BONN — The Prince and Princess of Wales received a royal welcome Monday at the beginning of their official visit to West Germany--a trip that could dampen widespread press speculation that their marriage is in trouble.
Prince Charles, in a pin-striped, double-breasted dark suit, and Princess Diana, wearing a black miniskirt with a strawberry jacket and hat, were feted by the mayor of Bonn, Chancellor Helmut Kohl and West German President Richard von Weizsecker.
They smiled at each other and at guests as they went through their official paces, including a walkabout in Bonn's main square, where they shook the hands of dozens of well-wishers.
The royal couple's demeanor and comportment are being studied closer than usual on this visit--which includes stops in Cologne, Munich, Hamburg, Celle and Hanover, as well as a private day in West Berlin on Sunday--because of reports indicating shaky times for their six-year-old marriage.
Both the West German press and the British press have billed the trip as the "reconciliation on the Rhine." All have devoted acres of space to stories that Charles, 38, and Diana, 12 years his junior, have spent only one night under the same roof in the six weeks prior to this trip, according to media palace-watchers.
Hunting, Fishing Vacation
Charles spent recent weeks in Balmoral Castle in Scotland on a hunting and fishing vacation, with occasional ceremonial side trips. He was photographed with Lady Dale Tryon, described by London's sensational News of the World as "an old flame" of whom he once purportedly said was "the only woman who really understands me."
Diana stayed in the couple's country house in Gloustershire or the apartment in London's Kensington Palace, with her two sons, Princes William, 5, and Harry, 3.
Because of Charles' extended absence, one London tabloid ran the brash headline, "Anybody Seen My Dad!" Another advised, "Patch Up Your Marriage."
Queen Elizabeth II and spokesmen at Buckingham Palace have maintained a cool silence on the state of the relationship, but this did not stop the News of the World from reporting Sunday that Diana had, in a fury, stormed out of a reconciliation meeting arranged by the monarch.
Even the staid Sunday Telegraph ran a story about the troubles of the storybook marriage under the headline, "A Nasty Twist to the Fairytale."
On Saturday, Diana failed to show up at a wedding of another old flame of Charles, Lady Amanda Knatchbull, which was attended by the queen, Charles and other royalty.
This led even London's serious Observer to comment Sunday: "No one, to be sure, has been quite so spectacularly absent from a wedding as Princess Diana."
The British press, at great length, has pointed to the differences not only in the couple's ages but also in their tastes.
Charles is said to like the outdoor life, blood sports and polo, and takes an interest in inner-city problems and serious music.
By contrast, Diana reportedly prefers the city life, with a strong emphasis on shopping and party-going.
Speculation over a possible rift began two weeks ago when palace watchers reported that the two had not made a single appearance together between Sept. 16, when they took Prince Harry to his first day of school, and Oct. 21. On Oct. 20, Diana was asked by a schoolteacher's helper whether her marriage was in trouble, and she replied, "It depends on what newspapers you read."
The next day, Charles flew down from Balmoral to pick up Diana for a visit with flood victims in Wales. Their picture ran prominently on TV news programs. Then, rather than returning home with his wife, Charles dropped her off at a Royal Air Force base and went back to Scotland.
Two weeks ago, he showed up at their country home with flowers and toys. By midafternoon the following day, Diana was seen leaving the house to drive back to London alone.
Only insiders can be sure how much the reports of marital discord can be attributed to media hype, in a country where tabloid readers view the royal family and its affairs as a kind of aristocratic soap opera, combining the best, or worst, features of "Dallas" and "Dynasty."
Whatever the case, the West German visit is being analyzed in minute detail by the royalty-watchers on both sides of the English Channel in a way that transcends the ceremonial nature of the trip.
For instance, a German newspaper reported that Diana wants to visit a discotheque while in Munich, while Charles intends to inspect a stud farm there.
This led the flashy Cologne Express to comment: "If Charles turns up in the discotheque with her, the battle for the survival of the marriage will have been won."
'Happiness in Berlin'
When the couple arrived in West Berlin Sunday, the sympathetic London Daily Mail trumpeted: "Happiness in Berlin," reporting:
"To the gloom of the European press, who thought they had come to gloat over a constitutional crisis, (the couple) put on a magnificent performance which radiated happiness at every turn.
"The way the story had been running here, they expected the royal couple to arrive with their lawyers. What they got was an unequivocal show of affection that consigned those absurd reports of rift and rancor to the dustbin."
The West German media were clearly looking forward to the visit, with front pages assigned space and television scheduling special coverage.