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A right royal conversation

An interview with Roland Berger and Prince Luitpold

There’s this wonderful movie scene with Leonardo DiCaprio. He is standing on the bow of the Titanic and thinking about his destination, New York. He yells out over the ocean waves: “I’m the king of the world!” Professor Berger, when was the last time you felt like a king?
Roland Berger:
That rarely happens to me. If it does, it’s when I’m traveling, such as on the Great Wall of China. That was a really special experience for me, especially as I was in the relatively privileged position of not having to share the moment with lots of tourists. Or when the mayor of Pudong was showing me around the Shanghai Tower, which at the time was the tallest skyscraper in the world. When you’re up in the clouds looking down at the city from above, it’s very exhilarating.

And what about you, Prince Luitpold? With your background, you must feel a little bit like a king every day?
Prinz Luitpold:
Not at all. How does a king feel, anyway? I think people have the wrong idea about this. We should actually think of most kings as being tormented. They were constantly surrounded by their court, which meant they had hardly any personal space. It was perhaps a bit different for Ludwig II. He managed to free himself from all that, but he paid the price because it meant that people no longer understood him. Any king who stayed close to his people must have had a rather difficult life.
Roland Berger: I agree. This situation is not dissimilar to that of many CEOs today. They are surrounded by people round the clock, have a packed schedule seven days a week, and are basically on 24-hour standby. This kind of straightjacket means they have very little room to maneuver.

Intimate discussion at the Bavarian Court
Roland Berger, Stefan Schmortte, Ingo Wilhelm, and Prince Luitpold (from left to right)

All the same, Prince Luitpold, what was it like growing up as the great-grandson of Ludwig III, Bavaria’s last reigning monarch? Did you have to help out at Leutstetten Castle? Set the table and so on?
Prinz Luitpold:
When I was a child in Leutstetten Castle, so when Crown Prince Rupprecht was still alive, there was a court of sorts—a marshal, a chauffeur, a steward, and five or six kitchen staff. But later on, after my grandfather died, we lived in a normal household. One room for my parents and one for me. That’s it. Of course I had to help out. And it was no problem at all. It was more difficult at school.

In what way
Prinz Luitpold:
Having a name like mine causes a few problems. It’s not always easy. When I was at the elementary school in Kaltenberg, which was the most modern in Bavaria at the time, we had a visit from the Minister for Education. We were all introduced to him individually. He asked me my name, so I said: Luitpold. And when he asked me again, I repeated Luitpold. To which he said: “Stupid boy, he doesn’t even know his last name.” But what was I supposed to say? Prince of Bavaria? Last names can be a bit of a problem in families like mine.

Professor Berger, what were your nicknames at school?
Roland Berger:
There were a few people who tried calling me Rolli, but that didn’t last long. My name doesn’t really lend itself to good nicknames.

You started your first business when you were a student: a laundry, which you sold for 600,000 Deutschmarks once you graduated. So, from shirt-washer to practically a millionaire. Can anyone still do that these days?
Roland Berger:
Maybe not just anyone, but certainly anyone who really wants to. In today’s digital world, there are even more possibilities than there were then. There are a number of opportunities for entrepreneurs, more than ever before. Incidentally, my mother underwrote the debts I incurred for the laundry. If the business hadn’t worked out, our family would have gone broke.

Management consultant Roland Berger and Prince Luitpold of Bavaria having a royally good time (photo: Robert Brembeck)

Prince Luitpold, you’re the entrepreneur in the House of Wittelsbach …
Prinz Luitpold:
... Only a very small entrepreneur...
… but even so, you’re the head of the Nymphenburg Porcelain Manufactory and owner of the Kaltenberg Castle Brewery. What do you think? Does everyone in Germany have equal opportunities today?
Prinz Luitpold:
Among lawyers, the principle of equality is described as follows: Everyone is equally unequal. In other words, everyone has great opportunities, perhaps even more than ever before, but not everyone has the same talents.
Roland Berger: And, unfortunately, they don’t all have the same opportunities. Every OECD and Pisa study tells us that there is no country in the world in which children’s futures are so influenced by their social background as here in Germany. This is why my foundation supports talented and motivated children who are disadvantaged by their home situation. These children can really suffer. It’s fantastic if a child does well despite these complications. When you provide these kids with the proper support, they feel like they’re being taken seriously for the very first time. We currently have around 700 scholarship holders in Germany. Three hundred have already passed their high school diplomas, with an excellent average grade of 1.6. I think the German average last year was 2.6.

Prince Luitpold, you’ve basically been treated with respect since the day you were born. So, let me ask you the opposite question. Have you sometimes found your social background to be a burden?
Prinz Luitpold:
Many, many times. During the student riots, if you had a name like mine and ran into a communist teacher, one of those guys with a green sweater and a red scarf, the Royal Highness thing wasn’t so great any more. Or at the East German border, the border guard would look at my passport and say: Pull over to the side. I always had to pull over and wait for hours on end. You just have to live with that, and I’m not complaining. A name like mine can work both ways: you get both respect and contempt.
Roland Berger: I experienced that, too, later on, when my name was better known. Some people think you’re a monster.
Prinz Luitpold: In my family, we were told: Always treat people politely and decently, and never be arrogant. We never had the feeling that we were something special. We believe our role is to serve the people, not the other way around.

