“Herr von Bohlen Private”
A Fictional Documentary
When Arndt von Bohlen und Halbach (Arnd Klawitter) was born in Berlin in 1938, his family’s business was a staunch supporter of Hitler’s war. In fact, Hitler gave the family special disposition from being nationalized like every other company, and he allowed it to remain in their hands. However it wasn’t just the end of WW2 and imprisonment of Arndt’s father Alfred for war crimes, or the Allies seizing Krupp’s factories and dismantling them that brought about the beginning of the end of the dynasty’s enormous power. It was also the fact that Arndt, the next heir, was a very eccentric homosexual who had no interest at all in the family businesses. or any kind of work for that matter. Arndt von Bohlen was a jetsetter in postwar German high society and a man whose main interests were extravagant clothes and flashy make-up. He was also Germany’s wealthiest early retiree. Director André Schäfer tells the story of the last of the Krupp von Bohlen line, the German steelworks dynasty that made two world wars possible.
I understand that von Bohlen was a regular feature in the society columns of his day (1960s and 70s) but the real man was not the one whose name appeared in the press regularly. The movie presents a different image of Arndt von Bohlen than the gossip columns of the 60’s and 70’s did. He was an intelligent and melancholy person who was a kind of “lightning rod for some of the psychological aftereffects of “black pedagogy” and Nazi ideology that plagued Germany after the war”. In a fictitious interview Arndt von Bohlen tells us that he had to apply in writing for an appointment if he wanted to talk to his grandfather, Gustav Krupp von Bohlen.
The documentary tells Arndt’s intriguing story through fictional episodes of his life with actors but using Arndt’s actual words. There are also interviews with people who remembered him including his Estate Administrator and a gossip columnist from that period, André Schäfer gives us a profile of an extravagant and profligate billionaire who simply had no idea about the reality of money. He felt that money is loaned to us and we are to use it to live and then pass it on to someone else.
Arndt lived in a 72-room castle with 70 servants and was a ferocious alcoholic who died at just 48 years old and deeply in debt. Schäfer shows us a man who was outrageously flamboyant and hedonistic. He occasionally toed the family line, like when he married a well-connected Princess for her title, but he never bothered to even attempt to pretend that she was anything beyond his wife in title only. He rather enjoyed the company of very young boys with whom he would travel to his villa in Marrakech and act as decadent as he wanted.
His father turned the family fortune into a charitable Foundation meaning that Arndt would need to renounce his inheritance that consisted of several Billions of German Marks and the right to use the Krupp’s name. He agreed to do so and even through his annual allowance was still a couple of million marks per year, it was not enough for him to maintain his outrageous lifestyle.
We see Arndt as a very unlikable man but his story is quite unique in that it has a lot to say about other wealthy and well-born gay men of that era. These men would have led totally closeted lives that we would never ever hear about.
Arndt von Bohlen was Lutheran by birth and tradition. He waived his inheritance in 1966 and was no longer the owner of the Krupp company. Because he waived his inheritance, he was also not allowed to use the family name Krupp, which was reserved to the sole inheritor of the family business.
Despite being notoriously homosexual, like his great-grandfather Friedrich Alfred Krupp, he married Princess Henriette von Auersperg, the daughter of Prince Alois von Auersperg and the Countess Henrietta Larisch von Möennich.[ The couple had no children. Because of a generous compensation package, Arndt was able to live the jet-set life, and flew constantly between Marrakesh and Miami. In 1982, he converted from Lutheran Protestantism to the Roman Catholic faith.
At the time he reached the age of 48, he died in his castle in Salzburg and at his death he was deeply in debt. It has been estimated that he would have inherited an empire worth 2.5 billion DM.