Posts Tagged ‘Prussian Army’

Bizarre Tale of the Potsdam Giants

Monday, January 30th, 2017

The Potsdam Giants (Riesengarde) were the personal batallion of Prussian King Frederick William I (Friedrich Wilhelm I). Officially named “The Grand Grenadiers of Potsdam,” they soon became known as The Potsdam Giants or “The Long Guys” (Lange Kerls) in common parlance. The only requirement for joining was that recruits had to be over six feet tall, an exceptional height at the time. One of the tallest soldiers in the regiment, an Irishman by the name of James Kirkland, was reportedly just less than 7 feet 2 inches. Giants&item_type=topic

Grenadier James Kirkland, serving in the Potsdam Giants, the personal batallion of King Frederick William I.

Grenadier James Kirkland, serving in the Potsdam Giants, the personal batallion of King Frederick William I.


King Frederick William was known as the “soldier king” (Soldatenkoenig) and had a passion for all things military. He ruled from 1713 until his death in 1740 and was succeeded by his son Frederick the Great (Friedrich der Grosse)

King Frederick William’s Potsdam Giants

Frederick William was born in 1688 in Berlin, Germany, and died in 1740. In 1713, he was crowned King of Prussia and spent most of his life expanding Prussia’s army and turning it into the most famous and disciplined army in Europe. Eventually, one in every nine Prussian was a soldier.

Frederick William had a passion for tall men and would go to any length to recruit them into his Prussian infantry regiment no. 6, the Potsdam Giants. He dispatched agents throughout the continent in search of such men and gave special compensation to parents who sent him their tallest sons and to landowners who surrendered their tallest farmhands. Prussian teachers kept an eye out for tall children and promptly handed them over to him. Newborn babies, expected to grow unusually tall, were marked with a bright red scarf to identify them. Frederick William even impressed upon his political allies that they could keep their gifts as long as they provided him with giants for his batallion. He never sent his personal regiment into battle, thereby keeping his Potsdam Giants out of harms way.

If these tall men did not comply voluntarily, he had them kidnapped. There is a story that Frederick William even abducted a preacher in the middle of a sermon. For a time, he tried to stretch these soldiers on a rack to make them even taller than they already were. When it became difficult to entice tall men into the Potsdam Giants, the king initiated a breeding program. When Frederick William was ill or felt depressed, he simply commandeered a few hundred “Long Guys” to march through his bedroom to cheer him up.

Privileges of the Potsdam Giants

Attired in blue uniforms with red contrasts and an 18-inch-high grenadier cap to make them appear even taller, the Potsdam Giants were given excellent accommodations and the best meals the military had to offer. Rates of pay were determined by height. The taller these “Long Guys” were, the more money they earned. Nevertheless, most of the Potsdam Giants were reluctant soldiers and many deserted or attempted suicide.

The end of the Potsdam Giants

When the king died in 1740 the regiment was 3,200-men-strong. However, his successor, Frederick the Great, did not share his father’s obsession and disbanded the Potsdam Giants. He integrated most of the soldiers into other units. In 1806, the regiment was officially dissolved.


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“No tango,” said Kaiser Wilhelm II

Wednesday, November 20th, 2013

“No tango,” said Kaiser Wilhelm II, the last German emperor, one hundred years ago today. On November 20, 2013, he issued a degree that forbade his uniformed officers to participate in the new and sensuous dance. Here is why:

Tango’s History

In Latin, tango means “I touch.” The dance originated toward the end of the 19th century. It suddenly sprung up in the working-class port neighborhoods of Buenos Aires in Argentina. The tango’s distinctive voice is attributable to a small musical instrument, the Bandoneon. Heinrich Band, a German immigrant, had brought it to Argentina. The tango quickly moved from the modest port tenements and seedy bordellos into the palaces of the wealthy. Its movements required close body contact. Phonographs, a new invention at the time, transported the dance to the Old World where London, Paris, and Berlin enthusiastically embraced it.

Tango, the gutter child

Because poor immigrants from many different countries were thrown together in Buenos Aires, the tango expressed their longing for the land they had left behind. Unable to identify with these immigrants’ plights, Kaiser Wilhelm II called the dance “a gutter child.” He preferred different rhythms. His keenly religious wife, Auguste Victoria, hated to dance altogether. But the tango became popular despite the emperor’s preferences. Even within his own circle, the Countess of Schwerin-Loewitz, wife of the president of the Prussian Parliament, could not be dissuaded from hosting a tango party. At the soiree, diplomats and high ranking officers tangoed tightly knotted with their partners. To stop the craze, Kaiser Wilhelm II forbade all uniformed Prussian Army officers to tango. For additional information, please visit


Last German emperor, Kaiser Wilhelm II. He forbade the tango (taken in 1905 - archival photo)

Last German emperor, Kaiser Wilhelm II. He forbade the tango
(taken in 1905 – archival photo)

Originally a low-class dance form, the tango became wildly popular with upper and middle classes around the world. In 1916, Roberto Firpo, bandleader of the period, introduced the standard tango sextet: two bandoneons, two violins, piano and double bass.

For a sneak peek at the first 20+ pages of my memoir, Walled-In: A West Berlin Girl’s Journey to Freedom, click “Download a free excerpt” on the home page of Walled-In is a story of growing up in Berlin during the Cold War.