The Curious Case of the Kaiser and the Cones

The Curious Case of the Kaiser and the Cones

I’ve been in Germany for a little over a year and there’s one, completely random, thing that I’ve noticed as I’ve been travelling around the country. That is, they don’t seem to use road cones here. It doesn’t matter whether you’re driving down the autobahn or a city street, if you see road works they have these “lollypop stick” shaped objects marking the road hazards.

It was shortly after this I also noticed that when one buys ice cream here it often comes in a bowl, if you’re eating in, or a wee paper cup. This, understandably, got me wondering whether the two things were connected. So I started doing a little bit of research and discovered that the two things were very much linked. They were linked by the humour of working class Germans and the pride of an aristocrat.

Now, to trace the German aversion to the use of conical objects we have to travel way back in time to the turn of the 20th Century. It was at this time that Italian labourers were moving northwards into Germany and the Netherlands, attracted by the large scale industrial projects offering abundant work opportunities. As the labours moved then so did the Italian ice cream makers who had, earlier in the 19th Century, brought their skills to the Hapsburg Empire, and Vienna in particular.

Now, as everyone outside of Germany knows, the natural receptacle for a portion of ice cream is a cone made of wafer. So it was that in the early years of the 20th Century German workers were first exposed to the wonders of ice cream and the marvellous delivery mechanism that is the cone.

At the time of ice cream’s debut the German Empire was ruled by Kaiser Wilhelm II. Wilhelm was neither more popular with the German people nor more unpopular than other German rulers. However it is well known that powerful figures are often the targets for humour. Lampooning them is a form of social levelling and carries on to this day with celebrities and rulers being satirised and ridiculed.

As the popularity of ice cream served in a cone increased it became a common, and hilarious, act for a person to, upon finishing their chilled delicacy, place the now empty cone upon their head and do a little dance singing.

Shau mich an,

Ich bin der Kaiser!

Look at me,

I am the Kaiser

Which is, clearly, a hilarious reference to the habit of the Kaiser, and other German nobility, of wearing utterly hilarious hats with wee cones on top to display their masculinity.

We can clearly see the similarity in the above photograph.

Eventually word of this mocking behaviour reached the Kaiser and, as it most understandable, he was outraged. In his rage he summarily passed an emergency law not only outlawing the imitation of the Kaiserly hat upon pain of bureaucracy, but also completely outlawing the cone as a shape in its entirety. This led to immense amounts of restructuring, particularly of church steeples whose spires were seen as being a little too ‘coney’. See the image below for the result of this remodelling.

So, there you have it. The Curious Case of the Kaiser and the Cones. An interesting piece of little known German history for you. Tune in next week to find out about Horrible Hans and the History of the Handschuh.