Stefan Theil

Stories by Stefan Theil

  • The Angry Republic

    "Schroder is stupid." That's how a Berlin daily, Die Welt, sums up German public opinion. A more intellectual--and vicious--insult these days is to compare Chancellor Gerhard Schroder to Heinrich Bruning, the hapless Weimar-era chancellor whose incompetent handling of the Great Depression helped bring on Adolf Hitler.Ouch. Never has a postwar German leader experienced such a sharp reversal of political fortunes--or met such a wave of public and editorial invective. Just two months ago, Schroder and his Social Democrats celebrated their narrow re-election. Today, half the people who voted for him wish they hadn't. Were the election held again, the opposition Christian Democrats would get 50 percent of the vote, the Social Democrats 28.Germans see plenty of reasons to be angry. After pledging during the campaign not to raise taxes, Schroder's government just slapped citizens and businesses with up to ¤23 billion in new levies, effective Jan. 1. Instead of passing a tediously...
  • Germany's Jobless Racket

    Simone Richter, 29, has been unemployed since 1997. After being downsized from a public-housing agency, she put herself through half a dozen government-sponsored training courses, from IT for Office Workers to Practical Administrative Skills. They were supposed to beef up her secretarial experience and help her land a job. Instead, she says, listless students spent much of their class time surfing the Net under the eyes of unmotivated instructors. No one she knows has found work.Half a million Germans are sent by the Labor Bureau to take such courses every year--without any visible effect on Germany's 9.4 percent jobless rate. "They told us from the beginning that we'd never find a job," says Richter. "I have the feeling they're just shuffling us around." If there's one economic sector that's booming around Cottbus, her depressed hometown near Berlin, it's the retraining industry. Thanks to an endless flow of public funds, the third biggest single employer in the region is, in fact,...
  • Beware, Bordeaux

    Bernhard Huber's epiphany was buried in a bundle of dusty old papers. Digging through historical documents in the archive of his home village of Malterdingen, the German wine-making apprentice found a fragile parchment covered in ancient script. Written in the 13th century by Cistercian monks, it praised Malterdingen's elegant and much sought-after wines. What a far cry from recent years, when the town's wine-making cooperative produced swill that in good years was drunk by the locals--and in bad years was hardly drunk at all. "If they made good wine back then, it's got to be possible to make good wine now," Huber says he thought.He was right. After discovering those papers back in 1984, Huber took his family's vineyards out of the cooperative and set about overhauling their product. Now, 18 years later--and for the first time in generations--Malterdingen wine is again winning plaudits. At professional wine tastings in Paris, London and Copenhagen, Huber's Sptburgunder--a silky,...
  • The Fine Art Of Shopping

    Every mall rat knows that shopping is an art: finding the perfect cashmere sweater, staking out a spot early at the end- of-season shoe sale. Now a new exhibit at Frankfurt's Schirn Kunsthalle celebrates shopping as a work of art. Called "Shopping--100 Years of Art and Commerce" (through Dec. 1, then moving to the Tate Liverpool), the show is as gratifying as an afternoon spent browsing the racks. Filled with images of consumerism by artists ranging from turn-of-the-century French photographer Eugene Atget to modern-day British bad-boy Damien Hirst, "Shopping" pointedly explores the relationship between high culture and mall culture.That connection is stronger than ever. As more than a few sociologists have pointed out, consumerism is one of the defining social phenomena of our age, and a key source of public interaction. Throughout much of the world, shopping is no longer merely a way to fulfill essential needs but a primary leisure activity. And in the wake of September 11,...
  • Going Its Own Way

    Here's the CW. George Bush "went ballistic" over Germany's independent demarche on Iraq, as one White House aide puts it. But has a historic relationship been irreparably harmed? No, say most spinmeisters. Chancellor Gerhard Schroder had an election to win, and it helped to just say no to war. But that was mostly rhetoric, at worst an honest disagreement among friends. Time and diplomacy will heal the rift.That's one way to see it. Another is that this issue is here to stay. The reason: what's fast becoming the new German Problem--the question of where the Schroder government's defiant path is taking Europe's largest nation, and what it might mean for others. Last week NEWSWEEK offered a review of the economic challenges facing Germany, and how radically the country is departing from the European mainstream in refusing to address them. Similar problems are emerging in its foreign relations. For the first time since World War II, Germany is charting a course that may split it not...
  • A Contrarian View: Learning From The East

