Death Und Taxis: Germany's Devilish Prince Johannes Departs, Leaving a Lascivious Legacy-and a Troubled Estate
01/28/1991 at 01:00 AM EST
Flanked by six blond-wigged footmen in golden coats, the body of Prince Johannes von Thurn und Taxis, 64, lay in the chapel of St. Emmeram Castle, his 500-room palace about 60 miles from Munich. At his feet sat his pearl-studded crown and rapier, and above his head hung the heraldic shield bearing his family's name. Before 900 mourners—European aristocracy, German business swells, even Kuwaiti Prince Mubarak—the Prince's widow, Gloria, 30, stood to make her formal invocation. "Dear God," she implored in German, "have pity on the soul of my beloved Johannes."
Everyone there knew she meant it. The tales told of the Prince of Thurn and Taxis, who died Dec. 14 following his second heart transplant in two months, will not so graciously be laid to rest. Johannes, the scion of an ancient German family with vast real estate holdings and interests in diverse industries from banking to breweries, was once accounted the largest landowner and second wealthiest man in Germany, with an estate valued in 1989 at more than $2.5 billion. Now, however, his sole heir, the 7-year-old Prince Albert, confronts a patrimony estimated to be a mere $500 million and dwindling, crippled by poor investments and lax management.
If times get worse, the little Prince will hardly be able to gain strength from family honor. Johannes and his bride—the former Gloria Schoenburg-Glachau, an aristocratic high school dropout and onetime waitress nicknamed TNT for her flamboyant personality—quickly gained a reputation as Germany's Duke and Duchess of Decadence. Only Malcolm Forbes's 1989 birthday bash could compete with the Prince's 1986 costume ball, for which private jets deposited 500 of the world's titled and titillating—including Mick Jagger, J. Paul Getty Jr. and Saudi Arabian businessman Adnan Khashoggi—for a $2 million Don Giovanni-themed affair at St. Emmeram. Sixty pink, phallus-shaped candles lit the cake—a scarcely veiled reference to the Prince's well-known—and continuing—sexual preference.
If Gloria hadn't completely altered his predilections, she was fully a part of his extravagant life—a life that included seven castles (now impractical, unheatable and unsalable) and a hunting lodge, the world's second-largest stamp collection, Gothic and baroque paintings and ancient jewels. The 210,000-square-foot St. Emmeram contains 400 clocks—and 72,000 square feet of glass, whose weekly cleaning helped drain the exchequer. In an adjunct museum sit 62 antique coaches from the Hapsburg empire. The Prince retained 70 liveried footmen, and parked in the coach house were 20 limousines and Gloria's Harley-Davidson.
A distant cousin, Johannes had known Gloria, the daughter of an impoverished nobleman, when she was a child and ran into her again in 1979 at a Munich café. The Prince had for some time been agitated about the future of his estate, which, by ancient family tradition, would be splintered beyond recognition in the absence of a male heir. Still, given the 34-year age difference and his sexual orientation, the betrothal startled European aristocrats. He and Gloria were married the next year before a thousand guests in the chapel at St. Emmeram. Six months later she gave birth to a daughter, Maria Theresia. A second, Elizabeth, followed in 1982, and in 1983 came Albert. Motherhood hardly tamed Gloria: Princess TNT occasionally appeared on a Munich talk show doing her famed impression of a barking dog.
In contrast, Johannes's exploits tended toward the mean. (He himself had experienced cruelty: As a child, he was beaten by Nazi youth for being a blue blood.) One known tale has him slipping a piranha into the aquarium of a famed fancier of exotic fish. He regularly offered vinegar-filled pralines to guests and is also reputed to have once sprayed a depilatory onto a woman's sable coat. Some thought his depravity masked unhappiness. "A torn-up man," German journalist Will Tremper described him, "full of derisive cynicism, which...made him very lonesome."
Only nine months ago, with his mammoth financial empire fraying, the Prince dismissed a management consortium that ran his business and vested control in attorney Manfred Heiler, a confidant of Gloria's. For her part, the Princess has been studying tax law and management. Johannes's will stipulates that, as Albert's caretaker, Gloria not remarry; if she does, she will lose her $8,500-a-month support.
Whether Princess TNT mourns her husband sedately—or by continuing the extravagant life they both enjoyed—remains to be seen. Some think there was more to the marriage than society scribes suspect. "It will turn out that this has all been a major love story." believes Munich hostess Heidi Schoeller. The Prince had his own characteristically arch take on the match. "We have similar roots," he once said, "Our family traces its origin back to Genghis Khan, hers to Attila the Hun."
Tim Allis, Franz Spelman in Munich