Posted January 2009:
I have seen the world end. Ten
times, twenty times. At least. I have seen New York being
flooded, the globe freezing over, Europe turned into a desert
and fire raining from the skies.
It was moving each time. And
noisy too. A lot of wrooms, ka-booms, bangs. Afterwards my
husband and I used to go for a beer.
If you have survived killer
viruses, alien monsters, and undead-zombies, all out to destroy
the world as we have known it in 90 minutes or so, the current
economic crisis will barely make you blink.
What crisis? Whose crisis?
Have some more popcorn, dear.
The financial crisis of 2008
was uncompromising in its destruction of reputations and
undiscriminating in its treatment of investors. Across the
globe, people have seen their life’s savings wiped out. Some of
America’s wealthiest socialites are facing ruin.
But, honestly, did anybody
really believe that growth was limitless? Have they all
forgotten what’s been said a million times: “If it looks too
good to be true, it probably is!”
Now they do, gnashing their
teeth and tearing their hair.
The current financial crisis
has driven home the point that higher, further, faster cannot be
the inherent purpose of growth. Growth that is purely
materialist will hit the wall. Only growth that is sustainable,
based on values and ethics, can meet the challenges of the
present and the future.
The Africa convention of the
Institute of Brewing & Distilling (1 March to 6 March 2009) is
devoted to the issue of sustainable development.
A wise and timely choice.
Posted October 2008:
It’s a truism that Art
imitates Life. But what about Life imitating Art? I have been
thinking about this vexing question often in the course of the
past few weeks as we saw several Wall Street institutions hit
the proverbial wall. Not that their demise filled me with glee.
Far from it. Yet I felt somewhat smug as I had made the
controversial claim (well, it sounded contentious to the
audience then) in a paper that I gave at the San Francisco
convention of the MBAA two years ago that the globalisation of
the brewing industry did not so much resemble a linear and
purposeful narrative as a re-run of the motion picture “Easy
Rider”. You will all remember how the film ends. Its heroes are
killed by some dim-witted rednecks.
Hopefully, a similar fate will
not befall the architects of the Anheuser-Busch takeover. These
days they will be holding their breath that none of the banks
which promised to bankroll the deal will go under before they
have handed over their cash to InBev.
I spent a lot of time this
summer sitting on airplanes as I travelled from Europe to
Hawaii, on to Australia and New Zealand and back home again.
That allowed me to catch up with Philip Kerr’s fourth novel in
the Berlin Noir series, “The One from the Other”. If you have
not read any of Mr Kerr’s Berlin novels (“March Violets”, “The
Pale Criminal”, and “A German Requiem”, all published in the
1990s), then go out and get them. These novels feature the
Chandleresque private eye Bernie Gunther, who is an outstanding
main protagonist in a 1930s Berlin: ambivalent, complicated and
deep. Mr Kerr gives us stories with intricate and believable
plots that involve fascinatingly drawn characters from the Nazi
time and some of the best wise-guy dialogues in crime fiction.
After a 14 year interlude,
Kerr has returned to form with “The One from the Other”, a novel
set in post-war Munich. The evil portrayed is anything but
fictional, from an appearance by Adolf Eichmann, with whom
Bernie is forced to throw in his luck, to the complicity of the
CIA and the Catholic Church in subverting justice for war
Incidentally, while hiding out
in a Bavarian monastery, Bernie hitches a ride with two fairly
ruddy and rotund brewing monks by the names of Seehofer and
Stoiber. The reason this blotter is devoted to them is that
these – fictional – monks bear the names of two of Bavaria’s
most prominent conservative politicians who have been in the
news since September following their party’s historic fall from
absolute majority in the Bavarian parliamentary elections. Call
that Life imitating Art? Absolutely.
Mr Stoiber, Bavaria’s Prime
Minister and leader of the Bavarian Christian Social Union
party, was putsched out of his office two years ago after his
popularity in the polls had dipped just below 50 percent. To
readers unfamiliar with Bavaria’s history: the CSU has enjoyed
an absolute majority in the Bavarian federal parliament for well
over 50 years. Two years ago, scheming party grandees thought
the CSU would stand a better chance of re-gaining the absolute
majority without the technocratic Prime Minister Stoiber at the
helm and helped launch two uncharismatic wrinklies into the
world (which is German politics).
Alas, the two hapless and
gormless bureaucrats, far from saving the CSU, orchestrated
their party’s fall from grace. Needless to say they were ousted
only days after the election.
That was Mr Seehofer’s chance.
