The party over, Bavarian princess holds a most unusual yard sale

October 10, 1993|By Dan Fesperman | Dan Fesperman,Berlin Bureau

REGENSBURG, Germany -- Once upon a time, a young princess known as TNT lived a wild little fairy tale of a life in this medieval city down by the not-so-blue Danube.

She had a 500-room castle and a wealthy prince, who, even if old, bald and bisexual, still knew how to liven up a place with practical jokes on other, stuffier royals. He didn't mind if she dyed her hair blond or blue, or cut it in a mohawk. And when he wasn't up for fun, there were famous artists and musicians who would party for days on end. Or she could always go on a TV talk show and bark like a dog.

For riding, there was a stable of horses. For going faster, a stable of Harleys.

Then the hobgoblins of death, taxes and approaching middle age crashed into the life of Princess Gloria von Thurn und Taxis, and for the first time in 10 years she had to wonder: Would she really live happily ever after?

The answer, after three years of effort, now appears to be yes, to the consternation of some people, including the late prince's aged and eccentric uncle.

Happiness for the princess can be found in several outer rooms of the Thurn und Taxis castle. Here, pushed together in one opulent display after another, are thousands of pieces of furniture, works of art and other baubles of the sort that accumulate during five centuries of aristocratic living.

More than 4,500 such items have been assembled, along with 75,000 bottles of wine from the Thurn und Taxis cellar, for a nine-day auction that will begin Tuesday, an event that a Sotheby's spokeswoman, Diana Phillips, calls "the house sale to end all house sales."

If all goes as expected, the proceeds will finish paying off a tax bill of nearly $40 million that came due when Prince Johannes von Thurn und Taxis died in 1990.

But in securing a comfortable future for herself and her three children -- principally for the youngest, 10-year-old Albert, heir to the family fortune and title -- Princess Gloria, 33, has given up the lifestyle that made her Princess TNT, the Princess of Punk, queen of European tabloids.

"She lived in a dream world," said Count Heinrich von Spreti, a longtime family friend and the head of Sotheby's Munich office. "She had a much older, dominating figure in her husband, who let her live and let her do as she pleased, and life was a long party. When he died, it was like shock therapy for her. She had to wake up to some things."

Hair is natural again

So, now, her hair is back to its natural brown, bobbed in a businesslike style. With her large eyes, wide mouth, conservative wardrobe and demure poses in recent photos, she's faintly reminiscent of a young Jackie Kennedy leading a White House tour. And lately, the woman who once seemed to be competing for the title of loudest and flashiest among the world's wealthy has been keeping a low profile.

"She spends all her free time with her children now," explains her lady-in-waiting, Regina Sprueth.

So it was that when she gave an interview to Stern, the German weekly feature magazine, it became last week's cover story, headlined "The New Gloria."

She talked of how her husband's death made her grow up. She told how she has weeded out shaky investments from the family's business portfolio -- dropping a bank, for instance, while holding onto timberland and real estate.

She met the prince when she was 19, a barmaid in Munich who could nonetheless claim the title of Countess von Schoenburg zu Lauchau und Waldenburg. Her dad had lost the family wealth to the Communists. The prince was 53 at the time. They married a year later.

They soon became the fast set's most famous host and hostess, throwing lavish parties that sometimes lasted days. But guests had to be prepared for the Thurn und Taxis brand of humor.

Red wine on a white dress

Prince Johannes enjoyed dropping herring down women's cleavages, or lacing the late-night banquet treats with laxative. Perhaps his favorite stunt was dribbling red wine onto the seat of Britain's Princess Margaret while she was up dancing. She was dressed in white.

When Gloria got beyond the castle walls, she really cut loose, dancing on tables at discos in a mohawk and chain-mail dress and partying with unaristocratic celebrities and avant-garde artists (although one of her singer friends was at least named Prince). She did her dog-bark imitation, among other places, on "Late Night With David Letterman."

$1 million birthday party

By Bavaria's stuffy standards, the peak of her outrageousness came in 1986, when she spent more than $1 million on a rock-and-roll cruise up the Danube for the prince's 60th birthday party. She took to the stage on the ship to belt out the Rolling Stones hit "Satisfaction," no doubt to the approval of a guest, Mick Jagger. But the talk of the evening was the birthday cake, decorated with 60 marzipan penises for candles.

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