Wilhelm Voigt - The Captain of Koepenick

Posted by Nick Efstathiadis in ,

Friedrich Wilhelm Voigt (13 February 1849 - 3 January 1922) was a German impostor who masqueraded as a Prussian military officer in 1906 and became famous as The Captain of Köpenick (Der  Hauptmann von Köpenick ).


In Germany Voigt is not seen as a criminal, but rather as a folk hero and a victim of official prejudice, who was caught in the kafkaesque situation of not getting work without a residence permit, while not being able to have a residence permit without work. His story is taught to this day in German schools as an example of courageous resistance to unjust government. In modern Germany the laws frown upon treating a former convict any differently from the rest of the population after the convict has finished his or her prison sentence; in cases of rather clever and fairly minor crimes not involving violence, this feeling is shared by most of the general population.

Friedrich Wilhelm Voigt was born in Tilsit on February 13th, 1849. He attends the three class school there and later a few years the high school. Voigt becomes criminal the first time in the age of almost 14 years: the district court Tilsit sentences him 1863 because of theft  to 14 days in prison.

Because of his previous conviction Voigt must leave the school. He learns the shoemaker trade from his father. In the years from 1864 to 1891 Voigt is further sentenced six times because of theft and falsification of documents. He altogether spends more than 29 years for it behind bars. Finally he is 15 years in the penitentiary because of serious theft.

On February 12th, 1906 he is free again. At first he goes to Wismar, is expelled, however, from the Grand Duchy of Mecklenburg-Schwerin. Over Marienburg, Graudenz and some other intermediate stops Voigt finally comes to Rixdorf at Berlin and can find accommodation in the Kopfstreet 27 with his sister.

He worked briefly as a court shoemaker until, on 24 August 1906, Voigt is identified by the chief of police of Rixdorf once more as "a person dangerous for the public safety and morality", police expelled him from Berlin as undesirable, based solely on the fact that he was a former prisoner.

On September 1st, 1906 he leaves Rixdorf officially in the direction of Hamburg , however, he actually lives in Berlin O17, Langestreet 22, as an unregistered resident.

Voigt carefully planned his next caper and on 16 October 1906 Voigt was ready for his coup.

He had used the previous week to buy at different dawdlers in Potsdam and Berlin the uniform of a Prussian captain of the "1st guard regiment on foot”.

In the early morning of this day he goes from his shelter at the Silesian station to the station Beusselstreet. He collects his uniform from the baggage storage and runs to the Jungfernheide park to change his clothes. He then goes to Stralau-Rummelsburg and from there by suburban train to Koepenick. He sounds the land out here, he particularly remembers the area around the city hall. Then he goes by north ring train to the station Putlitzstreet and shirks around on the Seestreet for some time.

Toward noon in the time of the changings of the guards he stops on the Sylter Street a bunch of guard soldiers which consists of four man and a sergeant. This troop comes from the army swim institution at the Plotzensee Lake and is on the way back to the barracks. The sergeant lets stand to attention and reports.
Under reference to highest cabinet order he puts his order in charge of the troop. He dismisses the sergeant so that he can inform his supervisors. Shortly after this he also commandeers the guard duty of a shooting range which is taken off and also dropping in. This troop consists of six man of the 4th guard regiment on foot.


With this quarrel power now being at his disposal he marches to the station Putlitzstreet and goes from there to Koepenick.  After arrival at the city hall, he is having guards stationed at the portals and side entrances and orders the gates to close. The local rural police is instructed by Voigt to provide law and order during the action.

In the anteroom of the mayor he arrests the town secretary Rosenkranz, after this he arrests the mayor Dr. Georg Langerhans. He lets the cashier of Wiltberg make a cashing-up and he then confiscates the amount of 4000 Marks and 70 Pfennig against receipt. After this he is having Dr. Langerhans and of Wiltberg transported to the New Guard Duty to Berlin.

He gives his troop the order to retract the guard duties after half an hour, then to go by train back to Berlin and to report in the New Guard Duty. He himself leaves the city hall in the direction of the station Koepenick and disappears.

In the following days the German press speculated on what had really happened. At the same time the army ran its own investigation. The public seemed to be positively amused by the daring of the culprit.

Voigt is arrested on October 26th, 1906 and sentenced on December 1st, 1906 to an imprisonment of 4 years "because of unauthorizedly wearing of a uniform, offence against the public order, wrongful deprivation of personal liberty, deceit and heavy falsification of a document".

Due to a pardon by his majesty the emperor, Wilhelm Voigt is released from prison on August 16th, 1908. The message of his dismissal is taken by the surprised public as a great event. Voigt starts with his second life by trying to capitalize on it.

Voigt appears in the arcade waxworks Unter den Linden on August 20th, four days after his dismissal. He signs photos there and gives speeches to the audience. These appearances as well as every further appearance of Voigt in the public are forbidden still on the same day. 

Voigt plans operettas and appearances in the variety theatres in Vienna and Budapest which, however, fail. He appears in small theatres by the German fairs, hotels and restaurants and signs postcards which show him as a "Captain of Koepenick". 