Mr Seehofer happens to be Germany’s Minister for Agriculture in
the grand coalition government and a popular conservative
left-winger. His career took a beating two years ago when, in
the aftermath of the Stoiber massacre, he decided to run for the
CSU’s party leadership – and lost because his candidacy
coincided with the publication of a well-known Berlin secret
that he, despite being married, had fathered a child with his
mistress of several years.
Making matters worse, Mr
Seehofer chose to do a Cecil Parkinson and ditched his mistress
in order to return to his wife. Come to think of it, does
anybody remember Cecil Parkinson who was Mrs Thatcher’s most
prominent member of cabinet and was generally tipped as her
successor until 1983 after it was revealed that his former
secretary, Sara Keays, was bearing his child? Of Mr Parkinson’s
further political fate is known that he resigned along with
Margaret Thatcher when she was replaced by John Major.
Conservative voters are a
strange lot. In the case of Mr Seehofer they could have been
outraged that he had been carrying on with both a wife and a
mistress. However, rather than giving him the thumbs down for
lax morals they felt outraged that someone had plotted against
him and leaked his private circumstances to the media. People
familiar with the situation (that is practically everybody in
Berlin) immediately pointed the finger at an even more prominent
political figure as the main culprit: come step forward Dr.
Angela Merkel, Germany’s Chancellor.
The public laughed, the public
cried. And they asked a pertinent question: Who would have
benefited from a weakened CSU, whose personnel was bruised and
bleeding? Apparently, only the leader of the CSU’s sister party,
the CDU, and Germany’s Chancellor who already had her hands full
with an obstinate coalition partner, the Social Democratic
Be it as it may, Mr Stoiber
finally stepped down as Bavarian Prime Minister at the end of
September 2007. His successors, who took a year to realise that
Mr Stoiber’s shoes were too big for them, plundered on while Mr
Seehofer patiently waited in the wings.
October 2008: With the CSU in
a mess, Mr Seehofer’s uncouth behaviour two years ago seems
forgiven and forgotten. At the end of this month he will become
both the Bavarian Prime Minister and the leader of the CSU. So
much for him “doing a Cecil Parkinson”. It looks like
conservative voters have become more tolerant of the ways of the
world over the past quarter of a century. Or they have decided
to wash it all down with another glass of fine Bavarian beer.
“Cheers” to Mr Kerr.
Posted June 2008:
Harrison Ford is 65 years old.
Ahmegawd, Harrison Ford is 65! That’s considered
earth-shattering news. Try Google and you will get almost half a
million hits for “Harrison Ford 65.” Perverse.
Sorry, I must be missing out
on something. Why is it considered newsworthy that the actor
Harrison Ford turned 65 while filming the fourth Indiana Jones
motion picture? Because “he still wields a prehensile bullwhip
with aplomb and his punches sound as though they might fell an
elephant?” (The Economist)
When even the no-nonsense
Newspaper The Economist falls into the tabloids’ sensationalist
trap you have to start wondering: what’s the underlying
assumption here? That anybody over 60 ought to be taking things
more slowly? Or should not be playing the part of a
To me, there is nothing wrong
with mentioning Harrison Ford’s age. But they way it has been
linked it to his latest role is insidious and highlights our
society’s all pervasive prejudice that anybody over forty is
past his prime.
You could argue that no
industry, apart from the fashion industry perhaps, is more
age-obsessed than the motion picture industry. Unfortunately,
age discrimination is not confined to Hollywood. Expect the
current presidential campaign in the United States to bring this
issue to the fore: the youthful Democratic candidate Obama
versus the elderly Republican McCain.
The brewing industry is no
exception here. When I attended the Canadean Beer Conference in
Madrid in April and the Beverage Forum in New York in May I was
surprised how easy it was to distinguish between company owners
(they the ones with grey hair) and the corporate high flyers
(young men in their early thirties). Making an educated guess as
to who’s who was made simple by the fact that at both events
there was a noticeable scarcity of salaried men in their forties
and fifties. Where were they? Desperately clinging on to their
desks while being sidelined in their careers, or about to set up
their own business before getting the sack?
I could have added that women
of all ages and people of colour were even scarcer at these
events, underlining the fact that the brewing industry is still
fairly male-dominated and white. Yet, that’s not my concern
It’s probably needless to
point out that our culture’s obsession with youth dates back
several thousand years. The Greeks knew that “those whom the
gods love die young”. That was easily said then considering that
life expectancy in Greek antiquity was 30.
