Wilhelm II: Prince and Emperor, 1859-1900

By Lamar Cecil | Go to book overview
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Seven
1890

A FEW DAYS before Christmas 1889, the British ambassador in Berlin reported that "the Emperor is off again shooting. It seems impossible for him to remain quiet for more than two or three days at a time."1 As soon as 1890, opened, Wilhelm II resumed the chase. Immediately following his traditional New Year's Day reception, the Kaiser left Berlin for a hunt arranged by his friend, Count Guido Henckel at his princely estate at Neudeck in Silesia. Next to Friedrich Alfried Krupp, Henckel was the Kaiser's wealthiest subject, and he lived in splendor befitting royalty, sparing no effort to fulfill the family motto "Live for the moment." Caviar as well as brandy were de rigeur even at the breakfast table, and the peasants on Neudeck's thousands of acres kissed the hem of Countess Henckel's gown as she passed by. Wilhelm delighted in such sumptuousness, and on this trip he derived great pleasure from exterminating no fewer than 550 pheasants in a single day's shooting on a neighboring estate.

In spite of the festive atmosphere, the Kaiser could not conceal his concern at the steadily worsening crisis with Bismarck. Karl Heinrich von Boetticher, the state secretary of the imperial Interior Office as well as a Prussian minister without portfolio, was also Henckel's guest and brought to Neudeck the draft approved by Bismarck of the royal address for the opening of the Prussian parliament on 15 January. After scrutinizing the document, Wilhelm declared that it was unacceptable because it contained no announcement of the government's intention to introduce a bill for the protection of labor (Arbeiterschutzgesetz). This was a subject on which the Kaiser had laid particular stress in recent pronouncements, and in December 1889 he had circulated to the Prussian ministry a memorandum that he, in consultation with his old tutor Hinzpeter, had composed on the state's responsibility for accommodating the legitimate demands of labor. Shortly thereafter Wilhelm had reminded the chancellor that improving the welfare of working people was a goal very close to his heart.2 The strikes in the Rhineland and the collusion of

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