Wilhelm Voigt, a German
hobo gifted with the ability to think outside the box, must rate as one of the unlikeliest minor celebrities of the last century.
Now almost forgotten, Voigt briefly burst forth from skid row onto the world stage when he stumbled on a way to swing the militaristic culture of his time to his advantage in carrying out a very unusual robbery.
Born in 1850 into grinding small town poverty, Voigt spent most of his life alternating between being a petty thief and doing stretches in prison.
In 1906, destitute and semi-institutionalised, he was on the verge of being run out of Berlin as a vagrant when he hit upon his plan.
Wearing a passable looking Prussian Army Officer’s uniform that he had cobbled together by rummaging around in flea markets, he marched into an army barracks in the Berlin suburb of Kopenick and simply ordered the first five soldiers he encountered to follow him.
Not trained to ask questions they, and another six soldiers he ran into on his way out of the barracks, complied with his orders.
Voigt wasted no time in leading his commandeered platoon to the city hall where he instructed some of them to guard the exits and used the rest to place the mayor and treasurer under arrest for book-keeping irregularities.
In what must have seemed like a fairly irregular move itself, Voigt went on to demand that the treasurer hand over to him the considerable sum of four thousand marks as an on the spot fine, even though he did take the trouble of writing the man out an 'official' receipt. (albeit signed using the name of his old prison director).
When the mayor, suspecting that taking over random public buildings and imposing arbitrary on the spot fines was not part of the normal day to day operations of the Prussian Army, asked Voigt where his warrant was, Voigt simply gestured to the heavily armed soldiers who were taking orders from him and menacingly barked something to the effect that 'the men under my command are my warrant'.
In an action that reinforced this point Voigt then had the mayor escorted as a prisoner to the local military Head Quarters.
After having his fun and taking what he could get Voigt walked out of city hall and vanished for a few weeks, leaving considerable confusion behind him. The affair was picked up by newspapers all over the world and used as a way of making fun of the Prussians' perceived inclination to follow orders, no matter how ridiculous, from anyone in a uniform.
Eventually caught by the law, Voigt's antics had (with the probable exception of the Prussian Army and the public officials of Kopenick) brightened up everyones' day to the extent that the Kaiser himself gave him a pardon. It didn't make too much difference to poor Wilhelm though who, although winning for a time a kind of cheap fame, continued to live in squalor and poverty until his death a decade or two later.
sources (and a little more to the story)