Stories by Stefan Theil

  • The Barbarians Within

    Hatun Surucu's crime was that she wanted to be free. Forced by her family to marry her cousin at age 16, the Turkish-born Berliner had divorced her husband, gone back to school and begun dating other men. On Feb. 7, after getting a call from a relative to come out on the street, the vivacious 23-year-old was shot three times in the head in what police describe as "an execution-style killing." Three of her brothers, one of whom boasted to friends about the murder, are now in jail.Surucu's murder is only one of a series of high-profile "honor killings" sending shock waves through Europe. In Berlin since October, six Muslim women have been brutally killed by their husbands or brothers, who felt the women had besmirched the family honor. In London on Friday, the Metropolitan Police announced that 18 cases of reported "suicide" in the last two years had turned out to be honor killings; another 59 suspicious suicides are still under investigation. These cases, authorities say, are likely...
  • Fear and Loathing

    BRACE FOR THE DELUGE, the newsweekly Der Spiegel recently warned Germans. A wave of modern-day "serfs" is heading your way. Migrants from Poland and the Czech Republic--working for as little as 3 euro an hour, one third the standard wage--are coming to steal jobs from hardworking Germans.Far-fetched? You bet. But there's no denying that Der Spiegel has its finger on a nervous nation's pulse. Last week the official number of jobless Germans reached an astonishing 5,216,000, or 12.6 percent, deepening an already palpable national angst. A new survey by the Consumer Research Group in Nuremberg finds that 77 percent of Germans worry about unemployment--a European anxiety record. With joblessness on a scale not seen since the 1930s, newspapers are replete with fraught references to Weimar, and to the economic chaos that engendered Hitler.Overblown or not, Germany's state of fear is real--and so are its consequences. Worries about unemployment are a big part of the reason behind a three...
  • Real Estate: History In Reverse

    It's our dream house," says Tomasz Pawlik, clicking through the slides on his laptop. In a few days, the 33-year-old restaurant owner in Szczecin, Poland, expects to sign the contract that will make him the owner of a handsome two-story country house, built in 1917 for a Lutheran parson. What's unusual about this homeowner's bliss is that the house is in a different country. He and his girlfriend, a painter, will soon commute to Szczecin from the German village of Wetzenow, a 25-kilometer hop across what used to be a tightly guarded border.Before their countries joined the European Union, the Poles' and other Eastern Europeans' biggest fear was an invasion of rich Germans and other Westerners who would buy up land in the much poorer East. In Pawlik's corner of the Polish-German border, however, the invasion increasingly looks to be going the other way. There it's the German side that's poor and depressed, while Szczecin, a boomtown of 450,000, has seen incomes rise and prices...
  • OSTRICH POLITIK

    A black day for Germany. So trumpeted last week's newspaper headlines. According to the latest official numbers, German unemployment is the highest it has been since the Great Depression of the 1930s--more than 5 million jobless, or 12.1 percent of the work force. Factor in millions of people in state-funded training programs and those who've given up, and the real tally exceeds 20 percent. Is it time to panic yet?The grim news comes on the heels of an alarming report by the Chamber of Industry and Commerce, warning that German companies are outsourcing an accelerating number of research and engineering jobs to China and Eastern Europe. Fresh consumer data show that, in 2004, worried Germans cut back personal spending for the third year in a row, helping fuel a record pace of 60,000 business bankruptcies. As if adding insult to injury, even the country's favorite source of escapism--football--was mired in deepening scandal. At major-league sports clubs in several cities, police were...
  • GERMANY: Ostrich Politik

    A black day for Germany. So trumpeted last week's newspaper headlines. According to the latest official numbers, German unemployment is the highest it has been since the Great Depression of the 1930s--more than 5 million jobless, or 12.1 percent of the work force. Factor in millions of people in state-funded training programs and those who've given up, and the real tally exceeds 20 percent. Is it time to panic yet?The grim news comes on the heels of an alarming report by the Chamber of Industry and Commerce, warning that German companies are outsourcing an accelerating number of research and engineering jobs to China and Eastern Europe. Fresh consumer data show that, in 2004, worried Germans cut back personal spending for the third year in a row, helping fuel a record pace of 60,000 business bankruptcies. As if adding insult to injury, even the country's favorite source of escapism--football--was mired in deepening scandal. At major-league sports clubs in several cities, police were...
  • VW'S PICKUP MAN

