Posts Tagged ‘Soldier King’

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.


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

How Prussian Virtues Came About

Monday, January 16th, 2017


Prussian virtues (Preussische Tugenden) are behaviors of high moral standards that are said to once have been the hallmark of the inhabitants of Prussia. Some of these values are still attributed to the German people today. The list of Prussian virtues depends on the author but can be condensed to the core values of discipline, self-control, punctuality, thriftiness, service and hard work.

Brief History of Prussia

Between 1925 and 1947, Prussia was a state that centered in the area of today’s Germany, but with boundaries extending far beyond Germany’s current borders. The House of Hohenzollern ruled Prussia and expanded its size with the help of an extremely well organized army. Initially, the Prussian capital was Koenigsberg. In 1701 Friedrich I (Frederick I) became the first King of Prussia and chose Berlin as the capital. In 1871, the German states united under the leadership of Otto von Bismarck. Unification created a German Empire under Prussian leadership. In the aftermath of World War I, in 1918, the monarchy was abolished, and the Kingdom of Prussia became a republic, known as the Weimar Republic.  In 1933, the Nazi regime seized control of the Prussian government. Following World War II, Germany was divided into Allied occupation zones, and Prussia ceased to exist. On 25 February 1947, the Allied Control Council formally proclaimed the dissolution of Prussia.

Origin of Prussian Virtues

When Prussia became a kingdom under Friedrich I over 300 years ago, it was a poor state with fragmented territories. In 1713, his son, Friedrich Wilhelm I (Frederick William I) became King of Prussia. Friedrich Wilhelm was known as the “Soldier King” because he made considerable reforms to the Prussian army’s training, tactics and conscription. He demanded discipline, efficiency and good work ethics from his soldiers. During the “Soldier King’s” reign, Prussian discipline and Prussian virtues became accepted concepts. Today’s interpretation of Prussian discipline tends to be one in which the soldier blindly follows orders. But under Friedrich Wilhelm’s reign, discipline was a two-way street. Soldiers and their superiors were subject to the same rigorous rules.

In civilian society, Prussian virtues were initially frowned upon. With time, however, they began to seep in, particularly in light of the fact that Prussia had risen from nothing to greatness based on its Prussian discipline and Prussian virtues.

Prussian Virtues today

Even though the state of Prussia doesn’t exist anymore, Prussian virtues have not totally disappeared. In 2001, the German government proclaimed a “Prussian year” with celebrations of its Prussian heritage. Tolerance, reform, selflessness and modesty were highlighted to point out that during Prussian rule Jewish citizens were emancipated, feudalism and serfdom were eliminated, immigration was encouraged, the arts and sciences were celebrated and education of the young was made available and mandatory. In my own family, Prussian orderliness, sense of duty, honesty, punctuality, thriftiness, hard work, restraint and dependability were always stressed and expected.


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