Usually, when you hear about a German ruler trying to create an army of super-soldiers, it's time to push the Captain America button behind the glass that says "break in case of Nazis." But there was a king who, long before Third Reich's Aryan ideas, turned his desire for tall, Germanic warriors into an obsession. Or, to be more specific, a fetish.
King Frederik William I of Prussia, nicknamed the "Soldier King," was predictably obsessed with soldiers. Specifically, real big' uns. From the start of his reign in the early 18th century, he started to assemble a personal regiment called the Grand Grenadiers of Potsdam, better known to his German subjects as the Lange Kerle, or "Long Dudes." The only requirement to join the giant guards was that a man was to be at least six foot two inches, which was no small feat in a time when the average malnourished peasant measured somewhere between two and three large turnips.
The upside of being part of the regiment was that the pay (like the height) was well above-average. The downside was that you didn't have much of a choice. So obsessed was King Frederick William I in his quest to collect the tallest soldiers in the world that he would often resort to pressing every remotely tall Prussian into his grenadiers. He'd even mark unusually big babies by having them wear his iconic red shawl for later pickup. But his quest to catch 'em all grew too big to contain within his borders. He would often resort to kidnapping foreign giants, including a 7'1" Irishman and a remarkably tall Austrian diplomat visiting his court. Eventually, many foreign leaders started cutting out the middle-kidnappers and sent Frederic William I their tallest soldiers in an attempt to score easy political points.
But for the 2,000 giants who had (forcibly) entered the service of the Grand Grenadiers of Potsdam, the giant experiment did not stop there. No matter how tall the soldier, Frederik William I wanted him to be a bit taller. Each was given a special cap, a ridiculous miter of 18 inches to further elongate the Long Dudes. They also were forced to marry the tallest Prussian women available, a bit of early eugenics to enlarge the chances of more mini-boss sized soldiers down the line. And as if that wasn't forcible enough, the king also had them routinely 'tortured,' stretched on a special rack in the hopes of them gaining more precious inches.
So what was Frederik William I's plan with his battalion of massive super-soldiers? To create a Prussian race of giants? To take over all of Europe? To finally beat the Swedish military in their yearly basketball rivalry game? Nothing so aggressive. It seems the king just really, really liked having big strong men around. "The most beautiful girl or woman in the world would be a matter of indifference to me, but tall soldiers—they are my weakness," he once admitted to a French ambassador. As his playthings, the giant grenadiers never even saw any action during his lifetime. Instead, they were restricted to parading around his palace so the king could train, inspect, and draw them to his heart's content. And not to kink shame, but I'm sure that when his largest soldiers stood to attention, so did Frederik William I's littlest one.
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Top Image: Public Domain