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The Köpenickiade of Wilhelm Voigt
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The Köpenickiade

The word Köpenickiade has come to mean a swindle, a hoax hoax involving impersonation, and stems from the German town Köpenick and a famous incident there back in 1906.

In 1906 a Berliner, Wilhelm Voigt, had been a convict for many long years, before he was hired by a on old shoemaker, Hilbrecht, in the town of Wismar. Voigt behaved and worked very well, and was reliable, trusted, and industrious, the old shoemaker tells. It was as if Voigt belonged to the family.

But after three months the police in Wismar illegally ordered him to leave the town, because he had been convicted before. The next months Voigt wandered from his old home in Tilsit to Marineburg, Graudenz, Berlin and Potsdam, without finding suitable work anywhere, as his health was poor. At last he moved in with his sister in Berlin, where he was employed in a shoe factory. However, the police drove him away once again, because he had been convicted earlier.

Voigt came to understand he was persecuted, and that honest ways of making a living were barred to him, and that the town hall of Köpenick south-east of Berlin seemed fit for procuring some money. He then bought used uniform parts, and on the night of 16 Oktober 1906, in a captain's uniform, he stopped ten soldiers and ordered them to come with him on the train to Köpenick. He made a stop on the way to buy beer to them.

When he came to the town hall, he claimed to act on orders, and with his commanding voice ordered the soldiers to put the mayor and other local authorities in jail. He also ordered the treasurer to give him cash, and Voigt got almost 4000 mark. Voigt now sent the public servants and some of the soldiers to the police station at Berlins Neue Wache. He himself disappeared from the place with the cash in several large bags.

The story does not end there, however. An old accomplice betrayed him, and Voigt was arrested after eleven days at large. He was brought to a telling trial, where the judge for many good reasons referred to him as a victim of the state, went up to Voigt and wished him God's blessing and that he might get through the time in jail in good health.

He came out of jail two years later, on 16 august 1908, pardoned by the Kaiser himself. Soon a film that starred him was made. Thousands or millions of Germans laughed of the credulous soldiers and public servants, and the story was known world-wide. Voigt became a celebrity and quite a hero. A rich lady secured him a pension, he wrote his memoirs, and could make a living on telling of his life and of selling postcards with his photo on them.

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