    He won't start his job until February--and Wolfgang Bernhard has already earned his future employer, German auto giant Volkswagen, many times his salary. When, in October, VW announced the 44-year-old turnaround specialist would become the new No. 2 under CEO Bernd Pischetsrieder, investors celebrated by raising VW's market cap by 1 billion euro in a single day.Volkswagen obviously needs a shot in the arm. Only four years ago it was the hottest brand in America, enjoying bidding wars for its New Beetle and a cult following for its revamped Passat sedan, "the poor man's Audi." Now VW is barely breaking even, dragged down by high costs, poor sales and the aging of those once hot models. In North America persistent quality problems inspired headlines like EUROTRASH, to describe an article about a reliability report that ranked VW models near the bottom. In the United States alone, VW now loses 1 billion euro a year; if it weren't for the highly profitable Audi brand, the company would...
  • ALL THAT GLITTERS...

    In Germany, American investors have lately been snapping up just about everything. Last week New York-based Blackstone Group, one of the biggest buyout funds, paid 1.4 billion euros for 32,000 rented apartments from struggling Hamburg-based WCM Real Estate. In May, Texas Pacific bought Grohe, Europe's largest maker of bathroom faucets, for 1.1 billion euros. Last month Kohlberg Kravis Roberts--the corporate raiders of "Barbarians at the Gate" fame--took over Duales System Deutschland, a money-losing, nonprofit recycling monopoly, for 975 million euros. In KKR's eyes, it seems, German trash is gold.What's going on here? As German investors stay mainly on the sidelines, American "vulture" funds are snapping up more and more of the country's assets. In the first three quarters of 2004, they invested 12 billion euros, or 84 percent of all private equity. Ten of the 20 biggest corporate mergers and acquisitions this year involved U.S. financial investors. AMERICA IS REMODELING GERMANY...
  • Dangerous Liaisons

    Europeans are swept up by 'Sinophoria.' But this love affair is double-edged.
  • EUROPE: RUSSIAN RUMBLINGS

    European diplomats called it "the Polish path." In this rosy view, Russia would--like Poland and other post-communist countries before it--proceed down a slow but steady path of democratization and free-market reform. Never mind George W. Bush's talk of forging a special U.S.-Russian relationship; an upwardly mobile Russia would inevitably gravitate into the European Union's orbit, irresistibly attracted by the EU's geographical proximity, its 10 trillion euros market and common bonds of history and culture. One fine day, it seemed, Russia might even become a member.These days the view from EU capitals couldn't be more different. As Europe sees it, President Vladimir Putin is taking Russia down a very un-European track by sharply curtailing democratic rights. The economy and media are coming more and more under state control. The bloody military campaign in Chechnya--with some 150,000 civilians dead--is deeply offensive to soft-power Europe. The idea that Russia is becoming more and...
  • NOT MADE FOR WALKING

    There's a scene in Michael Moore's "Roger & Me," the 1989 documentary featuring GM factory closings, in which a laid-off worker in depressed Flint, Michigan, can't leave town. All the moving companies and truck rentals are booked for six months, it seems, as a daily trek of job-seekers set out for brighter prospects in California or Texas....
  • Divided We Stand

    In the east German town of Wittenberge, Chancellor Gerhard Schroder faced eggs and rocks thrown by a furious crowd. In dozens of other cities, tens of thousands of protesters have revived the weekly "Monday marches" that brought the communist regime to its knees in 1989. This time, their rebellion is aimed at Schroder and what Brandenburg Gov. Matthias Platzeck decries as his "western" law to cut welfare benefits and turn east Germans into "second-class citizens."Not since German reunification has the mood in the east been this angry and foul. The east is burning read the headline for the east German tabloid Super-Illu recently. As "Ossis" and "Wessis" (east Germans and west Germans) observe the 14th anniversary of their merger next month, no one seems to feel like celebrating. With eastern unemployment stuck at 20 percent--more than twice the western rate--Schroder's plans to cut benefits will hit the region especially hard. But the protesters are also venting years of growing...
  • THE BRONZE SYNDROME

