Die Langen Kerls

Die Langen Kerls

As far as Prussian King Frederick Wilhelm the First was concerned, size mattered. For his army, that is. And not just the number of soldiers either (which he increased from 38 000 to 83 000 during his reign), which was at least part of the reason he became known as the Soldier King.

He also wanted big soldiers. Giants. He took the regiment number six, made himself the regimental commander and decided upon a minimum height requirement: six Prussian feet, which works out to 6’2” (or 1.88 m). This remains well above average height, even today, let alone in the seventeenth century.

Frederick William I himself was a much more ordinary 5’3” (or 1.60 m). They were called the Potsdamer Riesengarde (Giant-Guard) or, unofficially, the lange kerls (tall guys).

Why Such Tall Soldiers?

How GIANT armies served in Prussia - Russia Beyond

So, why create an army of such large men? There are a few theories. There’s the idea that the larger-than-normal wingspan of these men made loading the muzzle-loaders of the time quicker and easier. Certainly, there is an intimidation factor.

The King would put his Giant Guards on display when he had visiting dignitaries from other nations, which would certainly have been quite the spectacle, and while their uniform was similar to other Prussian regiments of their day, the highly ornate and especially tall hats only served to heighten these giants further.

Word naturally got around among these other leaders regarding King Wilhelm’s obsession with tall soldiers, so that it became quite a common gift choice: if you were stuck for an idea for him, just send him some big men! Peter the Great did so after receiving the Amber Room. Naturally, it became quite an international regiment.

But the King’s obsession with these “lange Kerls” seems to go beyond any kind of practical use, particularly since many of the men suffered from genetic defects and gigantism which made them physically unfit for combat. He was reported to have once said that he preferred these men to the most beautiful of women, and he would drill them personally at his Potsdam palace and order them to march; with a trained bear up front. He also enjoyed painting them in his leisure time.

Due to the scarcity of tall men, it was of course a challenge to recruit for the regiment. The King made the prospect as attractive as possible by paying and feeding this regiment more than most others. He would also try and actively recruit men of such stature from other armies.

But, even so, press-ganging was common, which is where someone is forced into military service against their will. One of the tallest recorded members of the lange Kerls, a 7’1” (or 2.17 m) Irishman by the name of James Kirkland, was bound, gagged and forced into such service in 1730.

After the King Died

Portrait of Frederick William I of Prussia , 1688 – 1740 | Artware Fine Art

Since 1990, however, you did have a choice. Yes, despite the original regiment falling into disuse after the King passed away (Frederick the Great did not share his Father’s enthusiasm) and then being disbanded after Napoleon’s victory over Prussia in 1806, the regiment was revived as a historical pastime. Large men still meet up and practice the original dress and drill of 1726, and travel the world doing presentations and speaking about the traditions.

Verein Lange Kerls in Potsdam: Es kommt doch auf die Größe an

Have you ever heard of the Battle of the Teutoburg Forest? Or are you interested in visiting a museum in Germany? If you’d like to know more about this and German history in general, we have a whole series of articles about the topic on our blog.


‘Die Langen Kerls 1675/1713 bis 1806’, Rolf Fuhrmann

Legendäre „lange Kerls“. Quellen zur Regimentskultur der Königsgrenadiere Friedrich Wilhelms,’ Jürgen Kloosterhuis


Here are some questions people ask about the Potsdam Giants.

Who were the giant soldiers of Potsdam?

The giant soldiers of Potsdam were members of the Potsdam Giants founded by Frederick William I of Prussia in the 18th century. They were selected for their height and strength, and the regiment became known for its imposing appearance.

Why were grenadiers tall?

Grenadiers were often chosen for their height to enhance their physical presence on the battlefield. Being tall was thought to convey a sense of strength and intimidation, which was considered advantageous in warfare.

How big was the Prussian army in 1870?

In 1870, during the Franco-Prussian War, the Prussian army was a formidable force with approximately 500,000 soldiers. This well-disciplined and highly organized army played a crucial role in the war against France.

Summing Up: Die Langen Kerls

So, that was the story of these towering men in the Prussian army and the regiment’s revival in 1990. Today, enthusiasts embrace the legacy, practicing the original dress and drill of 1726, sharing this historical oddity with the world. So, if you’re tall enough, maybe this is a good way to culturally integrate and practice your SmarterGerman!