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Born in 1812, and died in 1887, Alfred Krupp would lead a life filled with money, dreams, power, and trees. In 1811, the firm which would later be headed by Krupp was founded by his father, Friedrich; this firm produced and supplied Prussia and Germany with the tools (read: arms) they would need for their military ventures. The firm quickly developed a virtual monopoly in the arms business, and after the German unification in 1871, it would become the chief arms supplier of the German Empire. Alfred became very wealthy selling death.

Alfred was the second in a line which the world would come to know as the "merchants of death." Krupp was not an extravagant spender in the usual sense, but like William Randolph Hearst he had a driving ambition: to immortalize himself by building a great house. Not a mere house, in fact, but something more palatial - a castle. Krupp spent five years designing the spectacle (himself), and he built it (not himself) close to his beloved foundry. What emerged was the Villa Hügel, a perfectly hideous, uncomfortable mansion whose facade sprouted grotesque gargoyles and other sculptures.

William Manchester, author of the book on the Krupps, once attempted to count the rooms in the Villa Hügel, since no reliable estimate existed. Give or take a few secret passages, he counted 300.

Perhaps the one charming aspect of Krupp's creation grew out of his desire to be surrounded by trees. Since the site for the villa stood on a bare hill overlooking a river, Krupp was forced to take dramatic measures. As Alan Jenkins wrote in The Rich Rich: "Being nearly 60 he could not wait for the saplings to grow. So, many years before tree surgery became a profession, he transplanted a forest of full-grown trees; and such was the force of his will that they budded in their first spring."

I wish I had that kind of clout.

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