Once upon a time there was a king ... He arrived in Durazzo riding a white horse. People came out cheering from the houses to applaud him. He, from above, smiled or perhaps what was on his face was a grin. It was Otto Witte.
He waved goodbye, nodded his head, proud, while the gait of his horse rattled the many medals pinned on his uniform, rich in friezes, gilded buttons and insignia.
He was king of Albania for 5 days. Then, having discovered the deception, he and his aide-de-camp escaped from the city.
The story of Otto Witte
In Sankt Pauli, one of the most popular and phantasmagorical districts of Hamburg, up until the 50, the main attraction was for a long time, Otto Witte, an old gentleman who lived in a circus carriage. In droves, Germans and foreigners, they approached him and he, with a regal and complacent manner, told his story for the umpteenth time, each time enriching it with details caught more by his imagination than by his memory.
And while he was posing in front of the cameras, he began with the time when in Africa he was awarded the title of head of a tribe of Pygmies, or with the adventure of Addis Ababa, when he was about to run away with the most beautiful of the daughters of the emperor of Ethiopia.
Otto Witte ... profession: circus artist and former king of Albania
Then ... then came his highlight. He took a document from the Berlin police out of the pocket of his worn-out uniform. It was his identity card, which he made around the hands of the curious, amused and doubtful tourists: "Otto Witte ... profession: circus artist and former king of Albania".
The story, as he told it, but we don't know if really that, it was more or less this.
Eight Witte in the Balkans
The 1913 ran when Otto and his little circus toured the Balkans from city to city. The art of amusing and surprising had soon learned. He was little more than a child and was already a lion tamer. Then in front of the always different audience of his evenings, with the big black mustaches that he had grown as an integral part of his stage costume, he swallowed swords and did magic tricks. Rabbits and doves came out of his hat ...
But one day, just during that tour in the Balkans, a brilliant and bold idea came out. A year before Ismail Qemal Vlora had proclaimed Albania's independence. And the Albanians anxiously waited for the great powers to designate for them a king, their first king, after the great Skanderbeg.
The southern Muslim leaders did not hide the preference for a solution that somehow continued the link with the old and dying Osmano Empire: their candidate was Halim Eddine, a relative of the Sultan.
Halim Eddine also had a large Turkish mustache under his nose ... and a colleague of Otto Witte noticed the similarity. "You are just like that Turkish prince who may be the king of Albania ..." his colleague Max Schlepsig, a swordsman of swords, said to him one day.
This was enough for Otto's mind: he smiled, grinned, lowered his head in thought, raised it and smiled again, then disappeared into his caravan. He reappeared after a while on the running board, stiff and dressed up with the most colorful and extravagant of his stage uniforms, crammed with medals.
A few hours later a Turkish soldier rushed into the office of Essad Pasha, the commander of the Ottoman garrison in Durres. He had two telegrams and both (apparently) came from Constantinople. The text was the same: "Prince Halim Eddine is coming to Albania and will take command of the troops there". One was signed "The Sultan", the other "The High Command".
And so it was. A few days later the prince appeared with an aide at the gates of Durres, both riding the two white horses of a small circus that had set up tents in a small town in the interior. The population poured into the street to welcome them and celebrate them. They arrived in the center of the city between two wings of a cheering crowd.
And there Otto Witte gave his first order as king. He called Essad Pasha and commanded that all available troops be gathered. "I will declare war on Montenegro and then march on Belgrade". The enthusiasm was such that the Albanian leaders proposed to proceed immediately to the proclamation of the new king.
And so Prince Halim Eddine chose to ascend the throne of Albania with the name of Otto I. The ceremony was attended by local dignitaries and foreign ambassadors and consuls. And no one there and then noticed that there was no delegation of a key power in the Balkans, Austria-Hungary.
King Otto I reigned five days. He had time to gather the demonstrations of loyalty of many heads of the clans of the district to which he distributed precious gold coins with both hands. And he had the opportunity to spend unforgettable moments in his harem with 25 beautiful girls.
But on the fifth day the irreparable happened. A Turkish soldier returned to the office of Essad Pasha with a telegram from Constantinople. This time the real Halime Eddine announced her arrival in the city. The fraud was discovered and the brief reign of Otto I suddenly ceased. Without claiming or claiming, Otto and Max, helped by the girls of the harem, left the city and took to their heels. No one knew anything more about them in all of Albania.
But someone thought about what had happened. Who had passed all those gold coins to a circus magician? And why did the Austrians miss the coronation? From Vienna Alfred Rappaport, one of the best Hapsburg diplomats, head of the Albania office at the Department of the East of the Foreign Ministry, had ordered his family to stay in Durazzo not to be seen, because that coronation was a farce and those two appeared in horse were scammers.
But perhaps it was Rappaport from Vienna who organized everything and passed on to the two the treasure necessary for the company. The result of the short reign of Otto I was the last diplomatic disaster of the Turks: the fool was such that no one ever spoke of an Ottoman prince at the head of the Albanians. And the real Halime Eddine never traveled to Durres. A year later came the Prince of Wied. He ruled longer, six months. But he had much less fun than Otto.
For many years Otto Witte told this story to his curious and skeptical visitors, having fun himself. We never understood how much of truth and how fantastic there was in this fantastic story.
Of course, even today there is a grave in the Ohlsdorf cemetery in Hamburg on which a plaque says: "Otto Witte, former King of Albania".
Newspaper articles about Otto Witte
Otto Witte could not read nor write, but he became ...
"King" of Albania for five days - By a Hoax