    When the German automaker BMW decided to build a new assembly plant for its 3 Series sedan, executives scouted 250 locations around the world. They considered sites in France and the Czech Republic, where lower wages and a friendly regulatory climate meant they could operate more cheaply and efficiently than in high-cost Germany. But in the end they picked a green field outside Leipzig, in Germany's east. The reason: labor costs that are more than a third lower than in western Germany, coupled with a flexible agreement with the local union that would allow BMW to run its plant 140 hours a week--not quite 24/7, as you might find in some parts of the globe, but as close to it as BMW could wish.The deal, says BMW spokesman Hubert Bergmann, is better than the company could have gotten anywhere else in Europe. And it's clearly good for Leipzig and surrounding towns, which stand to gain some 11,000 new jobs when the plant opens in 2005. Perhaps most important, it's a sign of good news for...
  • The High Price Of Victory

    Germans glued to their TV sets Sunday night called it a political thriller: the tightest election cliffhanger in their nation's history. When votes were counted in the early hours of the morning, incumbent Chancellor Gerhard Schroder had managed--just--to cling to power. ...
  • Young At Heart

    Kihabara shopping district, Tokyo, 2012: in a street once dominated by electronics dealers and toy stores, a new business is opening its doors. Signs in extra-bold lettering are advertising "authentic" whalebone walking canes, along with the newest high-tech wheelchairs. Three doors down, at one of the few surviving electronic-gadget stores, Sony's new snap-on cholesterol sensors are all the rage. But few of the stores are doing well. Instead, the once lively neighborhood is being taken over by undertakers, doctors' practices and "silver age" hotels whose bright neon signs advertise tiny cubicles and nursing robots. Last year, the average Japanese turned 46 years old. The over-80s have reached 9 million. With fewer children born every year, Tokyo will soon start thinning out as Japan's population continues its long decline.This is how most people view the silvering of our planet: it's a future in which the aging population of rich nations produces a bleak panorama of crises, from...
  • Does This Vote Matter?

    One of Germany's favorite Internet sites, these days, is the Kanzlergenerator. Start with a grinning image of Der Kanzler, Gerhard Schroder. With a few clicks, mix in a couple of facial features from his challenger in next week's national election, Bavarian Premier Edmund Stoiber. Depending on how you blend nose, mouth, eyes and hair, you get an Edhard Schoiber, a Germund Stroder--or a Schoider, a Schrober, a Stoider. "To lower CO2 emissions, we have to protect women from violence and reduce the tax on small business," one of these political polymorphs tells us.For many Germans, such gobbledygook too closely resembles the real campaign. With 4 million unemployed, near-zero growth and the astonishing transformation of Germany from Europe's juggernaut to economic laggard, the Sept. 22 election should by rights be a juicy dogfight over who's to blame for the mess--and how to fix it. But no. The latest ZDF Politbarometer poll puts both candidates at 38 percent, with a big chunk of...
  • Marketing To The Elder Set

    Imagine this scene in the ginza shopping district of Tokyo just 10 years from now: in a street once dominated by electronics dealers and toy stores, a new business is opening its doors. Signs in bold lettering are advertising "authentic" whalebone walking canes, along with high-tech wheelchairs. Three doors down, Sony's new snap-on cholesterol sensors are all the rage. But few stores are doing well. Instead, the once lively neighborhood is getting taken over by undertakers, physicians and hotels featuring tiny cubicles and nursing robots.Welcome to Silver World: a landscape of rapidly aging populations. This year the average Japanese turned 42 years old. The over-70s have reached 14 million. The demographics are clear, and irreversible. Two thirds of all senior citizens who've ever lived are alive today. The number of people born between 1990 and 1995 was only about half as large as the number born between 1970 and 1975. That means more old people, and fewer younger workers to...
  • Let Them Eat Organic

    Baron Wolfgang Von Munchhausen gets a premium price for his premium crops. Ten years ago, after getting ill from some of the 125 different pesticides he was spraying on his 300 acres of wheat, rye and other grains, he converted his farm in the German state of Schleswig-Holstein to organic agriculture, eschewing chemical fertilizers and toxic pesticides in favor of crop rotation, farmyard manure and other traditional measures. Today he delivers his produce to "bio" bakeries, where well-heeled Germans pay extra for the privilege of eating organic bread. So what if Munchhausen's yields are 50 percent lower than those of chemical-happy colleagues'?At least that's how critics of organic farming see it. Organic farmers are just skimming the cream. Agrochemicals, the argument goes, were an essential part of the "green revolution" of the 1950s and 1960s that made it possible for Third World countries like India to feed their fast-growing populations. But is this really true? No, say...
  • Cowboys Und Indians

