It is 22 years since Her Royal Highness Hereditary Princess Sophie and His Serene Highness Hereditary Prince Alois exchanged their eternal marriage vows. 22 years during which the Duchess bore four children, became involved in social activities and won over the hearts and minds of the population. In this interview, the Bavarian-born Duchess speaks about her life and her commitment to creating a better world. Listening in to the conversation: her loyal companion, dachshund Tipsy.
Interview: Niki Eder · Photos: Roland Korner
Royal Highness, you grew up in Bavaria, went to school and studied there. After so many years living in Liechtenstein, do you still feel Bavarian, or have you become a true-blue Liechtensteiner?
H.R.H. Hereditary Princess Sophie of Liechtenstein: Bavaria will always be part of me, naturally. But over the years, Liechtenstein has increasingly taken over.
With your busy schedule, do you still find the time to visit family and friends in Bavaria?
I make an effort to nurture contact with my relations, of course and with a family as big as mine, this is a major undertaking. Regrettably, due to time constraints, I have not been able to keep in touch with my old school friends.
Do you converse with your parents and siblings in Bavarian dialect?
My mother comes from Sweden, and for this reason alone we never spoke Bavarian at home. So I can entirely understand when my children say to me today: Please dont talk Liechtenstein dialect, Mama. It sounds terrible. This is exactly what we used to say to our mother.
Have you been able to preserve any Bavarian traditions at Vaduz Castle?
No typical Bavarian traditions spring to mind. But we do sometimes like eating Bavarian weisswurst, or roast pork. We are fond of drinking beer, although we are also partial to a good wine.
And what do you most like about your new home country?
There are many aspects. During the first three years of our marriage, my husband and I lived in London, where it is perfectly normal for men to work until late in the night. After this period, I particularly valued being able to live in Liechtenstein, where a greater emphasis is placed upon family life. I also like being able to leave the house and finding myself directly in the natural environment. I love the mountains. I enjoy the mild climate and even the foehn wind, at least when its not blowing too strongly. And not least, of course, I am very fond of the people in Liechtenstein.
What precisely do you value about the population of Liechtenstein?
They are very no-nonsense, open and uncomplicated. And I admire their efficiency and their inventive spirit. The latter is really impressive. I always mention this when I am confronted abroad with the popular misconception that Liechtenstein only has banks.
If you had to recommend a place of interest in Liechtenstein to tourists, that they really shouldnt miss, what would it be?
Steg and Malbun are certainly worth a visit. Steg is also very interesting in terms of settlement history. For those who are not afraid of heights, I also recommend the Fürstensteig Trail. Unfortunately, I am no longer able to walk the Trail myself.
No longer able?
I went on the Fürstensteig Trail only on one occasion. But when I looked down I realised that I really should avoid it in future. Since then, I personally prefer circular hiking trails such as the Princess Gina Path.
At the beginning of 2006, you founded the Sophie of Liechtenstein Foundation for Women and Children, which aims to offer women who become unintentionally pregnant a positive perspective for themselves and for their children. What moved you to get involved in this project?
During my time in London, it became clear to me how simple and carefree my life really is. I had a great deal of contact with cosmopolitan women, and we often discussed the situation for pregnant women, as well as the differences between our various countries. On the basis of these discussions, I began to reflect upon the challenges facing all those women who do not live in such easy circumstances those women who live alone or struggle with financial worries. It was these thoughts that eventually prompted me to set up the Foundation.
The Foundation supports the pregnancy advice centre schwanger.li. What sort of problems does this aim to address?
Initially, the Foundation concentrated on conflicts associated with pregnancy. Over the years, however, our field of support has become much broader. Essentially, we support women who find themselves in difficult situations. This means we also address topics such as miscarriage, burdens or stress during pregnancy. In addition, there is great demand for the clarification of social law aspects. The sexual education centre love.li holds approx. 200 seminars per annum, and has proven very popular.
The pregnancy advice centre schwanger.li maintains offices in Schaan, Buchs as well as Feldkirch. Why did you decide to open offices in all three countries?
We opened the first psychosocial advice centres in Schaan and in Feldkirch. The reason for this is that I felt women would find it easier to contact us if our bureaus were also located in neighbouring countries. Otherwise there is always a risk that they might bump into neighbours. For Liechtenstein citizens, Feldkirch simply offers greater anonymity. The advice centre in Buchs was added a few years later.
How many women contact the advice centres per annum?
About 700 women and couples from the region came to us for advice last year. This also includes individuals with an immigration background, as well as a small number of female refugees. Depending upon the particular circumstances, we also provide women with financial support.
The Sophie of Liechtenstein Foundation is not your only social commitment. In May 2015, you took over the Chair of the Liechtenstein Red Cross (LRC) from Princess Marie. Three generations of Princely women have now been in charge of this organisation. What have been your most impressive experiences to date?
There have already been a number of memorable occasions. The work at the Red Cross is very intensive, but also above all very rewarding and positive. For example, the charitable organisation Charitas contacted us last autumn with a proposal to make a joint appeal for donations for Syria a plan to which we were pleased to agree. The positive reaction and generosity of the Liechtenstein population was amazing. I was also very impressed by the 32nd International Red Cross and Red Crescent Conference in Geneva, in which 190 national organisations took part. An excellent opportunity to make useful contacts and to discuss future collaboration. For example, a joint project organised by small European states will address the construction of earthquake-proof housing in Nepal.
