The Kaiser and cocktails

10 Jan

Here’s a rather rambling anecdote about the occasion on which Kaiser Wilhelm II allegedly sipped his first cocktail. And his second, third and . . .

The opening of the Kiel Canal.

This is a story of how the German emperor was introduced to the American cocktail. The event occurred at Kiel, Jan 19, 1895, when the Kiel canal was opened under the auspices of the German government.

After the maneuvers were concluded, Emperor William visited the various ships and in turn came upon the American fighting machine commanded by Capt. Evans. Formal salutations were passed and the emperor was invited by “Fighting Bob” to take an American meal at the officer’s table. With some evidence of delight, William accepted the invitation, and at the usual hour the host and his imperial guest sat down with the other officers and the service began.

The first luxury that appeared was an American cocktail, which the emperor sniffed and tossed off with joy in his eyes.

“Superb!” he exclaimed, nodding his approval at “Fighting Bob”. “A ‘kochtael’, you say? Delicious! Humph!” The dinner proceeded.

The Kaiser (r.) on board his yacht, the Hohenzollern, with his favourite dog (l.).

In a short time the emperor nudged a lieutenant sitting next to him, and leaning over, whispered something behind his hand.

“Can’t be done,” was the response; “the captain wouldn’t permit. Great stickler for form.”

“But it ought to be done,” breathed the emperor, knowingly.

William turned the matter over in his mind, and finally decided to take the bull by the horns.

“Capt. Evans,” he suddenly exclaimed in the midst of the meal. “I have a proposition to make to you. A proposition that I have no doubt will be acceptable to all of us.”

“Your Majesty,” responded “Fighting Bob,” “what is your pleasure? We listen with respect.”

“I propose,” resumed William, giving his mustache a nervous upward movement, “that we try another American cocktail before proceeding further with this delightful repast.”

“Impossible, sir,” politely replied Capt. Evans. “American etiquette permits only one at dinner. A thousand pardons, but I must stick to the customs. Your health, in wine.”

William accepted the iron rule of his host, and the wine glasses were refilled.

When the conversation turned to naval matters, William remarked that he had heard much of American alacrity. “I am told,” he ventured, “that you can get up steam in the starboard engines in three minutes.”

Capt. Evans touched an electric bell, and nodded knowingly at his majesty. The dinner was resumed, without further comment. In less than the stipulated time an orderly appeared, and, saluting the captain, said: “I have, sir, to inform you that the starboard engines are under full steam pressure, and awaiting further orders.”

Emperor William at once stood up and proposed the health of his host and of the American navy. He was greatly impressed by the astonishing facility with which steam was gotten up, and proposed a personal inspection of the ship. He went into the engine rooms down into the bowels of the great fighting machine, and marveled at the system and its discipline.

SMJ Hohenzollern on the Kiel Canal

Later in the evening Capt. Evans permitted his guest to revert once again to the enticing American cocktail, and it was in the small hour when the emperor of all the Germans boarded his private launch and returned to the imperial yacht.

Later in the day, at daybreak, Capt. Evans orderly informed the “Fighting Bob”—he was then tucked in bed—that Emperor William’s private launch was alongside, and that the emperor sent his respects and wanted one more “kochtael”. “Fighting Bob” dressed hastily, and stepping upon the bridge, lifted his cap and made a low salaam. The Kaiser was evidently in good shape, none the worse for his frequent investigations of the great American “bracer”.

“Captain,” spoke the emperor, making a megaphone out of his hands, “you Americans start with greater rapidity, but I think we Germans finish better than you do.”

Whereupon his majesty came on board again, and more American cocktails were decidedly upon “Fighting Bob” Evans.

The emperor had been up all night.

— “Wanted Another Cocktail”, New York Journal; repr. in Boston Globe, 3 July 1898, p. 15

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