    A village of 390 tepees stretches along the valley floor, close by a gurgling stream. Squaws cook breakfast over open fires. Young girls play lacrosse. A pair of warriors skin a buffalo. Others have painted themselves with black ash and white chalk and donned their tribal finery. Today will be the Great Dance, with prayers for the grass to grow so that the buffalo may multiply.Morning on the American Great Plains, 1850? No, Langenwetzendorf in eastern Germany, a sleepy town in the forests south of Berlin. The buffalo comes from a breeder in Nuremberg (yes, it's been tested for BSE), and 15 port-a-pots stand ready in a meadow. As for the thousand residents of the tepee village, not one claims a drop of American blood. Instead, these half-naked "natives" are lawyers from Leipzig, doctors from Hamburg and office workers from Oberhausen. Called Indian Week, the secretive, sealed-off camp with the strictest of dress codes is organized by one of the more than 200 clubs in Germany devoted...
  • Let's Stay In Style

    "You are where you stay," hotel owner Ian Schrager once said. If that's true, then many of us are Holiday Inns. And by the same token, many of us are going to become much more hip, as chic designer hotels come to dominate the industry.Judging by properties like the new W Times Square in New York, the days of the generic hotel are numbered. Water flowing down glass plates gives the hotel's lobby a Zen-like serenity. The staircase is wrapped in sequins. Glowing amber cubes serve as night tables. The swank leather-and-pinstriped staff uniforms are by American designer Kenneth Cole. Rising above New York's post-September 11 doldrums, the W Times Square sold out only three months after it opened in January.Meanwhile, in Tokyo, the Four Seasons chain, known for plush but predictable luxury, will soon open a branch at the ultra-contemporary, glass-clad Pacific Century Place in the central business district. It's a trend. With even the big hotel chains trying to achieve cool, designer...
  • Staying In High Style

    You are where you stay," hotel owner Ian Schrager once said. If that's true, then many of us have been as bland as a Holiday Inn, about as interesting as a wood-grain Formica television stand. And by the same token, many of us are going to become much more hip, as chic designer hotels come to dominate the industry.Judging by properties like the new W Times Square in New York, the days of the generic, "If It's Tuesday, This Must Be Belgium" chain hotel are numbered. Water flowing down glass plates gives the hotel's lobby a serene, Zen-like feel. The staircase is wrapped in sequins. Glowing amber cubes serve as night tables. The swank, leather-and-pinstripe staff uniforms are by American designer Kenneth Cole. Beating the travel industry's--and especially New York's--post-9-11 doldrums, the W Times Square sold out only three months after it opened in January. With even the big hotel chains trying to get cool, designer hotels have graduated from insider tips traded by urban hipsters to...
  • Getaway? Go Away!

    German vacationers on the sun-soaked Mediterranean island of Majorca get a special kind of welcome these days at Es Trenc. On the beach encircling the turquoise bay, someone has spray-painted a one-word message to them on the side of an old concrete shelter: raus--"Beat it!"--along with a giant swastika.Majorcans are getting thoroughly sick of tourists. Not only of Germans--tourists from just about anywhere. No one denies tourism's vital role in the local economy. The industry has transformed Majorca from one of Spain's poorest parts to the richest in per capita income. But the island's 630,000 year-round inhabitants are increasingly convinced that 14 million foreign visitors a year are far too much of a good thing. Water is rationed. Pollution is worsening. Big hotels have mushroomed, and Spanish has fallen to second-language status on much of the island. "The tourists are unbearable," says Frederico Medina, 32, a local gardener. "They act like they own the island. They're like...
  • The End Of Swag?