    The swimmers were bickering and unmotivated, finishing far slower than their personal bests. The track-and-field team watched medal after medal fall to small-country upstarts such as Ethiopia or Belarus. That was four years ago in Sydney, where the once mighty German sports machine fell to fifth place, barely leading a large pack of middling nations--after coming in an easy third in the two prior Games. The fact that Germany took almost as many total medals asthird-place China, yet only half as many gold, seemed a particularly acute sign of malaise. Were German athletes missing a "victory gene"? asked Bild, a mass circulation tabloid, at the end of the Games. The president of the German Olympic Committee diagnosed a case of bronze-medal syndrome, commenting that Germans "have no problem winning medals but a problem winning the gold."Now Berlin is revamping the Olympic program in ways that mirror its attempts to attack the "German disease" of an underperforming economy. Free-market...
  • GERMANY: ROAD TO BETTER DAYS

    The news was dismally familiar. Last week the Prussian Claims Society, a nationalist organization of Germans whose prewar estates were annexed by Poland in 1945, announced it would sue the Polish government in the EU courts to get back its members' land. Polish papers and politicians erupted in predictable outrage. There was talk of countersuing Germany for 1 trillion euro in wartime reparations. More controversy centered on Erika Steinbach, the feisty head of the Federation of Expellees, who wants to build a memorial in Berlin to the 11 million Germans driven from the country's former east after World War II--which Poles see as a bald and inexcusable attempt to paint Germans as victims in a global conflagration that they themselves ignited. Former foreign minister Wladyslaw Bartoszewski denounced Steinbach's plans as "fatal for Polish-German reconciliation."It's been only three months since Poland joined the European Union, opening a new chapter in Europe's history. Yet suddenly,...
  • EUROPE AFTER MONTI

    For five years Mario Monti has been the most powerful man in Brussels. As the European Union's competition commissioner, the former economics professor has busted cartels, stopped mergers and fought the protections EU members lavish on favored industries. He has slapped Microsoft with the biggest antitrust fine in history. He killed General Electric's attempt to buy Honeywell. He has taken on the EU's mighty antimarket axis, France and Germany, and forced them to slash billions in illegal aid to state-owned companies.Now that Italy has refused to renominate Monti to fill another term when his current one runs out in November, EU governments are battling over who will get his post. The lines are drawn straight through Europe's middle. On one side are Germany and France, who are happy to see Monti go. On the other are the likes of Britain, the Netherlands and Sweden, high-growth countries that trust in competition. Monti's successor will help determine whether Europe ever becomes a...
  • ON FERTILE GROUND

    When a group of young artists took over the bombed-out remains of a 19th-century shopping arcade on Berlin's Oranienburger Strasse in the early 1990s, the city government intervened to stop the wrecking ball. In a victory of art over commerce, officials forced the developer who owned the land--a 2.43-hectare plot of prime downtown real estate to give the artists a virtually rent-free lease. Four years ago the developer even agreed to spend 3 million euro to make the improvised studios and performance spaces safe for the artists to work in. Today the Kunsthaus Tacheles, as the now spruced-up building is called, thrives--its exhibitions, performances and concerts a magnet for young Berliners and tourists alike.Few countries promote culture and the arts like Germany. In many places around the world, shrinking public budgets and rising commercial pressures have marginalized all but the most successful artists. Germany, on the other hand, is still awash with largesse--in the form of...
  • THE END OF WELFARE?

