracists yearning for a king The rise of the ReichsbĂŒrgers tells an alarming tale

Anti-vaccine demonstrator in Dusseldorf in 2022 (Photo by Ying Tang/NurPhoto via Getty Images)

Anti-vaccine demonstrator in Dusseldorf in 2022 (Photo by Ying Tang/NurPhoto via Getty Images)


July 11, 2024   6 mins

“The socks and cars wouldn’t stink / Every morning, champagne I’d drink / I’d be slicker than Schmidt, and fatter than Strauß / And my records would sell out!” In 1987, West Berlin punk singer Rio Reiser sang these words about becoming king of Germany. A lark and a way to mock the stuffy leaders of the Federal Republic at the time.

Heinrich XIII Prinz Reuss also dreams of being king of Germany. Despite his fashion sense of tweed and silk scarves, the 72-year-old minor aristocrat and property developer from Thuringia shares Reiser’s disdain for the powers that be. The only difference is that Heinrich is dead serious about it. So serious, that two years ago, thousands of police officers raided dozens of locations and arrested him and 26 others who were allegedly plotting to overthrow the Scholz government and install Heinrich as monarch. The elderly prince and his supporters, who include a TV chef, a judge, a doctor, and some ex-military guys who grew their hair long, are now standing trial for creating a terrorist organisation and plotting high treason. The case is so sprawling, it has been handled by three separate courts in Frankfurt, Stuttgart and Munich. The evidence takes up several kilometres of folders.

This motley crew belong to the ReichsbĂŒrger scene, a catch-all term for the tens of thousands of people who reject the legitimacy of the Federal Republic. And for whom the democratically elected governments of modern Germany are vassals installed by the post-war occupying powers. No peace treaty was signed between the Third Reich and the Allies, they say. And so the Reich, for them, remains the legitimate state, though for them this usually means skipping back past the unpleasantness of the Hitler regime to the Second Reich, the era of Bismarck, the Kaisers and pointy helmets — still lurking, intact at the back. The ReichsbĂŒrger believe the Federal Republic is a corporation which funnels money to the US government and the Rothschilds — you know where this is going. As with many conspiracy movements, a large dash of antisemitism seems to be an essential ingredient. A state-owned finance agency does in fact exist in Frankfurt, but it solely manages the state’s debt and investments, explains the German Lawyer’s Association, which says it receives a surprising number of queries from concerned citizens on the topic.

Although standard Anglosphere rabbit-hole stuff is often mixed in — QAnon, Bill Gates is the devil, etc — the ReichsbĂŒrger are, at core, a uniquely German phenomenon. One aspect is their hatred of the modern technocratic state. As someone who has run a small business here, I have a certain amount of sympathy. German bureaucracy — its endless paper forms, its hyper-complex procedures, its myriad fees and taxes — can deaden your soul, drive you crazy, and make you shout “enough!” Several ReichsbĂŒrger groups print their own German Reich passports and banknotes, and refuse to pay taxes and social insurance contributions. It’s no wonder these groups are founded by and followed by Germans who have been burned by what they perceive as an oppressive, corrupt state that fails to protect their welfare, such as in the vast economic turmoil in eastern Germany in the aftermath of unification.

“Although standard Anglosphere rabbit-hole stuff is often mixed in — QAnon, Bill Gates is the devil, etc — the ReichsbĂŒrger are at core a uniquely German phenomenon.”

A lesser-known but still pivotal aspect of German yearning for a Kaiser is its New-Agey side. It’s no coincidence that the ReichsbĂŒrger group included an astrologer. During a protest against the government’s restrictive Covid policies in 2020, hundreds of ReichsbĂŒrger rushed up the steps of the Reichstag. It was a strange foreshadowing of the events at the US Capitol the following January. Among the flags of the Second Reich were Russian banners, rainbow flags, even signs with Donald Trump’s face. And it was a young woman with dreadlocks — a self-proclaimed alternative healer — who triggered the spontaneous stampede when she called from the demonstration’s stage for protestors to march up the parliament’s steps and take back “their house”.

