Need a Little Blueblood to Go? Does Germany's Wolfgang Schrell Have a Princess for You!
It is almost noon on a Saturday in Bad Camberg, a sleepy, once-almost-fashionable West German spa 27 miles north of Frankfurt. On the Möbel Urban furniture store's third floor, Wolfgang Schrell, agent to lesser royalty, is nervously watching the opening acts in a variety show the store is putting on for the burghers. A comedian who makes animal sounds and an expatriate Texan, Gus Backus, who rocks his way through that old standard, Sauerkraut Polka, both score big.
Now Schrell turns to check on his bread-and-butter act, two ladies of noble birth who are going over their lines one last time. Just a couple of troupers, these two—Bernadette and Charlotte, the hostesses of today's Royal Quiz. (Royal Quiz is Schrell's traveling, rentable question-and-answer show, conducted by his titled stars and custom-designed for each client.) Or to give them their full credits, they are Bernadette, Gräfin von Bethusy-Huc and Charlotte, Baronin von Wolff, two of the titled Teutons who, family wealth and privilege long vanished, make their deutsche marks by mingling with the common herd.
Schrell's all-female aristocratic lineup—he has about 20 princesses and ladies of lesser title under contract—is at the anemic end of Germany's royal bloodlines, the small print of the Al-manach de Gotha, a guidebook to Europe's major families. (His biggest name is Viktoria, Princessin von Sach-sen-Coburg und Gotha, a cousin of Britain's Prince Charles. She's Royal Ouiz-ing her way through school in Bonn, where she studies agriculture.) Schrell's nobles will show for store openings and equally dignified promotional events, drawing the line at jumping out of cakes or acting as escorts. They wear evening dress regardless of the hour and will bring royal props—a Rolls-Royce, a horse-drawn carriage—on request, for an extra fee.
Schrell got into the rent-a-royal business 10 years ago, when he was introduced to Alexandra, Princessin von Anhalt, Herzogin zu Sachsen (a long introduction, presumably) and learned she was trying to break into show business. Schrell signed her up and Royal Quiz was born. Though Alexandra has since retired—perhaps because, through Royal Quiz, she met (and divorced) two husbands—others replaced her. "About a dozen royals contacted me and wanted to do the same thing," says Schrell. "Most wanted money for holidays or studies or were in financial distress."
Schrell's titled ladies are among the estimated 50,000 Germans who bear high-sounding handles, relics from past centuries when the nation was divided into states and statelets, each with its own aristocracy. History's bad bounces have left many of them on an economic par with baser-born Germans. "Noble or not, one has to work," says Countess Bernadette, who's divorced and raising two sons in an apartment in Hanover. "We are living now just like everybody else. Castles are too expensive to maintain anyway." The countess, who also works as a salesclerk in a jewelry store, does about one show a month for Schrell, at $625 a pop. Charlotte, also divorced, works more frequently because she has a car habit to support—a Ferrari, a Jaguar and a Mercedes. "They are my children," she says.
Both noblewomen insist that they're not peddling their pedigrees just for the money.
"It's fun," says Charlotte.
"It's for people to dream," says Bernadette, "either of meeting royalty or of being royal themselves."
Today's Royal Ouiz with Charlotte and Bernadette is about the furniture store itself. Among the multiple-choice questions asked: What floor are the bathrooms on, and how long has the store been in business? The winners are handed a $125 gift certificate. Afterward the two noblewomen move to the store's unfortunately named Louis XVI salon to autograph photos of their serene selves. The autograph-Hunde are either very old people, who seem properly respectful, or youngsters, who snigger.
Pleased with the show, Schrell gazes fondly at his hardworking pair. "Royalty gives ordinary people a sense of constancy and adds a little color to their lives," he reflects. "It gives them the opportunity to meet flesh-and-blood royals and see that they're real people."
Say, Wolfgang, there's this K mart opening. If you can sign Princess Di...
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