    Beneath its perpetual sense of malaise, a quiet revolution is sneaking up on Germany. Two weeks ago the upper house of Parliament passed the final phase of Chancellor Gerhard Schroeder's Agenda 2010, the landmark reform package aimed at getting Germany back on the track to growth. So far, the measures have been mostly superficial, hardly shaking up the country's ingrained culture of entitlement. But the new law, to take effect in January, packs an unprecedented punch. It no less than eliminates Germany's long-established system of virtually lifelong unemployment benefits, shifting up to 2 million recipients onto the far less lucrative welfare rolls. Full unemployment benefits will be cut from 32 months to 12. Some Germans are calling it "the end of welfare as we know it."That may be premature. But there's no overstating the importance of what's happening. Since last year, all of Germany's 16 Lander, or state governments, have reversed a decades-old trend toward cutting working hours...
  • EUROPE'S HIGH-TECH HEAVY

    SAP is no household name. but if you work for a multinational corporation, chances are you're already using SAP software to file expense reports, manage customer data or monitor product deliveries. The only non-American firm among the world's top-10 software makers, SAP is also one of Europe's few high-tech success stories. A start-up founded by German engineers working for IBM, SAP is now worth $60 billion on the Frankfurt Stock Exchange. Last month SAP and Microsoft--which are increasingly competing with one another--announced they'd been in "merger" talks but called them off. CEO Henning Kagermann spoke to NEWSWEEK's Stefan Theil at the company's headquarters in Walldorf, Germany. Excerpts:THEIL: How close were you to getting bought by Microsoft?KAGERMANN: Microsoft approached us about a possible merger late last year [but] after a series of talks called it off because it would have been too complex. There was never a deal on the table.No. 1 software company Microsoft almost...
  • CALCULUS FOR CATASTROPHE

    In April the International Olympic Committee took the unprecedented step of buying $170 million worth of insurance to cover its operations in case the Athens Games are interrupted by terrorism or war. Such insurance has expanded rapidly since the September 11 attacks cost the industry $40.2 billion. New U.S. regulations require other types of insurers--property, casualty, environmental--to calculate their risk of terror as well. That has meant a lot of work for catastrophists, the specialist mathematicians whose job is to predict the likelihood of the unpredictable: hurricanes, earthquakes and man-made disasters. Gordon Woo, one of the world's leading catastrophists, works for Risk Management Solutions in London. He spoke with NEWSWEEK's Stefan Theil. Excerpts:THEIL: Why is a mathematician interested in terrorism?WOO: Mathematics provides a whole new set of tools in the war on terror. There's a mathematical model for conflict called game theory, which is actually an excellent way to...
  • WHAT COULD THEY BE THINKING?

    It violates every tenet of European integration. It contradicts all wisdom on how to reform economies, create growth and maximize competitiveness. And it's becoming a political hot potato. Just last week German Chancellor Gerhard Schroeder angrily denounced it as "infuriating" and "extremely nationalistic."The object of his ire? France's new infatuation with so-called national champions--companies nurtured by state aid and special protections to gain an advantage over foreign competition. Declaring that key companies "must not fall into the hands of foreigners," French Finance Minister Nicolas Sarkozy is effectively renationalizing giant Alstom, the country's flagship maker of high-speed trains, and shutting out German rival Siemens, which had been eying the financially troubled conglomerate for acquisition. By late June, Paris-based drugmaker Sanofi-Synthelabo is expected to complete its 55 billion euro takeover of Franco-German rival Aventis, whose plan to merge with Swiss...
  • EUROPE'S ENRON

    It is a spectacular tale of incompetence, greed and charges of corruption. It has pushed one of Germany's biggest banks to the brink of collapse. It allegedly involves ingenious pyramid schemes, runaway debts and uncovered losses concealed in a maze of shadowy companies and Cayman Islands trusts. It features officials at the most senior levels of government and business ignoring--and, by some accounts, suppressing--auditing reports that could have stopped the shenanigans years ago. Worse, it represents a more general problem for Germany that shows no sign of going away.Call it Europe's Enron. For the financial scandal that has swept up Bankgesellschaft Berlin is every bit as breathtaking as its American counterpart, both in the scale of its losses and the connivance with which they purportedly were covered up. But here the parallels stop. In the United States, Enron touched off a public outcry leading to a criminal investigation, jailed executives, the collapse of a major auditing...
  • TILTING AT WINDMILLS