The pandemic was a unifying moment for Germany’s discontented. A new anti-Covid movement, the Querdenker (literally lateral thinkers), managed to bring together everyone from Holocaust deniers to natural healers to normal people who felt their livelihoods had been shattered by the government’s heavy-handed approach to the pandemic. The alliance between esoteric types and retro-monarchists caught the mainstream off-guard — but perhaps it shouldn’t have. Already two centuries ago, exploration of the occult — the mystical and irrational — was wedded to a desire for national German consciousness. At the start of the 19th century, nationalism among the dozens of tiny German-speaking states was largely a reaction to Napoleonic occupation, with imported French rationalism and universalism seen as an alien threat to the German Volksgeist. Thinkers instead embraced Germanic mythology, folk tales and mediaeval alchemy. Painters such as the Romantic Caspar David Friedrich explored mystical, sublime German landscapes, while the philosopher Johann Gottlieb Fichte embedded the love of the natural and the mystical in German nationalist thinking: the “natural” became synonymous with the “national”.

Over the 19th and early 20th centuries, this embrace of the “natural” by German subcultures stood for resistance against various “artificial”, “foreign” or “un-German” forces. Nudism, organic agriculture, homoeopathy, the wide-reaching work of philosopher Rudolf Steiner — these are some of the not-so-sinister outshoots of this stream of anti-modern thought. But Romantic anti-modernism also birthed the völkisch ideology of the Nazis that saw Jews as “unnatural” non-humans who had to be cut out of the “pure” German body politic.

It’s uncanny to see this current rear its head again among the ReichsbĂŒrger and affiliated conspiracy-based subcultures, which range from the AfD leadership who refuse to support the German national football team because it’s too ethnically diverse to far-Right back-to-the-land types who wear felt jackets and try to set up kindergartens blending esoteric Waldorf and völkisch thought.

Indeed, it is mostly outside of Germany’s large, cosmopolitan cities that these movements take root. Self-declared mini-countries are home to these ideas, sometimes headed by cosplaying middle-aged dudes with skullets. Peter Fitzek is but one example — before crowning himself as King Peter I of Germany in 2012, he ran a shop filled with New-Agey knickknacks in Wittenberg, coincidently where another German radical, Martin Luther, nailed his 95 Theses to a church door 500 years prior. Fitzek’s humble business of peddling dreamcatchers has long since morphed into a cultish make-believe monarchy with various properties that have seceded from the Republic and joined the new Reich. Financed by eager volunteers and believers, Fitzek’s fantasy state, “the Kingdom of Germany”, has its own currency, the Engel (Angel). Euros can be exchanged for Angels but not vice versa — ensuring an inflow of hard currency, a trick Fitzek surely copied from the former rulers of this territory, the German Democratic Republic. Fitzek’s “state” also has its own passport, which he claims he has travelled around the world with.

At some point, though, the game’s up for guys like Reuss and Fitzek. The site of Fitzek’s “Kingdom of Germany” was raided by police and fiscal authorities in June. Fitzek is totally upfront about his tax evasion. At some point he’ll be locked up like Reuss, but perhaps martyrdom is what he’s looking for.

One thing all these people seem to agree on is a hatred of the United States and a belief that Russia is the natural partner of the German people. Prosecutors allege Prince Heinrich’s group had contact with Russian diplomats and the Russian biker gang Night Wolves. Reuss counted on Russian support for his Reich, while Russia perhaps considered using his gang for its sabotage and misinformation purposes.

On one level, there’s something rather pathetic about middle-aged to elderly men wearing homemade crowns and declaring silly little independent states in shabby old buildings in forgotten villages and small towns, often in the former east. It reeks of a loss of purpose in a society subjected to rapid technological and economic change — perceived to be increasingly dominated by American technology and American-style capitalism. The irony escapes these groups that it is the platforms of Silicon Valley that have empowered them to spread their message to their flock.

Germany’s mainstream media pundits and experts on the far-Right warn that we shouldn’t just dismiss the ReichsbĂŒrger around Reuss as some crazy, harmless old men. After all, they had plenty of weapons and a handful of ex-army officers who knew how to fire them. If they’d summoned the gusto to carry it, the Reuss group’s alleged plan to kidnap Scholz would have certainly failed.