What issue are you personally most keen to address in your capacity as Chair of the LRC?
I very much hope we will be able to rejuvenate the Red Cross a little, and to raise its profile.
The LRC runs inter alia the Childrens Home in Schaan, which aims to provide above all children from the poorest regions of Eastern Europe with a few days of carefree fun and adventure. Do you also visit the children in person?
There are always two scheduled events in the calendar. The children are invited by Princess Marie to visit Vaduz Castle. And then on another occasion I visit them at the Gamander Childrens Home, where we sit around and chat. There are very moving moments, as well as very amusing moments for example when they ask me if I have to wear a crown, being a hereditary princess. (chuckles)
Does intensive contact with poverty and the suffering of other people change ones view of ones own life?
I have always been very conscious of such issues. Even amongst my own relatives, there are individuals who lost everything from one day to the next. This certainly makes one think. It begins with the little things of everyday life. For example, I always enjoy the fact that we do not have to share our bathroom with ten other people. And it is a tremendous luxury being able to drink out of the tap. Like other people, I often ask myself whether I really need something, or not. I get a bad conscience when I buy too much, and have to throw food away. It is completely against my principles to waste things. Furthermore, need to bear in mind: it should never be taken for granted that we live in a country in which a woman can go strolling in the forest on her own, without fear. This sense of security means quality of life.
You are fond of animals, and are the patron of the Liechtenstein Animal Welfare Association. A few months ago, a dachshund puppy joined your family, and accompanied you to this interview. Has Tipsy turned the castle on its head?
Tipsy has of course brought new life into the family. But, fortunately, she is a very decorous hound. Admittedly, we had to take certain security measures. For example, dachshunds are not supposed to run up and down stairs; its bad for their backs. So she is often carried around, which she enjoys enormously. Tipsy was part of a dachshund litter born to my sisters dog. In fact, we never actually wanted a dog ourselves. But at the end of the day, I simply couldnt resist.
Tipsy has now become your constant companion?
Tipsy accompanies me, whenever possible including during the holidays. I really enjoy her company. A friend of mine once said to me, in jest: The last child always wears fur theres something in that. (laughs)
Let us turn to a different subject altogether. As a descendant of the Stuarts, you are seen by Jacobites as a pretender to the British throne. The last time a member of that lineage claimed the throne was in the 18th century so no one is really expecting you to assert your birthright. Or do you have a surprise up your sleeve?
This story was never something we discussed at home, and until I travelled to London with my school class, I had not even heard about it. An acquaintance of my English teacher once said to me: But youre a Stuart. And I just thought: what is he talking about? When I got back home, I asked my parents. They found the whole thing hilarious, and then explained the background to me. I can therefore assure you, I shall not be asserting a claim to the British throne.
You are a Duchess, while your husband is a Hereditary Prince. This means you have a higher rank than your consort. Did the title play a role when you first became acquainted?
Not at all. The Noble House of Liechtenstein does not define what ranks its members are permitted to marry. While there are indeed certain rules for the Noble House of Bavaria, these do not apply to female descendants.
You are now the mother of four children. Many people believe that aristocratic children grow up in a castle completely differently to normal citizens. Is the dayto- day family life of the Princely Family really so different?
Our children are growing up essentially the same way as all other children in Liechtenstein. They attend school, are able to invite their friends back to the castle, and can visit them in their own homes too. There is no special status.
Your son Prince Wenzel is the heir to Liechtensteins throne. Did your sons preparation for his future role entail a special education, even as a child?
As a child, Wenzel had exactly the same education as his siblings. We often discuss politics and history in our family, however. Wenzel is now aged 21, and is studying law. When he is in Liechtenstein he spends a great deal of time with his father, who informs him about certain matters and responsibilities. This means he is gradually growing into his future role.
What values would you like to pass on to your children?
For me, faith is very important. I hope that we exemplify this through our own lives, and convey this to our children accordingly. This gives rise to other values such as decency, honesty as well as social awareness. In my view, one of the greatest challenges when it comes to childrens education is the need to impart a sense of modest restraint, the ability to delay gratifications. We live in an age in which wishes are proverbially satisfied at the click of a mouse. A book or a song is just one click away right around the clock. Yet being able to wait for something is very important.
And what would you like your children to say about you, one day?
I hope that my children will say that their mother was always there for them, and had an open ear for their worries and concerns.
How does a Hereditary Princess relax after performing social duties and meeting her responsibilities as a mother?
I like to recharge my batteries in the countryside, or by reading. At the moment, thanks to Tipsy, walks are very much the order of the day. Perhaps that was one of the reasons we got the dog. For until recently, it had become increasingly difficult to find the time to go on walks. Now I actually have to go out. There are no more excuses.
What sort of books do you like to read?
All genres, from history, through politics and religion to travelogues although I have to confess I do not much like travelling myself.
You dont like travelling? That is an unusual thing to say.
I find travelling stressful. When we are on the road with the family, there are so many things I need to think about and so much to organise. Unpacking packing. Things are much more relaxed at home. The one exception is my parents holiday house in Portugal; I like going there. But that doesnt really have anything to do with travel, in the strictest sense. It is more a change of location, as I feel completely at home there too.
Do you have an undeclared wish you would like to fulfil one day?
At the moment, to be perfectly honest, I am happy just the way things are. Maybe this is because I am by nature not inclined to worry about what if scenarios. Now is the time to get things done. And I find my social responsibilities very fulfilling.