Although she got some advice from friends, including production designer Kevin Thompson, Gloria did the apartment herself. “I didn’t work with a decorator at all. And that’s why there are some mistakes,” she notes, pointing to a set of Martin Szekely chairs that she reupholstered in a muddy brown wool—an unfortunate choice, as it turned out. (The chairs will be redone.) She has had better luck with her Jean-Michel Othoniel chandelier, George Nelson lamps and a 14-seat Chester Jones dining table that she bought at Christie’s in London.
Since the early Eighties, Gloria has been a voracious art collector, and the opulent private quarters of her castle in Regensburg are loaded with big-ticket Hirsts, Koonses and Murakamis. In New York, where the backdrop is more contemporary, she favors American artists and artworks with local references. A video piece by Bill Viola is installed near the sitting area, while the dining room is dominated by a large Thomas Ruff photograph of the Empire State Building. Above Gloria’s bed are three crucifixes by Ed and Nancy Kienholz, mixed-media compositions with kitschy portraits of Jesus mounted on toy wagon handles. “I like contemporary art with Christian iconography,” says Gloria, pointing out Andy Warhol’s Christ $9.98, a rendering of an inexpensive Jesus night-light, which hangs beneath a gigantic mirrored skull by Christoph Steinmeyer.
Much has been made of Gloria’s so-called conversion to Catholicism. She remarks that she was baptized and raised in the church, but admits there was a crucial turning point when she struck up a friendship with a high-ranking German cardinal, Joseph Alois Ratzinger, who’d been born not far from Regensburg. Gloria had her first sighting of Ratzinger almost three decades ago, when he preached at St. Emmeram Church. He was a saint, she decided, and she vowed to get close to him. “But these people have other things to do than to meet with a young socialite,” she says. “Especially one with maybe not the best reputation.” After Johannes died, however, Gloria began inviting the cardinal to say Mass in Regensburg, and by 2000 she’d bought a place in Rome, where, with her friend Alessandra Borghese, she started hosting exclusive religious salons and liturgical concerts. Five years later Ratzinger became pope, and Gloria had a friend in a very high place.
Early on her children wondered where all this devotion was coming from. “It seemed maybe like one of her phases,” says Elisabeth. “We used to tease her that she’d gone from being a prince groupie to a pope groupie. But gradually she became much more serious and devoted.”
Today Gloria seems to have little trouble reconciling her friendship with the Holy Father and her penchant for jetset living and other secular thrills. “Few people reach that level where your life and the teaching of the church are really in balance,” she explains. “That’s the nature of Catholicism. But it’s a very happy religion, because you’re never left alone with your shortcomings. Everyone in the world sins, thinks badly, does bad stuff. But if you have the church, it is there to reconcile you. It’s a great misunderstanding to think that we have to be perfect.”