updated 09/16/1991 AT 01:00 AM EDT
•originally published 09/16/1991 AT 01:00 AM EDT
You see, the Von Anhalt estate—thousands of acres that include the family jewel, Schloss Ballenstedt, a 1,000-year-old castle that looms over the town—was taken over by the Communist East German government after World War II. The mistress of the schloss, Princess Marie Auguste, widow of Kaiser Wilhelm's youngest son, Joachim, fled to West Germany, settling in Essen with nothing more than misty Prussian reveries and a miserable government pension of $350 a month. She died in 1983 at age 85. Her ancestral home became, among other things, an unemployment bureau and a forestry school.
Although the Communists left the castle two years ago, Prince Frederic, 47, remains stuck in Beverly Hills with Zsa Zsa, 74. The problem is that amid the messiness that came with the collapse of Fast Germany, the Von Anhalt estate was handed over to Ballenstedt town officials, not the family. Then too, the Prince hasn't had much luck with an investment idea he thought the townspeople would find irresistible. His plans called for a $20 million overhaul of the property. There would be a winery or a brewery. Oh, and the schloss itself would be reserved as his and Zsa Zsa's occasional vacation spot.
Ballenstedt officials brushed Von Anhalt off, he says, telling him they'd develop the castle themselves. "They are still acting like Communists," says the Prince, who claims the city had already signed an agreement with him last November. "Communists always signed contracts that they did not honor." He's suing the town for $2.3 million.
Wolfgang Gurke, Ballenstedt's Mayor, counters that Von Anhalt's proposed investment was never anything more than a castle in the sky. "Prince Frederic wanted to give us $1 million, he wanted to organize big fetes with his Zsa Zsa, and all the proceeds would be for the benefit of the town, but unfortunately it was all talk," complains Gurke, who says there is no contract.
Actually the image of a conjured castle isn't altogether wrong for Prince Frederic. Born Hans Robert Lichtenberg, he was—before becoming minor royalty—a bank clerk, a screenwriter, a sauna manager, a self-styled entrepreneur and a pretty good soccer player. In the 1950s he says he became a close friend to Princess Marie's soccer-playing son, Karl-Franz. When Karl-Franz died in a car accident in South America in 1964, the Prince-to-be comforted the bereaved mother and gave her money to supplement her pension. A grateful Princess Marie adopted him, made him her heir—and opened to him the beautiful, baronial prospect of recovering Schloss Ballenstedt.
There are, of course, others with similar titles, dreams and claims—specifically, Princess Marie's blood nephew, Prince Eduard, 49, who has said he envisions a hotel in what he thinks should be his Schloss Ballenstedt. Mayor Gurke dismisses Eduard too. "I don't want to meet either prince," he says. For the moment, then, the subject is moat.
KANTA STANCHINA in Ballenstedt and ROBIN MICHELI in Los Angeles