On 17th November 2018, Baron Eduard Oleg Alexandrowitsch von Falz-Fein died in a house fire in Vaduz, Liechtenstein, at the age of 106. The Russian-born Liechtensteiner businessman, journalist, sportsman and art collector, may very well have been the last person who recalled meeting Tsar Nicholas II.
“There are almost no contemporaries who knew Nicholas II,” wrote Eduard Alexandrovich von Falz-Fein in 2017 – “It has been 100 years since I saw the kind eyes of the Sovereign, and I remember the warmth of his hands when he held me as a child. Nothing can erase that cheerful and happy memory! The comprehension of those years leaves me in deep sadness. The Lord gave us a peaceful and bright joy to remember the August Family and their sincere love, their devotion to Russia!”
Eduard Alexandrovich von Falz-Fein was born on 14th September 1912 in the village of Gavrilovka, situated in the Kherson region of the Russian Empire. Today, it is part of Ukraine.
“We were big landowners, the peasants loved us, because we paid well,” said Eduard Alexandrovich about his childhood – “For New Year and Christmas, all employees received gifts, and on their birthday the employee was given the day off. Uncle had the largest zoological garden in the world, where more than three thousand animals and birds from around the world were collected. Every day, a distinguished guest came to see the zoo, and if no one came for a long time, mother would say: “How is this so! Nobody loves us anymore? ”
Probably the most honoured guest to the estate was made by Tsar Nicholas II. In the Spring of 1914, Eduard Alexandrovich’s uncle Friedrich invited the sovereign to Askania-Nova, who arrived on 29th April 1914, staying for 2 days. “No one knew what they talked about, noted Eduard Alexandrovich, – “most likely, about the approaching war.”
On the occasion of their august guest, Falz-Fein announced a three-day holiday for his employees, allocating money for refreshments. The peasants raised toasts and cheered, as they drank to honour the tsar’s visit.
On the evening of the 29th, the tsar was invited to dinner, which included soup, consomme, various pies, sterlet, wild goat with croquettes, poivrade sauce, roast chicken and partridges, a traditional fried pig, caviar and Bavarian cheese, all of which was complimented with a selection of fine Crimean winse.
The following morning, the Tsar was given a lavish breakfast in the garden, and it was at this time that little –year-old Eduard Alexandrovich was honoured to be planted on the lap of Nicholas II.
Nicholas II did not boast of his title Autocrat of the Russian Empire. He was relaxed and at ease, talking freely with the senior caretaker of the zoo, Klimentiy Siyanko, the coachman Reznichenko, the shepherd Samuel Sukonko, the estate manager Iosif Kiriltsev, and the scientific observer Grote.
The sovereign was delighted with what he saw on the estate. Nicholas II gave Friedrich Eduardovich his portrait with a dedicatory inscription (a mark of highest respect) and ordered his ajutant Vorontsov-Dashkov to present gifts on his behalf to the estates’ employees.
Falz-Fein sent a gift for Empress Alexandra Feodorovna: a luxurious fan made of peacock feathers with an enamel pen made by Rene Lalique.
In the photo above, Baron Eduard Oleg Alexandrowitsch von Falz-Fein (right) is visiting his friend, the senior male and former head of the Romanov Family Association Prince Nicholas Romanovich (1922-2014) at this home in Switzerland.
Together, they are looking at a copy of Romanoff: Un Album de Famille, a series of magnificent pictorials produced by Jacques Ferrand in the 1980s and early 1990s. Each volume featured hundreds of photos of members of the Russian Imperial Family, including the Tsar and his family, grand dukes and grand duchesses, princes and princesses of the imperial blood, etc. Ferrand received exclusive publication rights from members of the Imperial Family who fled Russia after the 1917 Revolution.
In a letter dated May 8, 1914, to his mother the Dowager Empress Maria Feodorovna, Nicholas II writes about his visit to Askania-Nova:
“On April 29, early in the morning, I went by motor through Simferopol and Perekop to Askania-Nova, where I arrived at 4 p.m. There I was met by the owner himself [Friedrich Eduardovich Falz-Fein], the old mother, her daughter, who is married to Paker, the granddaughter and another son, that is, the brother of Falz-Fein. They are completely Russian and easy people to talk with. I was offered tea in the garden. Herons, ducks, geese and cranes walked around the table, looked at us and some came up and pushed with their beaks, begging us to give them bread.
“Then the master led me past large cages with all kinds of birds living together, to the pond, filled with several hundred ducks, geese, swans, and flamingos of different breeds. Then we went to the famous menagerie, the size of the military field in Gatchina, with a huge fence around. Different deer, goats, antelopes, wildebeests, kangaroos and ostriches live there, all year round in the open and in the open, and also all together.
“An amazing impression, like a picture from the Bible, as if the animals came out of Noah’s Ark! From there we went to his lovely park, which Falz-Fein planted and laid out in 1888, after he found water. All our northern bushes and trees grow here, which is also strange in the steppe. Then, in a motor, I drove around his huge herd of sheep, cows, bison, horses, zebras and camels. These herds graze for six months in the steppe, far from his house, and he encouraged me to approach them.
“Still, I did not see everything, because there was not enough time. In the evening I dined with them and went to bed early. Three gentlemen (accompanying) me were: Voeikov, Drenteln and Sashka Vorontsov.
“The next morning, April 30, we went to the steppe and continued to inspect the herds: they also showed us the shearing of the sheep. In the garden in one of the ponds, are red fish – carp, ides, and roaches. He explained to me that it is very simple: you just need to provide them with a lot of sun and feed the fish meat! He made a brood of his best horses, which is what he is most pleased with, and they are really remarkably good and beautiful! He sells 120 horses annually for cavalry repairs.
“Before I left, the Falz Feyn family served breakfast in the garden, although it was 9.30 in the morning. Having said goodbye to them, we went the other way back and examined several new peasant farms, who had been evicted from the villages after three years. They themselves are very satisfied. Their homes, households, fields and orchards make the most pleasant impression. Everything is so clean, neat and they themselves do not look like ordinary peasants!
“Then we drove to Simferopol and through Bakhchisaray to Ai-Petri, home. Arrived in Livadia before dinner. So I did 587 miles in two days, almost as much as from St. Petersburg to Moscow … ”
The stay of Nicholas II in Askania-Nova was recorded on film by court photographer V.K. Trikler (representative of the French film rental company) and has been preserved to this day – see below:
© Paul Gilbert. 10 March 2020