For me, the story of the ReichsbĂŒrger tells an even more disturbing tale. They’re the canary in the coalmine pointing to a greater threat than an individual gang of wannabe putschists. It points to a country whose civil fabric is fraying at the edges. Whose sense of shared reality is fragmented into a thousand irrational, naive and antisemitic narratives. A country that is losing the plot. A country that’s yearning for that one strong leader who will bring everything together after the collapse

On my jog along the railway tracks in the north of Berlin this morning, I encountered a middle-aged man slowly, intentionally approaching a tree and then embracing it for several minutes. Harmless enough, right? You never know. Maybe he’s dreaming of becoming the next king of Germany.


Maurice Frank co-founded the English magazine Exberliner and now co-writes the newsletter 20 Percent Berlin. 

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Graham Stull
Graham Stull
10 days ago

What a stupid, pointless article that entirely misses the real point at hand – which is the root causes of the discontent Germans feel.
The Reichsbuerger are entirely correct in their disdain for the FRG. It might suit anglophone ex-pats like the author of this article, but it is doing an ever poorer job of defending the culture, the interests and the ethnic bonds that tie together the German peoples.
Since ‘Wir schaffen das’, the German state has limped from one self-inflicted wound to the next. The excesses of Covid authoritarianism, the Green neo-fascism that would hollow out Germany’s economy and leave chunks of the population (literally) in the cold, the pandering to migrant minorities, and the endless debasement of German sovereignty to the American/Western overlords so the US Presidents’ crackhead son can make good on his corrupt dealings with Ukrainian gangsters…
That’s the real story here. Not some old guys with fake crowns.

David Kingsworthy
David Kingsworthy
9 days ago
Reply to  Graham Stull

Well-said, the very natural reactions of European nativists to desire culture preservation, sovereignty firmness and economic simplicity do not ipso-facto lead to “far-right” extremism.

UnHerd Reader
UnHerd Reader
8 days ago
Reply to  Graham Stull

What are the root causes of the discontent Germans feel. Can I re-phrase that – what are the root causes of the discontent Britons feel? The latter is a question no-one anywhere in the British media spectrum dare ask.

Martin M
Martin M
10 days ago

If the Germans want a monarchy again, the descendant of the last Kaiser is still around. No need to bother with the crackpot minor nobility.

Jim Veenbaas
Jim Veenbaas
10 days ago

Ugh. There’s a bunch of nutters in Germany. So what? These people are not a canary in a coal mine -unless a bunch of them are literally raising canaries in coal mines. There were nutters 50 years ago and there will be nutters 50 years from now. Hell, Idaho is crawling with nutters. This is nothing new.

This could have been an interesting essay if the author did an in-depth piece about the eccentricities of a particular group of nutters. This was kinda meh.

Martin M
Martin M
10 days ago
Reply to  Jim Veenbaas

Well, if one wants to examine nutters close up, it sounds like Idaho is the place to go.

Norfolk Sceptic
Norfolk Sceptic
10 days ago
Reply to  Martin M

Better check out the place, before you pack your bags:

idaho-nutters-are.us

John Galt
John Galt
9 days ago
Reply to  Jim Veenbaas

As one of those Idaho “nutters” and that are friends with many of them, most of them aren’t nutters they just want to be left alone and be in a place where they don’t have to deal with annoying and dangerous neighbors all day. You leave us alone we’ll leave you alone.

Jim Veenbaas
Jim Veenbaas
8 days ago
Reply to  John Galt

I’m just being a big hyperbolic. All in fun.

Brian Kneebone
Brian Kneebone
10 days ago

Heck, 80 plus years ago nearly all Germans were nutters. Hopefully, the current subset of nutters won’t get the old crazy idea of a European country with less than 15% of the continent’s population (including Russia West of the Urals) trying to invade and hold the rest.
Can’t get nuttier than that!

Dermot O'Sullivan
Dermot O'Sullivan
10 days ago
Reply to  Brian Kneebone

Thank you for your thoughtful, well thought-out comments.

Christopher Barclay
Christopher Barclay
10 days ago

These cranks don’t seem to be aware that the Second Reich was the time that the Germans developed the idea of bureaucracy.