The principle of noblesse oblige. Is that just an empty phrase these days?
Prinz Luitpold:
No, it’s more than just an empty phrase. And I also believe that true nobility differs from adopted nobility. From people who conduct themselves badly. Nobility defines a tradition, a commitment as it were, and also a strong emotional bond with a country or region. The main thing is to have a certain amount of humility.

It’s not just nobility that brings certain obligations, but also entrepreneurship. In what way?
Roland Berger:
It is the job of an entrepreneur to offer good products or services on the best possible terms and to run a profitable company. Entrepreneurs generate wealth for society by creating jobs. They have to ensure their investors are adequately remunerated, otherwise they won’t find any more. They also have to abide by our value system: they must always act with decency and integrity, and be loyal to their employees, business partners, and stakeholders.

This image has been tarnished over recent years thanks to the financial crisis, the diesel scandal, and so on. What’s going on at the top of the pile?
Prinz Luitpold:
These scandals are deplorable, but they are not representative of our economy as a whole. By establishing a social market economy in Germany, we have laid down the marker for the world, and there is still no English translation. It is a uniquely German achievement. Responsibility for other people is implicit in the idea of a social market economy. It is a key element of German business, and particularly our family businesses.
They account for 75 percent of the jobs in our country and don’t tend to think in terms of shareholder value and short-term profit. If this kind of company gets into trouble and asks the bank for a loan, the company CEO puts his own house up as security. It would be a shame if these small and medium-sized enterprises were to fall into the hands of hedge fund managers because of some ill-thought-out inheritance tax on company assets. Different rules would then come into play very quickly, to the detriment of all employees.
Roland Berger: The whole diesel affair was really stupid, no two ways about it. The idea that you could get away with defrauding the American state was just idiotic. And let’s not forget that the diesel scandal was caused by a company that is more than 20 percent owned by the state of Lower Saxony. I’m not trying to apportion blame, but the greatest threat to integrity and risk of descent into corruption always seems to come from organizations that operate on the borderline between state benefaction and private efficiency.

„Bier is my core business. We now produce under license in 15 different countries.– Prinz Luitpold

Prince Luitpold, the Nymphenburg Porcelain Manufactory makes you something of a representative of the old economy ...
Roland Berger:
The very old economy.
Prinz Luitpold: Indeed. We still produce our porcelain the same way as in 1747, the year the manufactory was founded.

These days, who wants to buy a porcelain plate that takes 250 hours to make and costs 2,000 euros or more?
Prinz Luitpold:
Well, first of all, beer is actually my core business. We now produce under license in 15 different countries, including Indonesia and Mongolia. But to answer your question: We have 70 employees in Nymphenburg, including craftsmen who had to undergo ten years of training to really learn their art. This is why a few months ago, UNESCO awarded our porcelain painting operations Intangible Cultural Heritage status. We’re not mass-producers and fortunately there are people who seem to appreciate that fact. When people begin to gather wealth, they start spending money on clothes, watches, and jewelry. Then comes the car. And then the second car. Then they buy a house. And then they invite guests for meals served on cheap plates from the department store. Which is a bit embarrassing, isn’t it? By the way, we’re not talking here about the kind of floral crockery our great-grandparents used. We also manufacture extremely contemporary designs, such as the Light Scape flatware by Ruth Gurvich. And we produce limited-series artworks, such as the recent collection with Damien Hirst. It sold like hotcakes.

Have you bought any pieces, Mr. Berger?
Roland Berger:
We’ve had Nymphenburg porcelain at home for years now...
Prinz Luitpold: … But you definitely need more.
Roland Berger: … For sure, but as an art collector, I prefer to buy a Damien Hirst to hang on the wall.

Let’s talk about Bavaria. Chancellor Angela Merkel once said in Munich: “I always like to come to Bavaria because by six o’clock in the evening you’ve been sitting comfortably with a beer for some time yet you still manage to be the state with the best economic performance. I don’t know how you do it.” Do you have an answer, gentlemen?
Roland Berger:
I think Chancellor Merkel has been taken in by Bavaria’s tourist adverts. The reality is completely different. Agriculture, which still accounted for 25 percent of our gross domestic product in 1950, now accounts for just over one percent. It is our industrial policy that has made us successful. Systematic investment in research, development, and education. In Munich, for example, we now have a biotech industry sector which, together with the one in Mannheim, is one of the biggest around. I don’t believe these people are all off drinking beer at six o’ clock.

