On 19 July 2011 I met a royal I thought I would never meet. Not only did I see her, I also took some pictures and was allowed to be present when she was being interviewed, and asked her some questions myself. A remarkably young looking 92-year-old: Princess Woizlawa Feodora Reuss née Duchess von Mecklenburg-Schwerin. Clearly visible is her resemblance to the late Queen Juliana of the Netherlands, and on youth pictures she resembles the young Princess Amalia of the Netherlands, daughter of the Prince of Orange and Princess Máxima.
Duchess Woizlawa Feodora von Mecklenburg-Schwerin was born on December 17th, 1918 – only weeks after the end of the German monarchy – as daughter of Duke Adolf Friedrich von Mecklenburg-Schwerin and his first wife Princess Victoria Feodora Reuss. Her mother died only one day after her birth and several years later her father remarried Princess Elisabeth zu Stolberg-Rossla. Woizlawa remained the only child.
For a Dutch person like me it is very interesting to know that she was a first cousin of Queen Juliana of the Netherlands (1909-1918). Juliana even was the goddaughter of Woizlawa’s father. Juliana was the daughter of Woizlawa’s uncle Heinrich (Hendrik), and her father travelled to his Mecklenburg family from time to time and took his daughter with him. Juliana took an interest in her young cousin, who now says about her that she had a “wonderful humor”. Woizlawa also came to the Netherlands. Before World War II she visited the family in The Hague and Apeldoorn. She remembers that ladies-in-waiting tried to teach her how to bridge, as they thought she might be bored at the palace. However she wasn’t very good at it. She also remembers the lovely rides in the woods.
In 1937 Woizlawa was one of the twelve grown up bridesmaids of Princess Juliana, when she married Prince Bernhard zur Lippe-Biesterfeld. 74 years later, one of the very few of the bridal staff still alive, she proudly shows the bracelet with the initials JB she received as a gift back then.
She herself in 1939 married Prince Heinrich I Reuss and had five sons and one daughter. Unfortunately after World War II the Dutch royal family blocked almost all the contacts with their German relatives. Princess Woizlawa tried to get back in touch, but although she was among the guests at the silver wedding anniversary of Juliana and Bernhard in 1962, they never really got in touch anymore.
Princess Woizlawa and her husband lived in Gera, in the East of Germany, until the end of World War II. Then they had to fled for the Russians who were coming. They found a save heaven in Büdingen, Upper Hesse, where a sister of her husband lived. Only in 1991 she moved back to Gera. Now she lives in the South of Germany. She remembers vividly that she travelled back to Gera after the fall of the communism in Eastern Germany in 1989. To her big astonishment she was received with open arms. The people in the area spoke with respect about the former reigning family, especially about their cultural achievements. She thinks it is good that Germans are interested in royalty, but has no idea why they are so interested.
People may wonder about her visit to the village of Kollum in the northeast of the Dutch province of Friesland. However the Princess is friends with the mayor of the municipality of Kollumerland, Mr Bearn Bilker, who is very interested in royalty. He first corresponded with one of her sons. And then he met her in 2005 and they talked for a very long time. It turned out they had the same interests, for example in history and genealogy. They contacted each other again, and the contact is still very much alive. Since 2005 Mr Bilker and his wife, who unfortunately died in 2010, visited her at her house in the South of Germany every year. Mr Bilker records their conversations, to prevent that her interesting memories don’t get lost. The Princess from her side firmly said: “He knows much more about the family than I do.”
The Princess was to come to the Netherlands already some two years ago, but had health problems at that time, so that she had to cancel the visit. But now she finally made it. She arrived on July 18th and in the coming week she has somewhat of a programme. At the musical reception at the new municipality hall of Kollumerland the anthems of Mecklenburg, Friesland and the Netherlands were played. Afterwards she shortly posed in the front of the old municipality hall, and then inside answered the questions of the Friesian press, including me. Afterwards she was to be received at the Fogelsanghstate, a Friesian noble estate.
On July 20th the Princess was to return to Palace Het Loo in Apeldoorn. She told to be excited about the visit: “As a child I have been there with my parents several times. I am already looking forward to it seeing it back and also to the lovely exhibition, that will surely be very interesting.” Mr Bilker said that she is a huge admirer of Princess Máxima of the Netherlands. They will be received by the director of Palace Het Loo. On the programme is also a visit to the nice Friesian harbour of Harlingen. The Princess stays at the house of Mr Bilker, who said she thought his house was very nice. She doesn’t eat that much, but he made her a salade as a dinner on Monday evening.
I wish the Princess a very pleasant stay in the country and hope she will be able to fully enjoy her very first stay in Friesland and the Dutch houses, which she said were “very lovely”.