    Baksheesh. Kiti Kodogo. Swag. Most every language has its vaguely derogatory slang term for bribery. The King James Bible predicted long ago that the "the congregation of hypocrites shall be desolate, and fire shall consume the tabernacles of bribery." It didn't say when. Whether delivered in a bag, a brown wrapper or a red envelope, bribery has been accepted for centuries as part of the lamentable human condition. Cultures that outlawed paying bribes did so only at home, while allowing or even encouraging the habit abroad. The puritanical exception was the United States, which banned the "corrupt practice" of bribing foreigners in foreign lands as early as 1977 and has been trying to get the rest of the rich world to pass similar rules of law ever since. Now this long-shot campaign to turn back centuries of grease and greed is gaining unlikely momentum.Consider: the World Bank is compiling a blacklist of bribers, sending shudders through the international construction companies...
  • Culture On The Cheap

    ParisStart the day with a cafe creme and a croissant at the Cafe de Flore, just as Hemingway did before you. (Stand at the counter--it's cheaper.) In the great Parisian tradition, stroll along the Boulevard Saint-Germain to the Luxembourg garden. Nearby, stop at the rue de Medicis side of the garden to find Eric Valli's photo exhibit, "Himalaya, World's Crossroad" hanging on the iron gates. For lunch, grab a baguette sandwich (3.5 euros) and a chair next to the Luxembourg's central fountain. Hop a metro (1.30 euros) to Les Invalides, and wander around the spectacular sculpture gardens of the Rodin Museum. It's free, like all French national museums, on the first Sunday of each month. If you're sightseeing midweek, head to the European House of Photography, free on Wednesday evenings. The Parc Floral, near the Chateau de Vincennes metro stop, costs 1.5 euros to enter, but has free children's puppet shows most days at 3 and 4 p.m. Until the end of July, it's also the site of the Paris...
  • Blues Versus Reds

    Baron Gotthard von Winterfeld hadn't seen his ancestors' feudal estate in nearly half a century. When he finally did so 12 years ago, after the fall of the Berlin wall, his eyes filled with tears. His forefathers first settled in the tiny village of Neuenfeld, on the plains of northern Brandenburg, in the 13th century. A hundred years ago they'd built a handsome manor house on the property. But all that remained was a low pile of stones, overgrown with birches and weeds. The brick outbuildings still stood, but their roofs leaked and the interiors were rotting. "Everything was gone," the now-73-year-old recalls thinking as he sat on an old gravestone with his son Jorn, but he knew what he had to do. "We owed it to the family to come back and rebuild."Many other blue-blooded German families feel the same way. Driven off their agricultural estates in East Germany by the Soviet Army in 1945, their homesteads pillaged and lands expropriated, these rustic country squires were considered ...
  • TURNING OFF THE LIGHTS

    When Tony Blair turns on his lights in Downing Street, the power comes from Electricite de France. Reason: when Britain opened its energy market to competition in 1990, the French company leapt in. But fat chance for a British company to light up the Elysee palace, where French President Jacques Chirac lives. For despite vociferous complaints and its own promises, France stubbornly clings to its state-owned monopoly, protecting 120,000 jobs and closing out foreign rivals--in defiance of its partners in the European Union.Never has so much history hinged on a simple, boring power company. In the epic battle over the course of Europe's future, EdF has become an improbable litmus test. Will the Continent go along in its time-honored way, protecting government monopolies, favored industries and cozy social-welfare systems? Or will it embrace the free-market reforms economists say are necessary to get growing again--and realize the grand ambition of creating a genuine single market of...
  • THE THREAT OF A LINUX GENERATION

    Even computer programmers can sometimes let their emotions get the better of them. "If I made a great product, and Microsoft offered me a lot of money, I would spit in their faces," says Brett Slatkin, a student at Columbia University in New York. His colleagues roll their eyes and accuse him of being stuck at the "hippy stage." But when talk turns to the serious business of programming, they are of one pragmatic mind.One of the burning issues in computer circles is whether servers--the fastest-growing segment of the computer business--are going to run Microsoft software or an alternative, Linux, in the future. Microsoft's selling point has been its universe of tightly designed software that fits together like a puzzle, from the basic operating systems that make each computer run to software that controls networks to programs designed for specific tasks. But lately Microsoft has been placing more and more restrictions on how its software can be used. That bothers programmers, who...
  • Combing For Nukes

    The hunt had been on for a month, held back by heavy snow and inaccessible mountain terrain. Finally, last week, in the former Soviet republic of Georgia, a team of local and international nuclear experts secured two highly lethal, radioactive canisters on a mountainside close to the province of Abkhazia, where local nationalists are fighting for independence. The last stretch up a remote logging road took five hours because the heavy military truck carrying a five-ton lead container came close to sinking into deep mud. At the end of the road, two dozen men in heavy protective gear wielding six-foot tongs carefully picked up the two ceramic cylinders, each no bigger than a can of soup, and placed them safely into the lead container. The canisters were so deadly that each man was allowed to spend no more than a minute standing near them, and even so was not allowed within a meter. ...
  • Burning Out?