Yet how desperate has our
culture become if songs like the Who’s “Hope I die before I get
old” and Billy Joel’s “Only the good die young” can become
classics – in the sense that for several decades now they have
expressed an anxiety felt by generations of Europeans and
It is somewhat paradoxical
that our western culture promotes adolescence to last until we
are in our thirties, while western businesses at the same time
have gradually moved the onset of old age forwards to our
forties. Talk to anybody with a salary and they will tell you
that once they are 40+ they need no longer apply for another
I have no idea why
corporations think that people are old once they hit forty. It
is not as if we stop having good ideas once we celebrate 4-0. If
this were the case, then we should sack all university
professors, teachers, politicians … and executives. Why should
they be the only exception to the rule?
Funnily enough, headhunters
and consultants have already begun to complain – obviously off
the record and in private conversation – about a shortage of
experts. I refuse to use the term “talent” here because I do not
think that “talent” is sufficient for someone to hold on to a
job. Talent implies being bright and full of ideas. But it
equally implies that the person lacks in experience, wisdom,
knowledge and the ability to develop a long-term view because
all of that only comes with age.
Experts - that is people with
a wide range of experiences - are currently out of fashion and I
can only speculate as to the reasons why. Nevertheless,
corporations will eventually become desperate for experts –
either when the deficits of so-called “talent” will have become
too obvious or when the drain in knowledge has become too
Where will they find the
experts then? Now that’s a good question.
Posted May 2008:
Luckily, Canadean’s Beer
Strategy Conference in Madrid (see my News Section)
coincided with a major art exhibition, showing more than 200
works by Francisco de Goya (1746-1828) at Madrid’s Prado art
museum. The exhibition titled “Goya in times of war” marks
the bicentennial of the 1808-1814 Peninsular War during
which Napoleon’s forces invaded Spain.
It is not a show for the
squeamish or the faint-hearted, as many of the paintings and
drawings depict in unnerving detail the horrors man is
capable of unleashing. The centrepiece of the exhibition
features two large-scale masterworks, called the Second and
Third of May 1808 in Madrid, specially restored for the
show. They depict a gruesome revolt against French forces in
Madrid and the chilling reprisal by Napoleon's troops the
What is most unnerving to
see in Goya’s paintings, even in his commissioned portraits,
is gradual degradation of human faces to mugs. Noblemen,
burghers, peasants, all share the same features: mouths
agape in an idiotic grin, eyes half shut. Blank. Without
esprit, thought, or intelligence. More ape-like than human.
The most disturbing of Goya’s paintings, the fourteen
“pinturas negras”, were not even included in the show but on
display in the permanent collection of the Prado one floor
down. Very little is known about these paintings only that
Goya directly painted them onto the walls of his country
house nine years before he died. Goya received no commission
for them nor was he under any obligation to make these
paintings. They were done for himself, as a visual
reflection on the condition of humankind and the world.
Goya’s world view must
have been Manichaean (the belief in the dualism of light and
darkness with no omnipotent merciful god) to be able to
stand the sight of these paintings as he ate and entertained
in these rooms. If these paintings exude any palpable
atmosphere, it is one of overwhelming darkness and despair.
The most heart wrenching painting of them all is the one
“The half-submerged Dog". This is the most enigmatic of
all the black paintings. A dog, half sunk in sand or water,
gazing into emptiness, and nothing else. It is difficult to
say what the painting is all about. Is the dog sinking in or
trying to escape, jumping up and sticking out its head? All
these explanations are plausible but none of them is charged
with expressiveness as the painting itself is which emanates
ostracism, dejection, and anguish.
I am still pondering the
coincidence of half-submerged creatures in art, distanced by
one and a half centuries. A week after looking at Goya’s Dog
I went to see Samuel Beckett’s play “Happy Days” (1961) in a
production by the grand old man of experimental theatre,
Peter Brook (83) in Potsdam. Beckett’s protagonist Winnie, a
woman no longer young, is embedded up to her bosom in a
mound of earth. We learn that she has not always been buried
in this way but we never discover how she came to be trapped
so. Talking compulsively, Winnie begins her day. After the
sounding of the transcendental bell, she offers up a
half-forgotten prayer and then sets about her daily routine.
As she removes the items from her bag – a comb, a toothbrush
the writing on which she spends most of the first act trying
to decipher, toothpaste, a bottle of patent medicine,
lipstick, a nail file, a revolver which she feels the need
to quickly kiss and a music box – she prattles away to her
husband, Willie who lives in a cave behind the mound.
Winnie is certainly
terrified of being alone in that mound of earth under the
blazing sun, but she is particularly afraid of speaking
unheard, without the possibility of any response. Winnie's
raison d'être is to speak: “I talk therefore you are.” And
so she natters on and on, not to let the absurdity of life
and man’s abject destitution overtake her “pernicious and
incurable optimism” (Beckett).
