The Anglo-Ethiopian Society

Lecture - Wednesday 7th December 2011

Life and Work at the Court of Haile Selassie I: Memoirs of Lore Trenkler

Given by - Rudolf Agstner

Reviewed by - Rudolf Agstner

Austrian Lore Trenkler (born Berlin 25 March 1914, died Vienna 10 September 2002) became dietician of Empress Menen of Ethiopia in 1960. She arrived in Addis Ababa on 14 November 1960 and lived in the former bath house of Lidj Yeassu in the Jubilee Palace gardens.

On 30 December 1960 she was called to the Emperor: "He was very kind and regretted that I started my stay in Ethiopia with a revolution, and asked me to have a lot of patience..." Haile Selassie looked after Miss Trenkler: "Soon after Ethiopian Christmas, on a Sunday morning, something very exciting happened. The Emperor came to the kitchen. This was not at all usual practice..."

Menu for the State Banquet given in honour of Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth II
Menu for the State Banquet given in honour of Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth II on February 1, 1965
Photo - © Rudolph Agstner

After the Empress' death (February 1962) Miss Trenkler stayed as cook of the Emperor. She recalls numerous state visits - like those of Queen Elizabeth II and Prince Philip, German President Lübke, China's Prime Minister Tchou En Lai, the Shah of Iran, French Presidents de Gaulle and Pompidou, Marshal Tito of Yugoslavia, and many others.

On 25 May 1963 the Organisation of African Unity was founded in Addis Ababa. The Emperor hosted a gala dinner for 1500 guests in the Aderash of Emperor Menelik's Gebbi. Miss Trenkler recalls: "As dessert we had prepared a biscuit tart, covered with apricot jam and various fruits, and a lot of cream. We had 200 platters for 8 guests each. The cakes were put on tables in the anteroom as were the hors d'oeuvres, and covered with apricot jam, and partly with fruits... After the guests had arrived and before the dinner started a fantastic, gigantic fireworks took place... When the fireworks were over ... we saw what had happened: myriads of moths were flying around in the room... and had landed on our cake covered with apricot jam."

In February 1965 Queen Elizabeth II and Prince Philip paid a state visit to Ethiopia. A banquet for 1000 guests was organised on 1 February in the Aderash. "200 plates had to be prepared for each course... I had to prepare all the plates for the table of the Emperor and the Queen - that is for roughly 100 persons where food was served on golden dishes..." She was also responsible for the picnic at the foot of Mount Menagesha on 3 February and the state banquet in Asmara of 7 February.

Haile Selassie did not eat much; one of his favourite dishes was apple strudel. Lore Trenkler lists the following dishes:
Breakfast: porridge, cornflakes with milk and cream; various other egg dishes such as boiled eggs, scrambled eggs or omelette; Ethiopian meat dishes made of chicken, baked sheep's kidney, bread, butter, jams, honey, coffee.
Lunch: a small hors d'oeuvre, like cheese of spinach baked pudding, rice with ragout, pasta, vegetables au gratin, vegetables; as main dish, a meat dish with various vegetables and potatoes as side dish; Ethiopian dishes; as desserts, cream, fruits, eventually cakes or tartlets, fruit salads, a platter with fruits.
Dinner: soup or entrée as at lunch; main dish as at lunch; Ethiopian dishes; desserts: warm desserts as thick custard-based desserts, pudding, "Kaiserschmarren" ("Emperor's trifle", a sugared cut-up pancake with raisins), cakes or choux pastry, meringue, or fruit tarts.

Lore Trenkler accompanied the emperor on his travels.

"The days we spent in Massawa were particularly beautiful... The sea was in a marvellous blue and the palace a dream palace on a promontory, a former sultan's palace... The stay always ended with a dinner... Tables were set in the garden, between the palace and the sea... with a band playing in the background."

Miss Trenkler recalls an incident in Dire Dawa:

"We saw him... cross the wadi on foot. He was soon accompanied by children who followed him, and by the time he had reached the other side, quite a few people had assembled... A whole procession moved through the narrow alleys of Dire Dawa's old city... The bodyguard ... crossed the wadi at the double, rifle in hand, as fast as possible."

When she returned from Asmara to the capital in February 1974, "something was in the air..." On 11 September 1974 she saw her imperial employer for the last time. She continued to prepare the meals for him, which were taken to the Gebbi by a servant.

Lore Trenkler recalls 27 August 1975: "It was a fasting day, and we had sent breakfast to the Emperor. I prepared lunch, which was also sent to him... the radio... announced that the emperor had died... The staff were weeping... I heard that the driver and the servant who had delivered the breakfast in the morning had not come back..."

Miss Trenkler returned to Vienna on 28 October 1975.

Editor's Note. The talk was based on the memoirs of Lore Trenkler (written for her relatives in Vienna) which have been edited and published by the speaker, a former Austrian ambassador to Ethiopia. Only a German language edition is currently available.

Arbeiten und Leben am Hof Haile Selassies I: Lore Trenkler: Erinnerungen 1960-1975. Edited by Rudolf Agstner. Harrassowitz, Wiesbaden, 2011. ISBN 9784447064477. Hardback. €38.00.

First Published in News File Spring 2012

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