    In Thomas Mann's epic novel "Buddenbrooks," a well-heeled family of German burghers slides into genteel decline. The first generation lays the foundations for a fortune, the second amasses it and the third squanders the family's riches on a life of leisure. Their hardworking neighbors, meanwhile, grow steadily more prosperous. In the end, the impoverished, defeated scion of the once great family meets an untimely death. ...
  • Second Thoughts

    From Tony Blair to George W. Bush to Gerhard Schroder, everyone agrees that the war on terror won't be won solely in the mountains of Afghanistan. This is also a fight on the home front. Across Europe, governments are following America's lead: arresting suspects, freezing bank accounts, trying to break up terrorist networks. And as in America, they're rushing to enact a whole book of new laws they say will help them to better do the job.But hold on. In the United States, Attorney General John Ashcroft is under fire for the plan to create secret military tribunals and, as many Americans see it, infringe on basic civil rights. And so it is in Europe. Last week in London, in a telling reversal of fortune, Tony Blair's efforts to muscle a radical package of antiterror measures into law backfired spectacularly when the package was carpet-bombed in the House of Lords by naysayers from both the political left and right. Among other things, the far-reaching legislation would allow...
  • Tolerating The Intolerable

    Harun Aydin, a 29-year-old medical student from Turkey, was about to board an Iran Air flight from Frankfurt to Tehran. Suddenly, a phalanx of German police appeared and whisked him away. In his suitcase investigators found a chemical-warfare protection suit, a bottle of a mercury-type liquid used to make bomb detonators and a CD-ROM full of jihadist propaganda. Investigators say Aydin is a high-ranking member of Caliphate State, a radical Islamic group in Cologne that calls for the destruction of Western democracy. It admits contacts to Osama bin Laden--yet is a perfectly legal organization in Germany. Indeed, Caliphate State enjoys the special status of a religious association. It's even tax-exempt.Such coddling of criminals is far from rare in Europe. Taking advantage of liberal asylum laws that don't distinguish between religious Islam and fanatical Islamism, groups similar to Caliphate State have for years tapped into European freedoms (and social benefits) to attract support...
  • It's Hip To Say 'Ich Bin Ein Berliner'

    The sign seems appropriate, somehow, to the spirit of the New Berlin: EUROPE'S FASTEST ELEVATOR. It takes just 20 seconds to zip to the top of the 25-story DaimlerChrysler building, one of a crop of brand-new skyscrapers sprouting from the heart of this city 10 years after the cold war. Look down from the viewing platform, and it immediately becomes apparent why the changes sweeping the city have been firing Germany's collective imagination. A little more than a decade ago Potsdamer Platz, the local Times Square, was a no man's land sundered by the Berlin wall. Now the city's center is a showcase for the snazzy works of some of the world's best architects. It is a place of green promenades and cafes, Rollerbladers and high-tech rickshaws, in a city vibrant with possibility.But peering down from the top of the DaimlerChrysler building, one can't help but spot something else: a giant scar in the earth. The vacant lot, just a stone's throw from the Brandenburg Gate, is a reminder that...
  • The Berlin Question

    The sign doesn't mince words: EUROPE'S FASTEST ELEVATOR. And fast it is. It takes just 20 seconds to zip up to the top of the 25-story DaimlerChrysler building, one of a crop of brand-new sky-scrapers sprouting from the heart of the New Berlin. It's easy to see why the dramatic changes here have fired the world's imagination. Little more than a decade ago, Potsdamer Platz was a no man's land sundered by the Berlin wall. Now, as everyone knows, it's a showcase for the snazzy works of modern architects, from Renzo Piano to Helmut Jahn. But look past the bustling construction sites, toward a football-field-size vacant lot a stone's throw from the Brandenburg Gate. It's set to become the site of the Berlin Holocaust Memorial, Germany's first real monument to the annihilation of European Jewry during World War II.As a symbol of the new Berlin, the contrast could not be more apt: past and future, in constant ferment. After a roller-coaster century of shattered imperial dreams and the...
  • Germany: The East--Still Sinking