”When I was a child, the Gestapo would come to our house every six weeks.“ – Roland Berger

That’s certainly the case here in Bavaria, because people have a strong sense of connection with the region and feel a real sense of wellbeing. Our great good fortune is that we grew up after the Second World War.
Prinz Luitpold:
That’s certainly the case here in Bavaria, because people have a strong sense of connection with the region and feel a real sense of wellbeing. Our great good fortune is that we grew up after the Second World War.
Roland Berger: Yes, we’ve now had over 70 years of peace and freedom. I’m very grateful for that, especially as I can still remember when things were very different. When I was a child, the Gestapo would come to our house every six weeks. My father was arrested several times. You never forget something like that, your parents being scared. This is also one of the reasons why my foundation awards a prize for human dignity every year. It goes to people who work for freedom, tolerance, and human rights around the world.

Prince Luitpold, the Nazi era was also a very dark chapter for your family ...
Prinz Luitpold:
... Members of my family were arrested one by one, whenever they managed to find them. Especially after the Stauffenberg assassination attempt, because Crown Prince Rupprecht had been in contact with the Stauffenberg family in Italy just before that. Word of the meeting somehow got out. Duke Albrecht and his children were arrested in Budapest. They caught my mother when she was at Lake Garda, suffering from typhoid fever. And then at some point they all ended up together in a concentration camp. They wanted to celebrate Christmas anyway, so they made things themselves. Duke Franz of Bavaria puts out a nativity scene in Nymphenburg Castle during the festive season, and this still reminds us of this time. The cardboard box in which he keeps the crib bears the words: Oranienburg concentration camp, Christmas 1944, made by Mama. Duke Albrecht could never enjoy eating fried food after his time in the concentration camp, because they burned the corpses of the prisoners nearby. It put him off for life. Unfortunately, humans also have the capacity for evil.

Prince Luitpold, when you look at neighboring European countries where royal families still enjoy authority and rank, such as Belgium, Denmark, and Spain, do you sometimes feel a sense of yearning? After all, your family ruled the state of Bavaria for almost 740 years.
Prinz Luitpold:
738 years, to be precise. That’s a record in Europe. But no, we are doing very well with our Federal Republic of Germany. However, one can ask oneself whether, in principle, a democracy in the shape of a monarchy or a republic offers the best state system. If you look at a monarchy from the point of view of the separation of powers—a system in which the head of state remains outside party control, then this can also be good for a democracy.
Roland Berger: Which, of course, depends very much on the reputation of the royal family concerned. The Windsors seem to me to be doing everything right in this respect. The British royal family has maintained an excellent reputation to this day and has managed, so far, to emerge from every scandal unscathed. Even the death of Princess Diana, who died in Paris under rather dubious moral circumstances. The Windsors really know how to market their country
Prinz Luitpold: … And at no cost. The television rights to broadcast royal events generate more money than it costs the state to maintain the royal family. The Windsors practically work for free.

In your own family, Ludwig II was the real rock star among the Wittelsbachers. What do you think of his mysterious death in Lake Starnberg? Murder or suicide?
Prinz Luitpold:
It certainly wasn’t murder. I think that’s out of the question. Whether it was suicide or some kind of cardiovascular problem, it’s no longer possible to say. When you read what was done to him after his death, it’s enough to give you the shivers. His head was cut open, his brain removed and examined. His heart was taken to Altötting to be with the hearts of all the Bavarian rulers of the past 500 years. No, I don’t believe it was murder. In his youth, Ludwig II was an excellent swimmer. But at the time of his death, he weighed 140 kilos, wasn’t fit, and the water was cold. Cardiovascular failure seems the most likely explanation to me.

The age of the fairy-tale king is long gone. Yet most little girls still dream of being a princess. Why is that?
Roland Berger:
Maybe it’s the kind of art and culture that has been associated with kings for centuries. Girls are attracted to that kind of pomp and pageantry. Fairy tales also have an effect—the story of Cinderella and the life of Sisi. Girls have a vivid imagination.

Prince Luitpold, will you tell us what your wife said when you asked her to marry you?
Prinz Luitpold:
Well, what else could she have said? Yes, of course!

Roland Berger

Roland Berger, born in 1937, set up his own management consultancy firm in Munich in 1967 and became one of the most sought-after advisors in Germany for both businesspeople and politicians. Today, the global strategy consulting firm is owned by around 220 partners and has 2,400 employees. Berger himself is still closely associated with the company as Honorary Chairman of the Supervisory Board. His foundation, which he established in 2008 with a donation of 50 million euros from his own private fortune, supports gifted children from socially disadvantaged families and presents the annual Roland Berger Human Dignity Award, which is worth one million euros.

Prince Luitpold

Luitpold Rupprecht Heinrich, Prince of Bavaria, born 1951, is a great-grandson of Ludwig III, the last reigning king of Bavaria. He is a qualified lawyer and owner of both the Nymphenburg Porcelain Manufactory and the Kaltenberg Castle Brewery. Today, he exports his beer to 60 countries worldwide and has issued licenses to 15 countries, including India, Mongolia, and Indonesia, granting the right to produce the royal beer in accordance with traditional German brewing practices. Once a year, Prince Luitpold organizes the Kaltenberg Knights’ Tournament in the grounds of the castle—a historical medieval stunt show that regularly attracts more than 80,000 visitors.