The Washington PostDemocracy Dies in Darkness

Heinrich XIII, Germany’s ‘Putsch Prince,’ lamented monarchy’s demise

Police officers lead Heinrich XIII, Prince of Reuss, to a police vehicle during a Wednesday raid in Frankfurt. (Boris Roessler/AP)

BERLIN — He is the scion of a dynasty that once ruled over a region of central Germany, lives in one of Frankfurt’s most expensive neighborhoods and drives an Audi with a personalized license plate.

The bespectacled, gray-haired aristocrat Heinrich XIII, Prince of Reuss, cuts an unusual figure for the head of what German authorities describe as a “terrorist organization.”

But prosecutors placed the 71-year-old at the head of a countrywide network that planned to overthrow the German government and install its own state structure through violent means. He was among the 25 people arrested Wednesday as part of one of the biggest counterterrorism raids ever carried out in Germany.

His partner, a Russian national named by prosecutors as Vitalia B., was also arrested on suspicion of supporting the organization.

German police arrest 25 over far-right plot to overthrow government

Heinrich, whom one German newspaper dubbed the “Putsch Prince,” has long espoused the views of the Reichsbürger movement, a radical fringe ideology that rejects the modern German state and seeks to reinstall the German monarchy. It’s a prospect with obvious appeal to the minor royal, who complains his blue-blood family was pressured to abdicate as the German Empire was overthrown in the years following World War I and was subsequently “dispossessed.”

Born in 1951, Heinrich was one of six children of Heinrich I and Woizlawa Feodora, Prince and Princess Reuss. His four brothers were all also called Heinrich — like every other male heir in the family — under the dynasty’s unusual naming traditions that are in tribute to Holy Roman Emperor Henry VI.

“He was a fairly modern, energetic entrepreneur 30 years ago,” Heinrich XIV, a family spokesman who said he is only distantly related to Heinrich XIII, told MDR news channel Wednesday. “He has, of course, radicalized himself through disappointments.” He added that he hadn’t had contact with Heinrich XIII, who is 17th in line to the family seat in the German state of Thuringia, for a decade.

An article in the Berliner Zeitung German daily in 1998 described the prince as a “multi-entrepreneur” based in Germany’s western city of Frankfurt and involved in businesses spanning real estate, art and sparkling wine production. But it noted he was “angry” over property disputes stemming from expropriation of family land.

While he has been living in Frankfurt’s upmarket Westend neighborhood, the prince also is reported to own a hunting lodge near Bad Lobenstein in east Thuringia, from where the dynasty hails.

His family — which before this week had already distanced itself from him — was in “shock” following the arrest, Heinrich XIV said. “We were a tolerant, cosmopolitan, princely house in Thuringia for 850 years,” he said. “And now we’re seen as terrorists and reactionaries all over the world, right down to America.”

Signs of radicalization had been on display in the prince’s public statements. In a 2019 speech at the Worldwebforum in Zurich, which bills itself as a meeting point for “thought leaders of the digital world,” he gave an at times rambling address titled, “Why Blue-Blooded Elite Became Servants.”

When the monarchy was around, things ran smoothly, he said: “If something was not going well, you approached the prince. Who are you supposed to turn to today? To your parliamentarian, local, federal or E.U. level? Good luck.”

He continued with classic tropes of the Reichsbürger movement, saying he believed that societal problems and wars were caused by the Jewish Rothschild family — a constant object of antisemitic baseless theories — and arguing that Germany’s federal republic was not a sovereign state, but still occupied by world powers.

German prosecutors have described Heinrich XIII as the “ringleader” and central “council” head of the group plotting to overthrow the state and install its own order.

The group included a sitting judge, doctors and lawyers, with “the prince on top,” said one security official, who like others spoke to The Washington Post on the condition of anonymity due to the sensitivity of the subject.

The prince’s Thuringia hunting lodge was believed to be a center of activity for the group, said a second security official with knowledge of the investigation. Heinrich XIII would split his time between Frankfurt and the lodge, built by his ancestors, the official said, adding that the area has a high proportion of Reichsbürgers.

The remote location meant it was considered as a useful logistical and training hub on the way to Berlin, the official said. Many Reichsbürger groups operate imaginary sub-states, with some issuing their own passports.

“It’s some big plans, ideas and dreams of elderly and not so elderly men,” the official said of the coup plot. But German authorities accuse this group of posing a real armed threat, as it came together with members of what became the group’s military wing, which included well-trained former soldiers and one member of Germany’s elite special forces, known as the KSK.

The prince is suspected of playing a fundraising role, traveling to neighboring countries and contacting other aristocrats for money that could be used for the military branch, the official said. “This has shown we have to take the Reichsbürger seriously,” he said.

Part of the group’s conspiracy narrative is the notion that a new state order in Germany would require negotiations with the Allied powers of World War II.

According to prosecutors, Heinrich had tried to contact representatives of the Russian Federation in Germany, but “there are no indications that the contact persons have reacted positively to his request.” In his 2019 speech, he said he had tried to contact Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov “without any result.”

The Russian Embassy in Berlin said it “would like to make clear that Russian diplomatic and consular offices in Germany do not maintain contacts with representatives of terrorist groups or other illegal entities.”

However, in June, Heinrich and his partner were invited to participate in Russian National Day celebrations at the Russian consulate in Leipzig, Germany, the first security official said. The second said he wanted Russian support to “lead Germany back into an alliance with Russia.”

The prince has expressed admiration for Moscow. In a video posted online in 2020 and distributed on QAnon and Reichsbürger channels, he said he was related to Russia’s imperial house of Romanov through his mother — “one of the reasons we like Russia.”

He went on to repeat more Reichsbürger narratives about the lack of legitimacy of the German state.

Before meeting his current partner, the prince was married to an Iranian woman with whom he had two children, according to the Berliner Zeitung article.

Mekhennet reported from Washington.