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They gathered behind a man with a title of nobility and thought they had been chosen to create a new Germany. They were armed and established military structures. Traitors faced the death penalty. A look at the delusional world of Heinrich XIII Prince Reuss and his followers.

© [M] Alexander Höpfner für ZEIT ONLINE, [Foto: Jan Kobel]

Illustration: Alexander Hoepfner • Visualisierung: Annick Ehmann

On the evening of September 8, 2022, Buckingham Palace announced that Queen Elizabeth II had died. The news spread quickly, triggering grief and heartache across the globe. But one woman living alone on the outskirts of Berlin wasn’t sad at all. Birgit Malsack-Winkemann, a 58-year-old judge who had spent four years in German parliament for the right-wing populist party Alternative for Germany (AfD) before resuming her previous career, picked up her phone and called an acquaintance.

Was the news about Queen Elizabeth’s death, she asked, the "signal" they had been waiting for?

A handful of other men and women in Germany were likewise strangely electrified. In Pforzheim, the news began circulating among people demonstrating against the coronavirus containment measures. Marco H., one of the most radicalized activists in the city, murmured into his phone that the end, thank God, was finally approaching. The end of the German government – and the end of the country’s federalist democracy.

Birgit Malsack-Winkemann and Marco H. were both members of a group of conspirators spread out across the country who believed they would be playing key roles in overthrowing the state and establishing a new order. They were just waiting for the signal indicating that the time had finally come to take action.

Might the news from the United Kingdom be that signal?

The men and women had been working for months to prepare for just such a moment – at least that is what investigators now accuse them of. They had, officials claim, formed a "Council," a kind of shadow cabinet full of people ready to take on positions of leadership following the overthrow. At the top was a wealthy, 71-year-old businessman from Frankfurt: Heinrich XIII Prince Reuss. A short time before, he had sent a letter to Birgit Malsack-Winkemann in Berlin in which described his goal as that of establishing a world of "free, sovereign people."

At the time of his letter, many of his co-conspirators could hardly wait to take up arms. One was Rüdiger von Pescatore, a former commander of an elite unit in the German military, the Bundeswehr, who had now become the head of the group’s "Military Staff." On the day of the queen’s death, he met with two confidants at an inn on Lake Constance to discuss the situation. Another was the survival instructor Peter Wörner from Bavaria, also a former Bundeswehr soldier. In his opinion, there would be no place in the "new military" for the vaccinated, "females" or "Kanacken," a derogatory, racist term for those with immigrant backgrounds. On his mobile phone were photographs of the barriers in front of German parliament and of the subway entrance next to the parliament building. Were the conspirators trying to emulate the storming of the Capitol in the United States on January 6, 2021, by radicalized Trump supporters? Did they want to launch a violent putsch? And if so, what did it have to do with the death of a 96-year-old queen in a Scottish castle?

The Berlin judge Birgit Malsack-Winkemann, the corona-truther Marco H., the businessman Heinrich XIII Prince Reuss, the former Bundeswehr commander Rüdiger von Pescatore and the survival instructor Peter Wörner are – or were – all part of a group that is convinced of the existence of a secretive, foreign military power that will make sure that Germany's government will be overthrown.

And when that time comes, this power will send them a signal – a wakeup call that they will have to play their part.

And now, it seemed to them that the signal had arrived.

German security officials, though, had long since been keeping tabs on the group, with the Office of the Federal Prosecutor taking control of the case in late summer 2022. The case is based on investigations that had been ongoing in several states, led by state criminal investigators and domestic intelligence services. They bore codenames like "Pipe Dream" and "Crown," and the effort soon turned into what is likely the largest terror investigation in Germany’s history. Before long, almost the entire German security apparatus was involved.

Three months after the queen’s death, on December 7, 2022, federal prosecutors made their move. Some 3,000 police officers raided 162 houses, apartments and offices, arresting 25 suspects. An iconic image from that day comes from Frankfurt: It shows masked special forces leading an elderly, bespectacled gentleman wearing a plaid suitcoat and elegant cravat from a white, prewar building – Heinrich XIII Prince Reuss.

In total, officials confiscated more than 25,000 rounds of ammunition along with legal sporting guns, illegal pistols, cudgels, stun guns, crossbows, axes, knives and Samurai swords. They also found bullet-proof vests and night-vision goggles. Lists containing the names of parliamentarians, government ministers, journalists and doctors. A receipt for the purchase of 120 kilograms of gold worth 6 million euros along with 420,000 euros in cash. Literature about the Waffen SS, Hitler’s elite force that was charged with carrying out the Holocaust.

Justice officials later added more suspects to their list, for a present-day total of 63 men and women, including active and former Bundeswehr soldiers. It is alleged that they are all members or supporters of a terrorist organization.

It is tempting to find it rather silly that people actually believed they were dividing up top government posts for a new Germany. Or crazy that they thought the death of the queen was the signal they had been waiting for. But if you follow the group’s trail from a hunting lodge on the Saale River in eastern Germany to corona demonstrators in the southwestern state of Baden-Württemberg and then all the way to a city in southern Brazil, it becomes clear that their beliefs aren’t just extremely bizarre. They are also, precisely for that reason, extremely dangerous.


In the Thuringian Highlands, not far from the Bavarian border, lies the realm of the man who investigators believe was to become the leader of the new Germany after the coup. To get there, you must first leave the town of Bad Lobenstein, pass the reservoir, cross a small stream and then follow a narrow road a few hundred meters into the forest. Before long, you will come across the Waidmannsheil, a castle-like hunting lodge perched on a rocky rise. It belongs to Heinrich XIII Prince Reuss.

The hunting lodge was built in the 19th century and is surrounded by a vast park, inside of which is a gold-colored pyramid, several meters tall. During the raid in December, investigators reportedly found a poem inside the pyramid, along with signs, symbols and prayers – hanging on the walls and strewn about on the floor.

Heinrich XIII Prince Reuss brought conspirators to the estate on several occasions, and they formed their "Council" inside the hunting lodge, with members of the inner circle arriving from across Germany. Federal prosecutors believe that senior positions in the future government were handed out here. A doctor from Lower Saxony was nominated as health minister, while a former police officer was to take charge of the Interior Ministry. The circle even included a fortune teller: She was to advise the future government on spiritual issues.

The Shadow Government

Investigators say the group planned the following structures.

Additional units were planned.

At some point in 2021, investigators now believe, Prince Reuss became the leader of the group. It remains unclear how some of the group members knew him, and it is also unknown whether the others elected him as their leader or whether he simply installed himself at the top. It is clear, however, that he had long been a prominent figure in the Reichsbürger movement, a radical current in Germany that does not recognize the German state as it is currently constituted.

The Reichsbürger ideology was born in the post-World War II era in Germany, when former members of the Nazi military, the Wehrmacht – refused to accept the downfall of the German Reich. The term first appeared in a domestic intelligence report in 1995 after a right-wing extremist started offering courses in how to be a Reichsbürger. But for several years, German officials did very little to address the threat – a situation that changed in 2016, when a Reichsbürger in Bavaria shot a policeman to death.


(c) 2023, Zeit Online



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