At first the attempt to enter the USA fails because of the immigration authorities. End of March 1910, he manages to come into the USA via Canada. He can celebrate great successes with his appearance there. Further journeys lead him to England, he is displayed in the waxworks of the madam Tussaut in London. 

By his appearances and the sale of  his memoirs "How I became a captain of Koepenick. My biography. By Wilhelm Voigt, called captain of Koepenick", which are published in a Leipzig publishing house in 1909 Voigt comes to money. He buys a house for himself in Luxembourg, Neyperger Street 5 and retires.

Because of war and inflation he becomes impoverished. Wilhelm Voigt dies in Luxembourg on January 3rd, 1922 and is buried at the expense of the relief fund on the cemetery Notre Dame. 

The rent for the grave of Wilhelm Voigt went off in 1942, was prolonged, however, 1944 by an anonymous donator by deposit of 4000 frs for another 30 years. In 1961 the dilapidated grave place was arranged newly by the German circus [Sarrasani ... ] and provided with a marble plate, which, however, showed the wrong year of birth 1850. This was exchanged for a memorial stone later, again with the wrong year of birth. 

In the year 1974 the grave place should be dissolved definitely due to Luxembourg laws. The international reaction being carried out after that motivated the city of Luxembourg to the now unlimited prolongation of the grave right.

The public

Special edition of the Niederbarnimer newspaper of October 16th, 1906:

"1 captain arrived towards 4 o'clock this afternoon in this town with 10 soldiers. They went to the city hall and got in touch with the mayor. They had to take charge of highest order to occupy the city hall, to receive the cash-box and to arrest the mayor Dr. Langerhans and the treasurer of Wildberg. The order was immediately executed. The cashier's office was immediately closed. (Difficult things surely must have happened because such a sensational arrest is unique. The ed.)."

Special edition of the Copenicker daily newspaper of October 17th, 1906:

"A rogue play, devised extremely impudently and cunningly and put daringly into scene, recognized therefore only much later as a such one, brought the feelings of the city of Copenick in excitement yesterday. The details of the whole event are so unpronounceably and so grotesquely, that if one hasn't looked at it himself, one must doubt the truth of the whole history. If one considers that a crafty confidence trickster who has dressed in an officer uniform has succeeded in stopping twelve soldiers from the guard duty on their way to the barracks in Berlin and directing these because of his mere order to Copenick, occupying the city hall there, arresting the mayor, the upper town secretary and the cashiers office administrator and then escaping unmolestedly with the 'confiscated' cash-box, one then cannot prevent a shake of the head."

Berliner Lokal-Anzeiger of October 17th, 1906:

"An occurrence, which is in the local criminal history without example, has taken place in the neighboring Koepenick in yesterday's evening. A rogue has there in the mask of a guard officer with the help of a department soldiers, whom he deceived by a forged cabinet order, arrested the mayor and the cashiers office administrator, had both transported under military guarding to Berlin and then the town cash-box, in which were a little more than 4000 marks in cash, robbed. Police and rural police are in feverish activity to get the rogue, who unchallengedly escaped with his robbery."

Berliner Morgenpost of October 17th, 1906:

"A robber story, so adventurous and romantic as we know it from novelistic stories, as it would have seemed to us till now possibly only in the Russian revolution chaos or in an Italian brigand idyll, has fulfilled our neighboring town Koepenick with a paralyzing horror for hours yesterday. There a - one may say brilliant - swindler in an officer uniform has managed to put the rural police, the mayor, the cashiers office administrator and a department of 10 soldiers into his service only so that he could get away with 4000 marks from the town treasury and to disappear unhinderedly with that. The swindler who wore a Prussian Captain uniform with cap intercepted a department of ten soldiers who marched from the shooting range to Berlin and moved to Koepenick with them in front of the city hall. He arrested the mayor and the cashiers office administrator and sent them under military escort to the Berlin main police station, he himself went by suburban train of it."

Newspaper for Mittenwalde and surroundings of October 18th, 1906:

"An outrageous rogue trick has been performed in Koepenick on Tuesday. On Tuesday afternoon a department of the 4th guard regiment arrived under leadership of a man dressed into the uniform of a captain in Koepenick, went to the city hall and arrested the mayor and the cashiers office administrator. After the alleged captain took over the cash-box 4000 marks contained, he assigned the order to bring the mayor and the cashiers office administrator under a military company to the new guard duty in Berlin, gave the teams the order to keep the city hall occupied for another half an hour and then he drove from it towards Berlin. The team, which was coming from the shooting range Tegel and stopped and led to Koepenick by the alleged captain showing a forged cabinet order,  moved away to the barracks later. How we still learn the 'captain' maltreated the soldiers on the journey to Koepenick with beer at the station Rummelsburg as well on the arrival at the station in Koepenick where he still submitted a Mark to every soldier. Furthermore the rogue also would have succeeded in closing the post office in Koepenick for telephonic conversations to Berlin for an hour."

