6 SEPTEMBER 1997, Page 28

Let Schlieffen dogs lie

Sir: The article of 23 August, 'We find Alice von Schlieffen', still does not explain what the elaborate jest was all about.

It became clear early on that something was out of kilter with the whole correspon- dence, for all the letter-writers (I think I read them all) were ignorant of the linguis- tic and social (unwritten) customs of titled families and those who communicate with them in the whole German-speaking area. I imagine Count Schlieffen of the famous Plan was the head of the family but to refer to or address him as 'Count Alfred von Schlieffen' would make him a cadet with an honorary title. The head of the family is simply Graf Schlieffen and refers to himself curtly as 'Schlieffen'. When the owner of Petronell Castle here answers the tele- phone he says, 'Traun'. He does not say, 'Graf Otto von Apensperg and Traun'. And when I speak to him I call him 'Graf, and if I were an inferior I would say, 'Herr Graf. The other members of the family are addressed by their Christian names, except for their mother who is 'Grafin'.

But what remains interesting is what these jokesters, who may or may not include you, Sir, were about. They have succeeded in entertaining your readers and in removing the whole story of the Schlief- fen Plan of 1895-1905 to a realm of fantasy. But why would anyone want to do that? I should have thought this question would interest C,orrelli Barnett.

Sarah Gainham

Schlosspark, Four, Petronell, Austria