So, I have told you about the little known King William I of Albania, but did you know the story of the imposter king that managed to rule for a grand total of five days before doing a runner?
Otto Witte was an acrobat and general eccentric who was born on October 16th1872 in Germany. By the age of eight, Witte had begun to earn money as a magician, lion tamer, and artist. He spent most of his life as a wanderer, travelling across four of the five continents and even learnt to speak Turkish fluently, something that would stand him in good stead in the future. By 1912, he had become a Major in the Ottoman army and as the Ottoman Empire began to disintegrate and Albania became independent, it was decided that assigning a King was the only way to quell civil unrest in the country.
Having a foreign king that was not Muslim was not something that would be accepted by Albanian Muslims so the nephew of the Sultan, Halim Eddine was put forward as a suggestion.
When the news was announced and Witte came across the story in a newspaper, he could not help but notice the resemblance that he had to the Ottoman king-in-waiting, and this sparked a bizarre thought in his mind. He decided that he would masquerade as the King of Albania, drawing on his fluency in Turkish and his overwhelming resemblance to Eddine. Witte then sent a series of telegrams announcing his impending arrival, rented an outfit that was fit for a king, and as any normal person would, he packed his bags and set off for the port of Durres. After arriving in Durres, which was at that time the capital city of Albania, he managed to successfully convince the locals that he was in fact Eddine, and as such, he was crowned as the new king.
Over the course of the next five days, Witte enjoyed the pleasures of a harem, organised military parades, lounged in a royal tent, and managed to declare war on Montenegro (just because he could) before his real identity could be ascertained discovered. The news of this newly appointed king spread all over the world, including, Instanbul. Of course, this news caused a great deal of confusion for the Sultan because he was sure that his nephew, the real Eddine, was in holiday in Vienna at the time.
Fearing that he would be discovered and realising that this longevity as king was probably not going to be very promising, Witte and Schlepsig raided the treasury and escaped the country to Bari with the helping hands of some of the members of the harem.
Several years later, Witte recalled his ventures in a book written by his daughter “Princess” Elfriede Witte, who referred to him as “the greatest adventurer of all time”. Surprisingly, rather than facing criminal charges for his escapades, Witte was even allowed to eventually (after much insistence) have “Former-King of Albania” on his ID card, which also states his birthday as October 16th, 1871. Whilst many people doubt the truth of his story, this ID card, his tomb, and his memoirs remain as evidence that at least some of the story is founded in truth. It is also interesting to note that he died, coincidentally on August 13th, 1958, 45 years to the day after his coronation.
From circus clown to King of the newly formed Albania, and also apparently honorary chief of a pygmy tribe in Africa, it seems that Otto lived a remarkable life. There is much debate over how much is true of this story, but it doesn’t seem hard to believe that many people would want to erase such an event from the history books due to the embarrassment it would bring, and Otto certainly stuck by his story.Follow The Balkanista!