    For decades, environmentalism has been close to a national obsession in Germany. The Green Party was invented here as a counterculture movement in the 1980s; today Green ministers help run the country. All across the land, households dutifully separate their garbage into five different containers for recycling. Thousands of newly built windmills provide a phenomenal 5 percent of Germany's electrical power, and there are plans to double that share by 2010. Hundreds of laws regulate the environmental impact of industry. One of them will phase out all nuclear power over the next 30 years.But these days, with a stubbornly high unemployment rate (11 percent), and after a decade of economic stagnation, the German consensus on environmentalism is beginning to fray. In fact, many citizens now wonder if environmentalism is a luxury the country can still afford. According to a recent Allensbach Institute poll, public concern for the environment now ranks far behind worries about jobs,...
  • BAD TO WORSE

    Usually, Germany's lenten carnival season means nonstop parties and good-natured cheer. This year, however, joking and laughing has turned into derision and scoffs. In the parades that wound their way through the Rhineland last week, papier-mache floats ridiculed Gerhard Schroeder and his ministers. Such is the national mood that genteel Dusseldorfers didn't bat an eye at an 15-foot chancellor with his privates on display. The tabloid Bild was dead serious when it described the whole country as "a ship of fools." For a 13-page report on the state of the union, appearing the day before carnival, newsweekly Der Spiegel's cover proclaimed "Germany: A Joke."Germans have long been famous for lamenting, whining and hyperbolizing over their plight, real or imagined. Angst and anxiety are indeed national pastimes. But the present bout of despair seems to be going from bad to worse. Only 20 percent of Germans think they'll be better off in five years, according to one recent poll--qualifying...
  • TOLERATING INTOLERANCE

    Like most of Western Europe, Germany considers itself a secular democracy. Article Four of its Constitution guarantees equal treatment of all religions. But that hasn't kept the governments of Bavaria, Baden-Wurttemberg and five other German states from drafting laws that treat different religions very differently indeed. Effective this fall, schoolteachers will be banned from wearing Muslim head-scarves--but not crucifixes, yarmulkes or even nuns' habits. The ban was necessary, the Bavarian government claims, because the scarf has become "a symbol of fundamentalism and extremism" that cannot be tolerated at public schools. By labeling it a "political" and not a religious symbol, the authorities believe they have gotten around the strictures of Article Four. More of Germany's 16 states are likely to follow.Germany is not alone in grappling with the headscarf issue. In France, a commission appointed by President Jacques Chirac recently recommended forbidding not just teachers but...
  • THE PARMALAT PROBLEM

    When Enron launched an era of scandal in 2002, Old Europe had a good sneer about the ugly excesses of American capitalism. Now Europe has a scandal as large as any uncovered in the United States. Between 8 billion and 14 billion euro have gone missing at Parmalat, a global dairy conglomerate based in the northern Italian city of Parma. CEO Calisto Tanzi is now in a Milan jail along with a dozen other executives.What Italian newspapers are calling "Enron a la Parmigiana" has shocked the markets. The Milan stock market is down 3 percent since the scandal broke Dec. 19, compared with a 1 percent rise in the Europewide Eurostoxx index. Italian banks, owed at least 1 billion euro by Parmalat, were hit especially hard. And just as Enron proved to be the tip of the polluted iceberg, analysts last week began asking whether Parmalat might be a leading indicator of rot at other big, family-run corporations throughout Italy, or even throughout Europe.The yogurt first hit the fan when a...
  • Eastern Exposure

