Afghanistan Analysts Network – English

Context and Culture

Afghan Encounters in Europe or: How My Grandma Saw King Amanullah – Part 3

Thomas Ruttig 4 min

In the third and final part of a little series, Thomas Ruttig takes you on a journey in G.H. Wells’ time machine, back to Berlin in the year 1928 when Afghan King Amanullah visited the German capital as first head of state after the end of Kaiser Wilhelm’s monarchy. Read how the King drove the Berlin ‘tube’, what he got as a present of honour and how the Berliners made ‘Ullemulle’ – and I am sure this nickname was meant to be friendly – their King of Hearts.

... and Amanullah the reformer-king, with Queen Soraya.... and Amanullah the reformer-king, with Queen Soraya.

III. Berlin 1928/2010

Here we finally come to my grandma. In 1928, when she was a school girl of 14, she and her class were ordered out to stand at Berlin’s famous boulevard Unter den Linden – and wave to the visiting Amanullah, King of Afghanistan. (She told me in 1979 when I informed her that I would go and study some exotic subject called Afghanistics. She did not remember much more, though, except that everyone was exited.)

Fortunately, more than 30 years later – when I returned from Switzerland and the museum visit in Bonn (see parts 1 and 2 of this blog) -, there was an email from Sabine Weber in my inbox, a radio journalist working for Deutschlandfunk, a quality radio station that still broadcasts long features. Her’s is called ‘Ullemulle – King of Hearts’, Ullemulle being one of the nicknames, Berliners – known for their ‘hearts and [sometimes rude] goshes’ – gave to the visiting Afghan monarch Amanullah in 1928.

Amanullah became something like a rock star to the foreign-visitor starved Germans of the nine-year old, post-monarchy and internationally still not too well-regarded Weimar Republic which, at that point, was experiencing its fifteenth change of cabinet. He was the first of only two foreign heads of state visited Germany between the end of the Kaiser’s Reich in 1919 and Hitler’s ascendancy in 1933: Amanullah and the King of Egypt.

The German government went into a frenzy to please the high guest, people lined the street, poems were written (some mocking the monarch-less Germans for their royal nostalgia) and even a show was staged, titled ‘Hulla-di-bulla’, exoticising schlager songs composed (find a link at the end of the text), as Weber puts it, ‘not always up to taste’. It was pondered which present the Afghan monarch should receive: a gramophone, a precious pistol or a big vase? But then Berlin learned that Italian prime minister Benito Mussolini had given Amanullah an armoured Fiat car…

To the great relief of Reichschancellor Marx (first name Wilhelm, not Karl) and foreign minister Dr Gustav Stresemann (that one), everything went well after King Amanullah, his wife Surya, daughter of the reformer and foreign minister Mahmud Tarzi, and their entourage disembarked from the train at Berlin Lehrter Station on 22. February 1928. (See a video of Amanullah’s arrival by ship in Britain here.)

‘The special train was directed so that the salon carriage with the royal couple exactly stopped at the red carpet rolled out for them.’

Reichspresident Paul von Hindenburg welcomed the majesties, the Afghan and German hymns were played and the couple set off for their tour of central Berlin passing, amongst others, a group of communists shouting ‘Down with the King’ at the Brandenburg gate (re-interpreted as ‘God give Your Majesty a long life’ by an accompanying German diplomat) – and my grandma at Unter den Linden.

During his seven days in Berlin, Amanullah dines with the German elite, signs Berlin’s Golden Book, receives an honorary doctor’s title at the Technical University, inspects the capital’s fire brigade, visits movie and ballet shows, an airplane parade at Berlin-Tempelhof and military mavoeuvres in Brandenburg, factories and scientific institutes and even is allowed to drive a brand-new metro train, the A2 type – that immediately became the ‘Amanullah train’, in regular operations till 1989 and today still used on special occasions.

Finally Amanullah – who himself donates 1000 English Pounds for the poor, as he did at every stop of his European tour – gets his present: a three-engine Junkers type G-24 airplane worth 285,000 Reichsmark, three and a half times that of the later Duce’s present. Then he travels on to the Junkers airplane factory in Dessau , to Zeiss-Ikon in Dresden and the Leipzig fair, ordering a few more things on the way – photographic equipment and two more Junkers planes.

When he returns to Berlin later in April, for three more weeks of an unofficial visit, he asked for a zero bond of 10m Reichsmark to pay for the orders. The German government lowered it to a loan of 6 million, almost 20m Euro in today’s currency.
There was no way around it. As Sabine Weber told me referring to material she was not able to use for her feature, two years earlier Amanullah had granted an amnesty to a certain Gustav Stratil-Sauer, an early German tourist who had travelled through Afghanistan on his motorbike and killed an Afghan on his way. The German Ambassador tried to smuggle him out of the country but both were caught, a major embarrassment that ended in the departure of the Ambassador, the incarceration of Stratil-Sauer and his initial condemnation to death. Finally Amanullah who appreciated the work of German engineers and other specialists who had come to the country as early as 1922 granted Stratil-Sauer an amnesty, a step that earned him the gratitude of the Germans.

Sabine Weber’s feature ‘Ullemulle, König der Herzen’ was broadcast on 26 December 2009 on Deutschlandfunk and will be repeated in an extended version (with AAN’s Thomas Ruttig on GDR-Afghan relations) on German regional radio stations MDR and RBB in late October. The exact times are not known yet.

The initial version can be downloaded as (German) text or PDF on Deutschlandradio’s website.

An audio file of the whole feature can be found here.

Furthermore, Sabine Weber has granted us the permission to publish the full transcript with plenty of details on Amanullah’s visit to Germany and German-Afghan relations on our website which we will do soon – first in German and later in a possibly shorter version in English.

For the beginning, listen to a 1930 German schlager, ‘Ramona Zündloch’ von Paul O’Montis, referring to Amanullah here.

See also:
Gustav Stratil-Sauer, Fahrt und Fessel: Mit dem Motorrad von Leipzig nach Afghanistan, M + V Verlagsgesellschaft 2009 (new edition in German).


Germany History