Rixdorfer daily newspaper of October 18th, 1906:

"A police communication over the person of the robber reads: The robber of the town treasury in the Koepenicker city hall who appeared as a 'captain' disguised is about 45 to 50 years old and has an approximate size of 1.75 meters. He is of a slim shape, has a gray down hanging strong mustache and chin shaved. The face is broad, hollow and pale, a cheekbone is prominently so that the face seems wry. The nose is pressed in, the legs have turned a little to the outside (so-called bandy legs). The posture is inclined strongly to the front, a shoulder stands out to behind so that the shape also seems a little crooked. He was dressed with an infantry uniform, cap, a greatcoat with the captain badges of the 1st guard regiment on foot, with long trousers, boots with plugged spurs, white gloves and a sash. He carried an officer rapier with guard star."

The Vorwaerts of October 19th, 1906:

"The heroic deed of the false captain is the talk of the town at present. One goes to a restaurant, goes by train or uses the tramway everywhere one hears talking about the heroic piece. And how talks one, not at all so, that one is outraged perhaps about the robbery of the town treasury in Koepenick, but in the mocking, sarcastic tone; a certain malicious joy sounds by about the Koepenicker stroke of genius everywhere. It isn't possible in view of this occurrence to remain serious at all either. The satirists are then very fast to judge the situation to the most different directions, too. Nimble-fingered rhymesters have taken the Koepenicker tragicomedy to poetic form. The stage also has already taken hold of the history. A number of soldiers who confined themselves to all orders of the Captain to nod marched up in the [Metropol Theatre ... ] yesterday. (...) For a long time, the love of mockery hasn't celebrated such triumphs like now. One is virtually filled with admiration for the brilliant captain everywhere; one is often even sorry that the pay has been too low for the farce. Others, however, express the opinion that the man still can be surpassed. One needs to get himself only the necessary energy and to put himself into a General uniform to finally get a whole regiment soldiers at the disposal."

Berliner Morgenpost

"That a whole community with all its public functions, yes that a department soldiers was shown up by one single person in a way which is so overwhelmingly funny and been successful completely, this has done in our country of the unlimited deep respect for uniforms a military garment with which an old, bow-legged individual had hung itself provisionally."

Chronological Table of Events

February 13th, 1849
Friedrich Wilhelm Voigt was born in Tilsit as a son of a shoemaker. He attends the three-class town school. 

June 12th, 1863
Voigt is sentenced because of theft by the district court Tilsit to 14 days in prison. 

September 9th, 1864
Repeated condemnation of Voigt by the district court Tilsit: he gets 3 months in   prison because of theft. 

002b September 1st, 1865
Voigt is sentenced for "theft in the repeated relapse" by the district court Tilsit to 9 months in prison and a year loss of honour. 

April 13th, 1867
The jury Prenzlau sentences Voigt because of heavy falsification of documents to 10 years in prison and 1500 Taler fine.

July 5th, 1889
Voigt is condemned because of a serious theft by the district court Posen to a year in prison. 

January 18th, 1890
Voigt is sentenced because of "intellectual falsification of documents" by the district court Posen to 1 month in prison. 

February 12th, 1891
The district court Gnesen sentences Voigt because of serious theft to 15 years in prison and 10 years loss of honour and orders police supervision.

February 12th, 1906
Voigt is released from the detention centre Rawitsch. He works 3 months for the court shoemaker Hilbrecht in Wismar and is expelled after this. He gets stay ban for the Grand Duchy of Mecklenburg-Schwerin.  Voigt goes to his sister to Berlin and works there in the felt shoe factory Albert Viereck, Breslauer street.

August 24th, 1906
Voigt is expelled from Berlin, doesn't leave the town, however, and works further.

October 6th, 1906
Voigt hands in his notice for the felt shoe factory Albert Viereck.

October 16th, 1906
As a Prussian captain disguised Voigt does his famous "march to Koepenick" and robbes the cash-box in the city hall there. 

October 26th, 1906
Voigt is arrested.

December 1st, 1906
Condemnation to four years in prison by the district court II Berlin.

August 16th, 1908
Voigt is released from the detention centre Tegel.

August 20th, 1908
Voigt appears in Berlin in the arcade waxworks Friedrichstreet / corner Behrenstreet.

August 22nd, 1908
Appearance ban, tour to Dresden, Vienna, Budapest.

September 18th, 1908 -- March 4th, 1909
Appearances in varietes, restaurants, amusement parks. Voigt signs postcards which show him in captain uniform. Tours through Germany and Europe.

May 19th, 1909
On a journey to France Voigt purchases the right of residence in the city of Luxembourg.

March 5th, 1910
Tours in America, Canada and France.

April 30th, 1910
Return to Luxembourg.

May 1st, 1910
Voigt gets a Luxembourg identity card.

June 1910
Tours through Great Britain and Germany.

January 3rd, 1922
Voigt dies in Luxembourg and is buried on the cemetery Notre Dame.


A commemorative memorial plate for Wilhelm Voigt and the Captain of Köpenick at Köpenick city hall. The text explains the happenings in short form, including the exact date, and the later following fame of the case through the play of Carl Zuckmayer.

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