The Inter-War Years

Giro Enlarge image "Sic transit gloria mundi": All that remains of 130 years of German diplomatic history in London at 9 Carlton House Terrace, SW1 - the grave of "Giro", an Alsatian, the beloved pet of Ambassador Leopold von Hoesch. His master, too, died soon after.

Under Bunsen's successor, Albrecht Count Bernstorff, the status of the Prussian Legation was raised to that of an Embassy and, in 1870, after the unification of Germany, to the Imperial German Embassy. During World War One, No. 9 Carlton House Terrace was occupied first by the United States as the power looking after German interests and, after America's entry into the War, by Switzerland. On 14 February 1920, Dr. Friedrich Sthamer assumed his function as the first representative of the new Weimar Republic as Chargé d'affaires with the rank of Minister Plenipotentiary. He was accompanied by two senior diplomats, an administrative officer, a secretary and three assistants. Everything was found in place as the last Ambassador of Imperial Germany, Prince Lichnowsky, had left it on 6 August 1914, including even the cigarettes in the silver case on the Ambassador's desk.

Of the Weimar period there is only a pathetic little memorial, the tombstone which Ambassador Leopold von Hoesch put up in the front garden of 9 Carlton House Terrace on the spot where he buried his beloved dog, an Alsatian."Giro, ein treuer Begleiter! London, im Februar 1934, Hoesch", the inscription reads. Two years later the Ambassador died from a stroke in his Carlton House Terrace residence. He was only 55, but continuous worries about his new masters who had taken over in Berlin in 1933 and the strain which they put on Anglo-German relations were too much for him.

The British Government bid him an impressive farewell. His coffin was taken on a gun-carriage from Carlton House Terrace to Victoria Station. The funeral cortège was led by two companies of the Grenadier Guards while a 19-gun salute was fired in St. James's Park. Among the mourners walking behind the coffin were the Foreign Secretary Sir Anthony Eden, the Home Secretary Sir John Simon, the Lord Chancellor Lord Hailsham and the whole diplomatic corps. This was done in accordance with international diplomatic protocol. But people detected another note, namely a tribute to the last representative of a democratic Germany, since it was fairly obvious that Joachim von Ribbentrop, who had already been a few times in London as Hitler's special envoy and was considered to have the necessary "England experience", would be von Hoesch's successor. In marked contrast was the funeral in Germany where the coffin had been conveyed by the British destroyer "Scout". The Dresden funeral was attended only by the German Foreign Minister von Neurath and the Ambassadors of Britain and France; all representatives of the Third Reich stayed away.

With Hoesch the short-lived Weimar era ended at Carlton House Terrace. The next Ambassador, Joachim von Ribbentrop, arrived in October 1936 and marked the new age with a large rebuilding and modernisation programme which was to be completed in time for the Coronation of King George VI in May 1937. Nos. 8 and 9 Carlton House Terrace were made into a single building inside and only the fact that the Nash Terrace was a listed building saved the facades from being included in Ribbentrop's plan to establish a model of the Third Reich architecture in the centre of the British capital. The renovation was exhaustive, money was no object.

What it was like to serve at the German Embassy in Ribbentrop's days was recorded by General Baron Geyr von Schneppenburg (Military Attaché in London from 1934 to 1937) in his Memoirs The Critical Hour (London, 1952, p. 106): "Ribbentrop was certainly not equipped mentally to foresee the consequences of his actions, or rather of his complicity in Hitler's actions. He was par excellence a man who was guided by intuition and preconceived ideas, as obstinate and as incapable of logical thought as Hitler himself. He read dispatches unwillingly, if at all, and he wrote practically none: this was due to the fact that he regarded his position in the Auswärtige Amt as more or less a nominal one, and himself merely as an instrument for carrying out Hitler's will."

Ribbentrop's conduct in London was symbolised by the notorious Hitler salute when he presented his credentials to King George VI. Fortunately the damage he did was limited by his frequent absences from his post on other foreign affairs missions. When he left London shortly after the Austrian Anschluss in March 1938, the actual time he had spent here was less than a year. He was succeeded until the outbreak of the World War Two by Herbert Dirksen, a career diplomat. In his Memoirs Dirksen wrote that the showy renovation of No 8 and 9 Carlton House Terrace had produced a style and furniture less suitable for an embassy and more comparable to that of German luxury liners of the time like the "Bremen". By combining the two buildings the old Embassy had lost its large ballroom used for concerts and dances. That was where in July 1857 the Prussian Minister Count Bernstorff gave the great ball, attended by Queen Victoria, to celebrate the engagement of the Queen's eldest daughter "Vicky" to the Prussian Crown Prince and short-lived future Emperor Frederick III.

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