What links Utrecht to Kaiser Wilhelm II?

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Set in a beautiful landscape, half an hours journey time from Utrecht and frozen in time, is the Kaiser Wilhelm II’s final refuge of Huis Doorn.

Huis Doorn is a museum deliberately “frozen” in the year 1930. Its curators constantly study photographs taken more than 80 years ago of each of the 24 rooms in the house to ensure that even table cutlery and pillowcases from the era remain exactly in place. On a table at which Wilhelm once sat on a stool shaped like a cavalry saddle, one of his cigars lies in an ashtray alongside a cigarette holder embossed with a Prussian Eagle. Photographs of German battleships or the Kaiser directing military manoeuvres in full dress uniform adorn the walls of his study.

His slippers remain next to the bed in which he died in 1941. In the manor’s attic, cupboards groan with hundreds of uniforms, swords and the spiked Prussian Pickelhaube helmets that the former Germany monarch wore with obsessive regal pride. The aim of the curators was to give visitors the feeling that the Kaiser died only yesterday and few would contest that the Dutch manor house has managed to achieve its objective.

On the manicured lawn outside the white mausoleum containing his mummified corpse draped with a flag displaying the black eagle of Prussia. There is a stone plaque marking the grave of his dog Senta who accompanied him throughout the catastrophe of the First World War. Visitors to the final resting place of Germany’s often reviled last monarch, Kaiser Wilhelm II, could be forgiven for thinking they had stumbled on a modern equivalent of an Egyptian Pharaoh’s tomb. Yet the eerie atmosphere of Huis Doorn – the 17th-century manor house near Utrecht where Queen Victoria’s grandson found exile after Germany’s defeat in 1918 – does not end there. They do everything they can to keep the house exactly as it was when the Kaiser lived there.

Christopher Clark, an Australian historian says

“Doorn Huis has a significance that stretches far beyond Holland and the history of its relations with Germany.”

After the First World War, the Kaiser fled to the Netherlands, one of the few European countries to have avoided the conflict and the only nation prepared to offer him sanctuary. He bought Doorn from Baroness Heemstra of Beaufort, Audrey Hepburn’s aunt, and furnished the house with the contents of his palaces in Berlin and Potsdam, ferried from Germany in 59 railway carriages. The collection was so large that staff at Doorn were still opening the last crates in 1992.

At Huis Doorn, the man referred to by his cousin King George V as ” the greatest criminal in history” grew a beard, entertained guests sympathetic to his cause, went hunting, and even remarried after his first wife, Empress Auguste-Victoria, died in 1921. He could often be found, until his death at the age of 82, chopping wood in the grounds of his estate.

Huis Doorn opened its doors as a historic house museum in 1956

It was just as Wilhelm II had left it, with marquetry commodes, tapestries, paintings by German court painters, porcelains and silver. The estate also included Wilhelm’s collections of snuffboxes and watches that belonged to Frederick the Great.

In June each year, a devoted band of German monarchists come to pay their respects and lay wreaths, accompanied by marchers in period uniforms and representatives from modern monarchist organisations, such as Tradition und Leben of Cologne.


All photographs courtesy of Huis Doorn

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Jon Wilkins

Jon Wilkins

Jon Wilkins is Welsh and lives in England. He is a writer. A Europhile and Remainer, he is a regular visitor to Utrecht and has set his crime novel series in the city.

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