D Glover
D Glover
10 days ago

Otto von Bismark invented the welfare system. Things like old-age pension, sick pay, unemployment benefit were unknown until Prussia got them.
He may have been anti-Semitic, militaristic and authoritarian but he genuinely loved his German people.
I find it amusing that welfare, that left wing cornerstone, was emplaced by such a right wing figure.

UnHerd Reader
UnHerd Reader
8 days ago
Reply to  D Glover

Its also the case that Bismarck viewed the German Kaiserreich as a continental power and was an opponent of those like Kaiser Wilhelm, who desired Germany to follow the European powers on the Atlantic seaboard like Britain and France in building colonial empires outside of Europe. It was primarily on this point that Bismarck broke with the Kaiser. Its also very possible that had Germany not built a navy to rival Britain that UK would have remained neutral in WW1.

Andrew H
Andrew H
10 days ago

I lived in Germany for eight years and still go back regularly. I thought this was an excellent article with (Lidl/Aldi?) bags of highly relevant background. Yes, the ReichsbĂŒrger are a very strange bunch, but they did want to overthrow the state and Germany’s police and judicial system has, understandably, taken their activities very seriously indeed. Good that the article mentioned the links between the Querdenker and ReichsbĂŒrger scenes, while the AfD got a deserved mention too – I’m glad the point was made about some (though not all) senior AfD politicians not supporting the German national football team.

Lancashire Lad
Lancashire Lad
9 days ago
Reply to  Andrew H

Thanks Andrew, for a counter-balance to the cynicism detectable in many of the comments. I’ve not much knowledge other than the broad historical sweep of Germanic peoples but this article seems to be touching on something that the current German state appears to be taking very seriously indeed. Dismissing the author for pointing this out seems churlish.

Andrew H
Andrew H
9 days ago
Reply to  Lancashire Lad

As the article says, any movement – however oddball – that includes members with military training and whose declared aims are to overthrow the state is going to be taken seriously by the authorities.

Matt M
Matt M
10 days ago

It is a little known story that after the war, the Duke of Windsor (Edward VIII as was) was proposed by supporters as a new constitutional monarch for Germany. It was said that the German people longed for the stability of a monarch but not the return of the deposed Kaiser.
The Duke was a German speaker, an admirer of the country (a little too much admiration in the late 1930s for British tastes) and was from the same blood line as Wilhelm II. He was also at a loose end, banished from Britain and living with Wallis Simpson in France.
The British authorities who were in control of part of Germany and to who this suggestion was made, dismissed it and it went no where.
If the Germans want a return to monarchy, there is another descendent of Queen Victoria and Albert (who sired both the British and German monarchies) at a loose end with his American wife in Montecito, CA they are most welcome to have.

JĂŒrg Gassmann
JĂŒrg Gassmann
10 days ago

This is a vile hit-piece.
To equate Querdenker with ReichsbĂŒrger marks the author as anti-democratic and authoritarian – it needs to be remembered that Querdenker was once in corporate-speak a mark of distinction, describing individuals who think for themselves and out of the box, and do not (unlike our author) follow ideological propaganda.
During the “Covid” hysteria, Querdenker kept their cool, stuck to the science, to liberal democratic principles and constitutional procedures, and have of course been proved correct. They marked their opposition to the official insanity by holding up the Grundgesetz, the German post-War constitution, and going for peaceful strolls. For the government, this marked the individuals as dangerous subversives, massive call-ups of riot police were sent in to brutally beat up peaceful demonstrators, honest scientists and Querdenker organisers were subjected to dawn raids, trumped-up charges, cancellation, and even held interminably in the notorious Stammheim prison of RAF vintage.
Populations in East Germany remember this well – this is exactly how the old GDR’s communists acted against dissent; Zersetzung, as the Stasi called it, was developed into an art. Holocaust survivors too pointed out the unmistakable parallels.
The author insults the memory of Holocaust survivors and the courageous fighters for democracy against the GDR’s oppression.
Separately, it is not flaky to assert that the Second Reich survives. That is established law, it is the basis of the modern German state.
It is also not flaky to assert that Allied Occupation laws continue to apply and continue to constrain Germany’s sovereignty. American politicians do not tire to remind us.
What distinguishes ReichsbĂŒrger is that they deny the legitimacy of today’s German government. As such, that is flaky, but not a crime. Where they get in trouble is when they drive with self-issued drivers’ licences.