    Commies love concrete. P. J. O'Rourke, the American humorist, wrote that about the old East bloc in the dying days of communism. But he could have been talking about Complex No. 7 in the city of Eisenhuttenstadt, a battered steel town in eastern Germany. It's a vast block of six-story prefabs, begrimed in the brownish-gray hues of slag and coal dust, hemmed in by a highway overpass and an overgrown railway. To one side a boarded-up supermarket offers a blank face to graffitists who seem to have long gone. On another, the inaptly named Pizzeria Paradieso caters to a clientele, at 8 p.m., of precisely zero. As for Complex No. 7, a third of its flats are empty, their windows dark and bare. Someday, "the forest will be growing here again," says Paul Bortel, one of the elderly residents who call these grim precincts home. "Anyone who's good at anything moves away," he says, waving vaguely westward toward the setting sun.Chancellor Gerhard Schroder visited last week, a stop in his annual...
  • Rediscovering The Old East

    Getting there is half the fun. My convertible blasts along ancient, tree-lined country lanes, through fields of rye ripening under a Curacao-blue sky. Nothing could be farther away from the metropolitan frazzle of Berlin than the wide-open Pomeranian countryside, three hours north of the capital. Past rolling hills and through dusty medieval villages, the road ends at the dock of a small passenger ferry. Across a narrow channel of the Baltic Sea lies a long, low strip of land, reachable only by boat. No cars allowed. Hiddensee is an island time forgot.Preserved under the glass bubble of communism until German reunification a decade ago, the place is just as it was in the '20s, when Thomas Mann and Albert Einstein summered in its thatched-roof cottages. No roads, motels, neon signs--nothing but a few simple villages, winding bike paths and sandy walking trails. Even in midsummer, its beaches are deserted.A decade after the fall of the wall, Germany's old East is drawing visitors...
  • Idle By Law

    Things are looking a lot better for Imer Duraku now than when he was fleeing war-torn Kosovo eight years ago. Granted a haven in Germany, the 41-year-old attorney and his family just moved into a comfortable, three-bedroom apartment in Bernau, a leafy suburb north of Berlin. Today his six children--the youngest born in Berlin--speak perfect German, have many German friends, and their bombed-out homeland is no more than a remote memory. They would be an upwardly mobile immigrant family with a bright future, if it were allowed.Germany does not allow it. The government keeps tens of thousands of war refugees like Duraku barred from the labor market--even if they have been here for years, bring needed skills and have already assimilated into society. So even though he has learned German, taken a computer course and found an employer who wants him as a paralegal, the local labor office keeps saying nein. His children have stamps in their passports that say all work or education beyond...
  • A Crisis Of Biotech

    The package that Wolfgang Franz received at his laboratory at the University of Lubeck was nondescript, but the contents were explosive. The molecular biologist had ordered a sample of 100,000 or so stem cells to use in his medical experiments. In particular, he wanted to find out if the cells could be used to repair heart damage from cardiac arrest. But now it looks like he won't get a chance, at least not soon. Word of the shipment got out and immediately ignited a controversy. Last week the German government called for a voluntary halt to all research involving human embryonic tissue--including stem cells. Under that kind of pressure, Franz had no choice but to put his stem cells in liquid-nitrogen storage and his research on ice.In Germany, embryos are protected under one of the strictest such laws in the world: the 1990 Embryonenschutzgesetz--embryo-protection law. It says that life begins at conception and that every fertilized egg has a right to survive. Since stem cells are...
  • Techies Turn To Organized Muscle

    This time last year, Pixelpark was New Economy to the core. At the high-flying Web-design agency, in a converted east Berlin light-bulb factory, proud staffers called themselves Pixels. They pulled all-nighters alongside CEO Paulus Neef in a happy team effort to get rich quick. The company stock they owned rose tenfold in just six months. Then came the downturn, and revolt. With losses mounting and Neef threatening to lay off 200 of the 1,500 Pixels, they did the unthinkable: dusting off a predigital relic of German industry, they elected a work council--employee representatives with the power under German law to negotiate firings, hirings and company policy--and took Neef to court to challenge the layoffs. "The time when we could resolve our differences with Paulus in the kitchen is long gone," says Pixelpark project manager and work-council chair Katja Karger.As layoffs loom at many of Germany's leading Internet companies, nervous dot-comers are seeking old-fashioned protection...