    Europe's cherished dream of ever-closer union is dead. That's not just because the European Union's draft constitution fails to mention that now dirty word, "federalism." Nor does it have much to do with Iraq, and the division of Europe into feuding pro-American "New Europe" and a more skeptical core of "Old Europe." It doesn't even have that much to do, long term, with the latest flap du jour in Brussels over voting rights. No, as some experts tell it, the real divide of the future centers on Russia.From the vantage point of most European capitals, Russia is on the upsurge, gaining in economic prosperity and trending closer to the West. Europe is happy to have a reliable supplier of oil and gas. Berlin and Paris, especially, were pleased to find in Moscow an ally against what they perceive to be the Bush administration's run-amok nondiplomacy in the world.Contrast this with the view from countries in the east. The Kaliningrad region, a Russian enclave on the Baltic squeezed between...
  • Looking For An Iron Lady

    Chancellor Helmut Schmidt called her "a rhinoceros." His conservative successor Helmut Kohl scarcely concealed his dislike, virtually hissing her name when forced to discuss the ruthless, unbridled capitalism she epitomized--and that he was determined Germany should never emulate.Left, right or center, Margaret Thatcher has long been the politician Germans loved to hate. But how times have changed. In recent months, dozens of articles have popped up in German newspapers and magazines lauding Thatcher's success in reviving modern Britain. Likening the "British disease" of the 1970s to today's "German malaise"--a coupling of recession and rising joblessness with a seeming incapacity for change--they pose a once unthinkable question: is Germany ripe for a Teutonic incarnation of the Iron Lady? The answer is a resounding "Yes," according to a new book entitled "Maggie Thatcher's Drastic Cure: A Recipe for Germany?" Apart from winning glowing reviews, it may have caught the attention of...
  • 9/11? It Never Happened

    To get a sense of how deep mistrust of the United States runs in Germany, take a look at the bookshelves. Two years after September 11, German bookstores are flooded with such works as "The CIA and September 11," in which a former government minister of Research and Technology, Andreas von Bulow, insinuates that the U.S. and Israeli intelligence services blew up the World Trade Center from the inside. The two Boeings, he claims, were flown in by remote control as a cover-up. The whole thing was a cynical plot by America's neoconservatives to take over the world.Published last month by the otherwise reputable Piper Verlag, the minister's book has already jumped to number three on the nonfiction best-seller list. The only books more popular are two works by Michael Moore, an American left-wing documentarian who has, over the past year, become celebrated for his eloquent rants against the Bush administration, accusing it of using 9/11 as an excuse to curtail civil liberties while...
  • The Next Wall To Fall

    Wolfgang Neubert used to work in an East German combine making clunky refrigerators for the socialist bloc. The factory went under after German unification. Out of a job at 43 but not content on the dole, Neubert hooked up with a Western auto-parts supplier. Today he heads a company with 83 workers in Chemnitz, formerly Karl-Marx-Stadt, manufacturing components for BMW and truck maker MAN. Business is booming despite Germany's recession. "Every one of my employees knows we had to work hard to get from nothing to where we are," he says, adding that his east German employees would even "work around the clock."For the longest time, west Germans caricatured Jammerossis, or "whining Easties," as slothful parasites collecting welfare checks. But stories like Neubert's are increasingly disproving this old cliche. True, the east is still the economic black hole of Germany, with double the national employment rate and sucking in subsidies of 100 billion euros a year. But it's easy to be...
  • Underground Railroad

    Bahar knew there was no going back. Her father, a Turkish immigrant in Berlin, had threatened to kill her "with 100 stabs of the knife." Her crime: refusing to marry her cousin Hassan, as her parents had arranged when she was 12. Since then, she hadn't been allowed to talk to other boys. Catching her chatting with one at a bus stop, her older brother hit her so hard she collapsed; her mother, she says, regularly beat her with a wooden rolling pin.One attempt to run away had already failed. Her father and brother lured her back and, amid more beatings and threats, told her to get ready for the unwanted wedding. But Bahar (not her real name) called a German friend, who sent the police, who in turn took her to Papatya, a secret hostel for abused immigrant girls. With the help of the German-Turkish team of social workers at Papatya, she has since moved to another city, changed her name and begun to build a new life. "I am on the run," the 20-year-old now says, "only because I want to be...