In the fifteenth century his ancestors had developed a European postal system that earned them a great fortune. Soon the postal coaches began accepting paying passengers, so we get the term “taxi” from the family enterprise. For over 300 years the family held a monopoly on the postal system of the Holy Roman Empire.
The 12th-century Italian Dukes de la torre, based near Bergamo, were the ancestors of the Thurn und Taxis dynasty. Emperor Ferdinand III recognized the Thurn und Taxis line as successors to the Torriani dukes. The Italian word Torre (tower) became Thurn, and Tasso (badger) became Taxis, and their family tree dates back to 1445.
During WW II Prince Johannes served in German intelligence and was imprisoned by the British from 1945 to 1947. For the next 35 post-war years he kept a relatively low profile among his royal and noble peers. But after the death of his father in 1982, the prince became head of the Thurn und Taxis family as full inheritor, and he began to spend money like a Vanderbilt. His 210,000 sq. ft. palace was furnished with 400 clocks, maintained by a full-time servant whose only task was to wind them in perpetual rotation. All the windows were washed weekly. Johannes retained 70 liveried footmen and parked 20 cars in his garage. But his idea of a fun night out was to troll the gay bars in Munich.
Imagine then the surprise when he announced he was ready to settle down with an impoverished distant aristocratic cousin, Countess Gloria Schönburg-Glachau, a high school dropout and onetime waitress some 34 years his junior. Upon their marriage she was 20 years old and three months pregnant with their first daughter. A second daughter arrived two years later, but Prince Johannes could not breathe a sigh of relief until Albert, their only son, arrived the next year.
Prior to the birth of a son, Johannes had a pressing inheritance problem. According to tradition, his wife had to be a noble descendant of the Holy Roman Empire who would bear him a son. Otherwise his fortune would be splintered into numerous fractions of its $2.5 billion value. When the prince ran into his distant cousin Gloria in a Munich café, a lightbulb went off. Gloria not only fit the bill of proper lineage, she was willing to accept his sexual preference for men. It was a win-win; she was rescued from poverty, and he would be able to keep his vast estate intact. Young Prince Albert II would be full-inheritor.
The couple lived a life of debauchery, a wild, hedonistic jet-set lifestyle. Gloria drove around town on a lipstick red Harley-Davidson. She sported outrageous clothing, makeup and hairdos, and she proudly bore the moniker “Princess T-N-T.”
Encouraged by her husband, Princess Gloria enjoyed a lifestyle of extreme decadence. In 1986 she spent $20 million on a three-day 60th birthday party for Johannes, crowned by a costume ball held at their St. Emmeram palace, where Gloria appeared as Marie-Antoinette. She ordered a birthday cake lit by 60 pink, phallus-shaped candles, a not-so-subtle hint at her husband’s sexual preference. 500 guests had been flown in on private jets to enjoy days of over-the-top debauchery. Mick Jagger, J. Paul Getty Jr. and Saudi Arabian businessman Adnan Khashoggi were among the guests.
Prince Albert was just seven years old when his father died of complications following two heart surgeries in late 1990. That day Albert became the 12th Prince of Thurn und Taxis and the youngest billionaire in the world. The 6'4" tall bachelor (and to this day still a bachelor) Prince Albert turned 38 years old a few days ago, on June 23. He is an extraordinarily rich business man and professional race car driver (he has crashed a Lamborghini or two). Albert became full-inheritor of the Thurn und Taxis fortune (est. 3 billion dollars) on his 18th birthday in 2001. Should you bump into him during your travels, his correct form of address is His Serene Highness the Prince of Thurn und Taxis (you're welcome).
Princess Gloria stands above her two daughters and son Prince Albert.
Today Princess Gloria spends two months each year at her loft apartment in Chelsea (NYC), enjoys her beach compound in Kenya, keeps an apartment in Rome and has a sprawling lake house in Bavaria. Prince Albert today makes his home at the ancestral Schloss St. Emmeram (below) in Regenburg. At 500 rooms and 210,000 sq. ft., give or take, it is the largest home in Europe still maintained by a princely family. It even contains a throne room and a riding hall for the practice and performance of extreme dressage.
19-century palace addition: bowling lane
Prince Albert von Thurn und Taxis, full inheritor,
photographed in his throne room.
Sources: Gloria, die Fürstin (Peter Seewald, 2004), Wikipedia & Tim Allis for People Magazine (1991)