I remember exactly when my lifelong preoccupation with the 18th century began.
When I was 10 years old, my parents, who had emigrated from Berlin to our small city in Ontario, took me to our local German-Canadian club on a Wednesday evening to watch the first instalment of what I later learned was a 1972 German television series called The Remarkable Life of Frederick, Baron von der Trenck.* In those pre-downloading, pre-DVD, even pre-VCR days, we sat on folding chairs in the club’s dance hall to watch the show on a large portable screen, as if it were a home movie.
The 6-part series follows Trenck’s soldierly and romantic adventures through the courts of Frederick the Great of Prussia, Elizabeth of Russia, and Maria Theresa of Austria, as he navigates the 2 great conflicts of the mid-eighteenth century, the War of the Austrian Succession and the Seven Years’ War. I was enthralled from start to finish, and would fidget impatiently through the dull preliminary featurettes that preceded each weekly instalment. Though I boyishly admired Trenck’s manly exploits, the character who really transfixed me was Frederick II of Prussia, whom my parents, good Berliners, invariably and affectionately referred to as der Alte Fritz (Old Fred).