this is your captain speaking…..

The story of the bogus “Captain of Kopenick” made nearly all of Germany rock with laughter.


Between 1864 and 1891, Wilhelm Voigt was sentenced to prison for a total of 25 years for thefts and forgery. The longest sentence was a conviction for 15 years for theft. He was released on 12 February 1906.

Voigt then hoboed from place to place until he went to live with his sister in Rixdorf near Berlin but police expelled him as undesirable, based solely on the fact that he was a former prisoner. Officially he left for Hamburg, although he remained in Berlin as an unregistered resident.


On 16 October 1906 Voigt was ready for his next caper. Previously he had purchased parts of used captain’s uniforms from different shops and tested their effect on soldiers.  Voigt took the uniform out of baggage storage, put it on and went to the local army barracks, hailed four grenadiers and a sergeant and told them to come with him. Indoctrinated to obey officers without question, they followed. He dismissed the commanding sergeant to report to his superiors and later commandeered 6 more soldiers from a shooting range. Then he took a train to Köpenick, east of Berlin, occupied the local city hall with his soldiers and told them to cover all exits. He told the local police to “care for law and order” and to “prevent calls to Berlin for one hour” at the local post office.


He had the treasurer von Wiltberg and mayor Georg Langerhans arrested, supposedly for suspicions of crooked bookkeeping, and confiscated 4002 marks and 37 pfennigs – with a receipt, of course (he signed it with his former jail director’s name). Then he commandeered two carriages and told the grenadiers to take the arrested men to the Neue Wache in Berlin for interrogation. He told the remaining guards to stand in their places for half an hour and then left for the train station. He later changed into civilian clothes and disappeared.


Voigt was arrested on 26 October and on 1st December sentenced to four years in prison for forgery, impersonating an officer and wrongful imprisonment. However, much of the public opinion was on his side and Kaiser Wilhelm II pardoned him in 1908. There are some claims that even the Kaiser had been amused by the incident, referring to him as an amiable scoundrel, and being pleased with the authority and feelings of reverence that his military obviously commanded in the general population.


The English were also amused, seeing it as provided confirmation of their stereotypes about Germans. In an October 1906 issue, the editors of The Illustrated London News would note gleefully:

For years the Kaiser has been instilling into his people reverence for the omnipotence of militarism, of which the holiest symbol is the German uniform. Offenses against this fetish have incurred condign punishment. Officers who have not considered themselves saluted in due form have drawn their swords with impunity on offending privates.


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35 CommentsLeave a comment

  1. As primo commentatero, I’d like to report that the guy in the last photo did not have offending privates.

    • I’d like a closer inspection

      • you’ll have to talk to his drill instructor…

      • Primo commentatero or not, I have far more years experience and must insist that I perform this inspection!

  2. You have to admire his balls. And Wilhelm Voigt gets my vote of approval as well.

    • Oh I’m a big admirer of balls Miss Scarlet

  3. Amazing what you can get people to do if you’re seen as an authority figure and they’re habitually deferential. Like those psychology experiments where white-coated researchers ask volunteers to give innocent victims electric shocks. They invariably obey.

    “Have drawn their swords with impunity on offending privates.” Ouch, sounds painful.

    • The Stanford Prison Experiment was also a shocker

      • When I first learned about those experiments (in a psychology class; I think the professor was trying to vaccinate us as well as educate us), I noticed that all of the experiment subjects were men and comforted myself with the idea that women would *never* do that.

        Then Abu Grahib happened, and I got a lot less smug (also, I looked up those experiments again, and it turns out that Milgram tried his electric-shock experiment with women and got the same results as with men).

      • Ummm… this may not be clear from my previous comment, but I thoroughly enjoyed this hilarious story about a brazen con artist.

  4. It is amazing how far you can get with the right clothes and an attitude of command! I’m sure the soldiers were happy to follow their new leader, no doubt what he was doing was far more interesting than whatever they were doing when he commandeered them!

  5. It would have been double impressive if he’d inpired the grenadiers to stand on desks and say, “Oh Captain, my Captain.”

    • That was the original title I’d given to this post, but it was used recently at Kono’s so I thought I’d better change it.

  6. Hilarious. You have to give the man 11/10 for chutzpah!

  7. Security guards seem to think we should obey them because of their uniform too.

    I’m sure the Mayor and his Treasurer were up to no good anyway, sounds a lot like NSW politics to me and I think we need a Voigt down here urgently.

    Good post!

    The King

  8. Oooh, that first guy is creepy. Ew!

  9. Well I suppose the fellow showed a respectable adroitness is the application of military command, deployment, authority, deceit and strategy. Perhaps he would have led Germany to victory in WW 1. Seems certainly more competent than the Kaiser.

  10. he went to an awful lot of trouble to pull that off. if he were a middle aged woman, all he’d have to do is use his powers of ‘invisibility’ to rob banks. that’s how i’m gonna do it…

  11. *Bows head in admiration* …. [and for you as well of course young Nursey]

  12. I worked with a girl named Voigt and when I asked if she was related she claimed never to have heard of him.
    Whether it’s “balls” or “chutzpah” he had it in spades!

    • Sounds like you’d heard of him before Dinah. I hadn’t, but I bet every German born since has. I read somewhere that they even teach his story as part of the school curriculum.

  13. And Hitler probably had him executed if he wasn’t dead already, Hitler was none to fond of “Lovable Scamps”

  14. I was intrigued by the photo of the statues so googled it to find out that it was a – “bronze sculpture of a dancing couple”

    Dancing ???

    You call that dancing?

    I’ll have some of that !!!

    • Yes they dance differently in Rixdorf 😉

  15. I had to look up “condign.” 🙂 Well done. I’ve learned at least 2 things today!

    • I had to look it up too Nicole.

  16. Oh nicely done indeed.

    • Thanks TT…. oh hang on a minute… you meant Voigt didn’t you?

  17. As always, I marvel at your writing but more so at your research. I’d love to know more about how you dredge up these marvelous morsels. Reminds me of the hoaxey astronaut that made it to tea with the Queen.

    • I read a helluva lot!

  18. Yet another (gim)cracked story – this one deserves to be made into a movie.

  19. LOL that is SO German! Chust followink orders, zey are.

  20. Much to my astonishment I discovered one of my photos on your blog. You know it is not legal to publish my photos on your blog, I guess? You could have asked me or *at least* given me credit for it!

    • Eva, sorry you are upset. If you click on the word Rixdorf directly beneath the photo you will see there was already a link to your site. If that is not sufficient credit I’m happy to take the photo down altogether.

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