Book presentation Anglo-Ethiopian Society

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Book presentation Anglo-Ethiopian Society – (Work and Life at the Court of Haile Selassie I. Lore Trenkler: Memoirs 1960-1975)

  • Wed 7 Dec 2011

SOAS

University of LondonRussell SquareLondon, WC1H 0XG

UK

http://www.soas.ac.uk/

Lore Trenkler (* Berlin 1914 + Vienna 2002), an Austrian, had since 1956 been a dietician in the German spa of Bad Nauheim when she learned in 1960 that Emperor Haile Selassie I. of Ethiopia was looking for a dietician.

Miss Trenkler’s father, Dr. Hugo Trenkler, was an engineer who held numerous patents in metallurgy. After his death in 1925, the financial situation of the family deteriorated. In 1929 Lore Trenkler began working as a clerk for the “League for Human Rights” in Berlin. When Hitler rose to power in Berlin on 30 January 1933 she took the train to Vienna, where she stayed with her grandfather Adolf Trenkler (1854-1940), who had acquired a small fortune as secretary of Karl Wittgenstein, an industrialist – and father of the philosopher Ludwig and the pianist Paul Wittgenstein.

Lore Trenkler spent the years after 1933 as dietician in spas and hospitals in Bad Gastein, Belgrade, and Germany, and was since 1948 in charge of dietary cooking of the First Medical Clinic of the University of Vienna. In 1956 she moved to Bad Nauheim.

In 1960 Emperor Haile Selassie chose her as dietician for his ailing wife Empress Menen. After the death of the Empress she stayed in Addis Ababa as “European cook” of the Imperial Court. She was in charge of the imperial kitchen when in February of 1965 H.M. Queen Elisabeth II. and H.R.H. Prince Philip paid a state visit to Ethiopia. A state banquet for 1000 guests was organized for H.M. Queen Elisabeth on 1 February 1965 in the Aderash of the Gebbi, the old imperial palace of Emperor Menelik, with 100 guests at H.I.M. table d’hôte „causing a lot of work. Everything should be particularly beautiful. 200 plates had to be prepared for each course…” Lore Trenkler was also responsible for preparing the picnic for Her Majesty at the foot of Mount Menagesha near Addis Ababa on 3 February. The following day Her Majesty left for Gondar, and Lore Trenkler for Asmara to prepare the state banquet in the imperial palace in Asmara, today capital of Eritrea. Before the royal couple left Asmara, Miss Trenkler – and other staff of the imperial palace - was received by Her Majesty and His Royal Highness.

From her collection of menu cards of state functions held in the imperial palaces of Addis Ababa and Asmara, now kept by one of her nephews in Vienna, we learn which European and Ethiopian dishes and wine were served at official functions. His Imperial Majesty preferred German white wines from the Rheingau and Rheinhessen and French red wines from Burgundy. Contrary to Jonathan Dimbleby’s portrait of Emperor Haile Selassie, the „Lion of Judah“ only on three occasions was served meals on gold. He also did not eat much, which did not make things easier for Miss Trenkler, who had to come up with small but healthy meals. The emperor was mostly served salads or fruits; one of his favourite dishes was Viennese apple-strudel – which she considered the ideal dish on fasting days.

Lore Trenkler followed the final months of Emperor Haile Selassie’s rule. As every year, she accompanied the emperor in February (1974) for a week in Asmara and Massawa. “When we returned to Addis Ababa taxi drivers were ion strike – it was the beginning of unrest and revolution. We heard of unrest and demonstrations, mostly of students, in town. Something was in the air. The government resigned on 27 February. There was a lot of excitement and the park of Jubilee Palace was full of military vehicles. Some were parked in front of my house. A curfew from 9 p.m. to 6 a.m. was proclaimed for the duration of one week. However, I had no problem moving around freely, I could also go to town. The military took over command, and the first arrests took place. The emperor was still in office, but he had little say. Members of the imperial family still came for lunch and dinner and outwardly life continued normally. Easter was celebrated in April, but the mood was naturally subdued…”

On 11 September 1974 Haile Selassie was toppled by a group of leftist army officers, and unceremoniously shoved into a VW in front of Jubilee Palace and taken away. Miss Trenkler continued to cook for Haile Selassie after he had been confined to a room of the former Palace Ministry in the Gebbi compound. Food was prepared in the Jubilee Palace kitchen and brought to the Gebbi by a driver and a servant.

She describes in detail the events of 27 August 1975 – the day Haile Selassie I. was killed - seen from her perspective. “It was a fasting day, and we had sent breakfast to the emperor. I prepared lunch, which was also sent to him. Then I went to my house and shortly after 2 p.m. Hiruth called me from Bishoftu, with tears in her voice – the radio had just announced that the emperor had died. I could not say anything. I went to my neighbour, Ato Schetu. He stood next to the radio and was shrugging his shoulders. Then I went to the kitchen. All the staff was weeping. One of our cooks sat next to a little radio and said: ‘Now they killed him.’” I heard that the driver and the servant who had delivered the breakfast in the morning had not come back. But nobody had paid any attention to this as the servant had often stayed there to clean the emperor’s rooms. The driver who brought lunch was not even admitted at the Gebbi’s entrance. Now everything was over.”

Miss Trenkler left Addis Ababa on 28 October 1975, and returned to Vienna, where she wrote her memoirs covering the period from November 1960 to October 1975 for her family. They offer a glimpse at life in the Guenette Leul and the Jubilee palace and the Empress Villa in Addis Ababa, and imperial palaces in Asmara, Massawa and Dire Dawa in the „“good old days“, and the emperor’s role in traditional Ethiopian orthodox religious festivities. They also give an insight into the daily work in the palace or rather palaces and the imperial train, and are literally a description of work and life from „downstairs“ in the basement of an imperial Ethiopian palace, and how “ferendjis” lived in Ethiopia in the 1960s and 1970s.

The reader will make his own judgement as to what progress has been made in Ethiopia since the end of the empire 37 years ago.