The 15-meter-long red carpet is already freshly washed and rolled up at the main entrance of the Bellevue Presidential Palace for the dignitaries. This is essentially a carpet rental from a company that started out as a tie factory but then specialized in red carpet rentals. She even asked that her name be withheld for her own reasons. In any case King Charles and his wife Camilla will walk on this carpet, enter the palace and sit together at the table where they will sign the dignitary book. It has already been decided which staff member of the presidency will help with the chair, so that the king does not have to move so much.

Protocol, the quintessence of the visit

All of this and more, small and large, essential and inconsequential to mere mortals, falls under the responsibility of Kai Baldo, Chief of Protocol at Bellevue. He is the one who will make sure that everything goes well in this visit, meticulously planned together with other services of ministries and other authorities down to its last detail. “It’s a demanding task, but it gives joy when it succeeds,” he says, preferring not to overemphasize the “when.” Baldo, 50, has been doing this job for five and a half years. Prior to this position he worked in the State Department and is well versed in the beautiful but sometimes complex art of diplomatic courtesy and etiquette. And for those who have no idea what this is all about or can’t imagine what this man is up to, they need to get out of their minds minutes of gatherings of a name holiday or protocol procedures at international conferences, such as the Paris Agreement on Climate Change.

Here we are talking about an official visit of a supreme ruler and king. It is a formal ceremony with the primary goal of minimizing the risk of awkward moments or even resentment. “A protocol is a protocol when it works,” said a Baldo predecessor.

The “accident” with Queen Elizabeth and the horse painting

But where might the danger lurk? Suddenly in the exchange of gifts, and this can even happen under the Christmas tree. When Queen Elizabeth II, the mother of King Charles, visited Bellevue in 2015, then-president Joachim Gauck presented her with a painting titled “Horse in Royal Blue” by Nicole Leidenfrost. It depicted the young Elizabeth astride a blue horse with her father, King George VI, who was painted very yellow. Apparently very “neo-expressionist” and not just for British tabloid art critics.

The queen said to Gauk: “It’s a strange color for a horse”. Then, pointing to the painting, she asked if this was supposed to be her father. “Yes,” replied a visibly disappointed Gauk. In an attempt to mediate, Prince Philip asked his wife if she did not recognize her father. “Not, not quite,” said the queen. President Gauck then tried to divert attention to his second gift, sweets from the city of Lübeck: “If you don’t like it, get this one with marzipan,” he said. You will say, so what happened… But in the language of the protocol, something like this is classified as a failure, a “protocol slip”. And the so-called gift selection committee, which includes the foreign ministry and the president’s office, is under great pressure just hours before Charles’ visit. The detailed schedule of the royal couple has been released. The visit will last three days. Interval that maximizes the chance of a “protocol slip”. Here two worlds of protocol meet, or even collide, the restrained, perhaps even provincial German ritual, with the brilliant “manners and customs” of the British court.

Like a piano piece for 4 hands

That is why in Bellevue they compare the preparations to the composition of a piano piece for 4 hands. Where the guest also plays along. Apart from the traditional reception at the Brandenburg Gate, another point of high symbolism (and protocol) will be Charles’ speech to the plenary session of Parliament. Elizabeth on her five official visits and as many at a lower level of protocol, and what she hadn’t seen. The Nymphenburg porcelain factory, the “Rosenkavalier” opera house in Munich, the Royal Scots Dragoon Guards at the military training ground near Fallingbostel in Lower Saxony, a bakery in Potsdam. But he had never spoken in the Bundestag. “Not requested” the protocol people reply. And the dress code? “This time the tailcoat was chosen,” says Baldo, “it gives a more festive touch.” But it has one more advantage, it leaves a lot of room for awards.