Believe it or not, our May Gin of the Month, Windspiel, has Frederick the Great to thank for both its name and its distinctive doggy branding.
At first glance, the 18th century King of Prussia, best remembered as a fearsome master of military tactics, might not be the most obvious inspiration for a premium gin brand - let alone a cute canine emblem.
But scratch beneath the surface and a very different picture of this famed and feared monarch emerges – a man who grew up in fear of his tyrannical father, who was deeply interested in philosophy, art and music, who loved animals and the countryside - and who has a special connection with the potatoes that form the heart of Windspiel Gin. Here are four of our favourite unexpected Frederick facts.
1. He was known as The Potato King
Without Frederick, Windspiel's deliciously smooth potato-based spirit might not even be possible. For while the potato is an integral part of German cuisine today, back in the 18th century, the majority of Prussia’s (and indeed Europe’s) lower classes viewed the vegetable with some suspicion.
There were various superstitions about the crop and beliefs it was not fit for human consumption, that it was tasteless and even poisonous. But in a period of widespread threats of famine, the potato in fact offered a cheap, easily cultivated and nutritious food source.
Frederick the Great was greatly interested in improving agriculture and land use and spotted this opportunity, but it wasn’t easy to convince his subjects. In response to his 1774 order for people to grow potatoes as protection against famine, the town of Kolberg replied: "The things have neither smell nor taste, not even the dogs will eat them, so what use are they to us?"
Instead, Frederick used a bit of reverse psychology, planting a field of potato plants on royal land which he heavily guarded against thieves. Nearby peasants assumed that anything worth guarding was worth stealing and snuck into the field and stole the plants for their home gardens (exactly as Frederick had planned).
His potato-popularising efforts earned Frederick the title Der Kartoffelkönig (The Potato King) and, to this day, visitors to his grave leave potatoes on his tombstone as a mark of respect.
2. He loved dogs
So what about that Windspiel dog then? Well, Frederick was a great animal lover, founding Germany’s first veterinary school and, very unusually for an aristocratic man at the time, deploring hunting as cruel and uneducated. In particular, he was devoted to his pet Italian greyhounds, whose company he increasingly preferred to that of humans. When one of his pets, Biche, died, he wrote a heartfelt letter to his sister, Wilhemina:
“I have had a domestic loss which has completely upset my philosophy […] I was ashamed that a dog could so deeply affect my soul; but the sedentary life I lead and the faithfulness of this poor creature had so strongly attached me to her, her suffering so moved me, that, I confess, I am sad and afflicted. Does one have to be hard? Must one be insensitive? I believe that anyone capable of indifference towards a faithful animal is unable to be grateful towards an equal, and that, if one must choose, it is best to be too sensitive than too hard.”
Frederick expressed wish that, come his own death, he be buried alongside his beloved pets (a wish that, for various reasons, wasn’t to be fulfilled for another two centuries after he died).
As he lay on his deathbed, he was kept company by his favourite dog who, despite the warm night, was seen to be shaking. Frederick’s last recorded words were in fact “Cover the dog, he’s shivering.” After following these instructions and retiring from the night, Frederick’s servant returned in the morning to find the king dead. It’s claimed that the clock in his room stopped at the exact moment of his death – and it has never been wound since.
3. He played the flute
Frederick had many diverse interests spanning everything from agriculture to philosophy – and including a particular talent for music. Not only was he a patron of music, commissioning various works (C.P.E Bach, one of J.S. Bach’s sons, was one of his court musicians), but he was also a gifted musician and accomplished flautist. He also composed an impressive 100 sonatas for flute along with four whole symphonies.
When he met J.S. Bach in 1747, he gave him a short musical theme he had written (now known as The King’s Theme), which Bach used as the basis for a series of compositions called The Musical Offering. It’s also claimed that Frederick introduced Bach to the piano, which was a newly invented instrument at the time. Frederick’s own compositions are still highly regarded and played to this day.
4. He has an enormous shopping mall named after him
Not so much about Frederick the man this one, but we think it’s a fun fact nonetheless! The settlement of King of Prussia, Pennsylvania lies on the outskirts of US city of Philadelphia. It actually took its name from an 18th century tavern, the King of Prussia Inn – an establishment thought to have been named as such to entice the custom of German and Prussian soldiers fighting in the Continental Army against the British during the American War of Independence.
At nearly 3 million square feet, the King of Prussia Mall, also located in the town, is the United States’ second-largest shopping mall in terms of space and size, adding a new (and wholly unexpected) dimension to Frederick’s ‘greatness’.