Sean Lothmore
Sean Lothmore
10 days ago

Keeping the peace in Europe by having monarchs who were cousins seemed like a great idea, but it didn’t work. Despite it’s many problems, having a single market and currency is doing the job royally.

Ardath Blauvelt
Ardath Blauvelt
10 days ago

Maybe what many people yearn for is meaning. In family, pride in country, community by choice, identity by passion and values, shared existence. So far, western civ has suppressed and stifled these needs for its collective control. It’s anti humanism. Actually, there isn’t really a paradigm shift; just the same desire to be left alone to seek happiness, instead of State oppression. People want their lives back, that’s all.

John Galt
John Galt
9 days ago

> One thing all these people seem to agree on is a hatred of the United States and a belief that Russia is the natural partner of the German people.

And there we get to the point of the article. “Any sign of national pride or rejection of the current globalist progressive agenda is clearly Russian agents at work”. It reminds me not a bit of the Reich right around 1918 when Ludendorff and many of the military brass who were running the country decided that no one had actual legitimate grievances it was all those horrible Bolsheviks that were causing the problems, the Russian communists were thee reason for the “defeatist attitude” in Duestchland not the years of war weariness the millions of dead young men and the complete collapse of the German economy in a war that was now unwinnable with the arrival of the American Doughboys. It was all just those dang Boshlevik agitators.

In the same way the shrinking of the economy, the complete distfunction of the German justice system, the unchecked immigration leading to an unparalleled increase in crime, the seeming apathy of political leadership to the peoples concerns, no those can’t be the source of the problem says beaurcrats and elected officials. No the problem must be racists and Nazis and Russians that are causing the problems there are no real problems just foreign provactures and radicals creating problems where they don’t exist. If we just punish enough people then they will realize the war really is winnable.

The parallels are astounding.

laurence scaduto
laurence scaduto
9 days ago

It’s fascinating to me how anti-Semitism pops up in these fringe movements. It isn’t so much a prejudice or a religious or ethnic animosity, as it is a psychological problem; evidence of a person who is “losing the plot”.

0 01
0 01
9 days ago

It’s the same in all fringe political movements regardless of what side of the political spectrum they’re on. They usually blame scapegoats for their own personal problems rather than take responsibility for themselves, and subsume their identities into fringe organizations/movements because they themselves lack self-worth and our trying find self worth by being part of such organizations/movements. It’s the same dynamics you see with cults. Lost, insecure, lonely people looking for meaning and purpose that they lack of their lives. You also see this with conspiracy theorist as well. Anti-Semitism provides a ready made excuse in the form of a group that they can projected personal anger and frustration about their lives onto without confronting themselves or improving themselves without having to confront aspects of themselves that they don’t like. It’s a narcissistic coping mechanism.

laurence scaduto
laurence scaduto
8 days ago
Reply to  0 01

You’re trying to apply logic where it doesn’t belong.
It’s just madness, madness.

jane baker
jane baker
9 days ago

I’ve just read this and every word of it resonates with me. I love it. I’m totally FOR all of this. If I was German id be storming the reichstag steps too. I IDENTIFY with ALL OF THIS. Just because you people went to university and have got media jobs that give you.a “voice” doesn’t mean us common people have to do as you say or think as you say. As for the Nazis and the Jews. Well,there is two lots of Jews. There is the nice, normal people ones but there are some extremely rich ones who run the world. They don’t have any feelings of compassion or empathy and having the poor ones tortured and murdered made for them,an incontrovertible case for their agenda,ie getting Palestine and directing world economics and thus also eliminating.all distinctive native cultures.

Alan Gore
Alan Gore
9 days ago

Does this movement have anything to do with the freshly uncovered Russian plot to assassinate the leadership of German arms companies supplying Ukraine?
And notice the antivax banner image heading the article? Now that the German wackjob community has eliminated modern power generation in their country, are vaccines next on their list?