Goya’s Dog and Beckett’s
Winnie: two ways of transmuting existential angst into
exaltation. Well, in Winnie’s case that was helped by a deep
gulp from that bottle of medicine for the “instantaneous
improvement” for a variety of ills, such as the “loss of
spirits, lack of keenness, want of appetite.” Did she have
Ever since we met at
Rüdiger Ruoss’ World Beer & Drinks Forum in Munich in 2001,
Germain Hansmaennel, the one and only “independent world
beer economist”, and I have kept a dialogue going. What have
we talked about? The obvious: the international brewing
industry, the nature of deals and where it would all lead
to. Whenever we met, we exchanged views, did some more
research, met again, discussed our findings, agreed or
disagreed. Much like the Greek philosophers Plato and
Socrates who preferred the spoken word over the written, did
our dialogue avoid scripting. That I have now called this
site “beer monopoly” owes much to this dialogue. It is also
a tribute to Germaine, whose wealth of experience (at
Kronenbourg Breweries and later Danone), sharp intelligence
and charming unselfconsciousness have made our dialogue and
the search for truth so pleasurable.
In all fairness, it has to
be said that it was Germaine, who came up with idea that the
consolidation and globalisation processes in the brewing
industry resemble the Monopoly game – a board game which
itself was modelled on trends and tendencies in the market
economy, albeit with an added challenge: chance.
When we made our point at
the 2005 World Beer & Drinks Forum, arguing that over the
past two decades the brewing industry has been engaged in
what could only be called “Life imitating Art”, we were
publicly scolded by Wolfgang Salewski, then CEO of Mr
Schörghuber’s beer empire, Brau Holding International (Paulaner).
He thought the contention outrageous that deal-making in the
brewing industry was anything like a game. Apparently, Mr
Salwesky, a psychologist by training, had been unaware of
the finer points of the use of metaphor. In any case, a few
months later he was no more. Mr Schörghuber and Mr Salewski
had parted ways.
Germaine has since gone on
to expound his ideas particularly in the annual Barth-Report
and in numerous articles. He has recently published a
missive (in Brewing and Beverage Industry International
1/2008) that the time of the beer world monopoly is over. He
predicts that future deals will involve extra-brewing
industry players. Although I think that the new scenario
delineated by Germaine with some conviction is highly
likely, I do believe, however, that the era of the beer
monopoly is not quite completed yet, that a few changes in
the ownership of the brewing industry’s equivalent to
“Oxford Street”, “Park Lane” and “Mayfair” are still more
Posted April 2008:
The other day I went to a
panel discussion on the American Election Campaign organised
by the German Marshall Fund and the
Hanns-Seidl-Foundation. These two political think tanks
had brought over from the United States one journalist and
two party strategists (one GOP, one Democrat) who sent us
home with the warning that we could be wrong to think that a
Republican candidate could not win the race to the White
House. In other words, the longer Mrs Clinton and Mr Obama
continue their slugfest, the better for Mr McCain to build
on his lead.
What I found most
fascinating attending this discussion was not just the
insight I gained into the use of the internet as a means of
political campaigning – when it comes to using the web,
European political parties have a lot of catching up to do –
I particularly liked studying two high calibre spin doctors:
one by the name of Juleanna Glover (Republican) and the
other by the name of Jamal Simmons (Democrat). Female spin
doctors in Europe are still a rare breed so I expected some
self-effacing woman, a younger version of Chancellor Merkel,
black trouser suit and all, but lo and behold, I was made to
shake hands with a woman who behaved like a girlie, flopping
her ginger hair about and speaking in a grating high pitched
I mean does no one
remember Mrs Thatcher and how she handbagged everyone once
she had reinvented herself as one of the boys, taking
elocution lessons and lowering her voice?
Ms Glover, on the other
hand, did not live up to anybody’s expectations. As she sat
there in her green stilettos, her purple tights, her blue
dress and pink t-shirt, clutching her tiny evening bag whose
rhinestone front would have made Liberace envious, I
wondered if G.W. Bush, Dick Cheney, Rudi Giuliani and John
McCain really listened to her advice as her biography
American bloggers can be
cruel. When I googled Ms Glover, I found out that she is
referred to by three descriptors mostly: society hostess,
lobbyist, and more recently, divorcee.
Welcome to 2008. It’s as
if the 70s never happened.
If you read German, I have
a book recommendation for you. It’s a historical novel by
Günther Thömmes, a Bitburg brewer who turned writer some
years ago. His book is called “Der Bierzauberer” (The Beer
Magician). I find the title a bit unfortunate because there
is nothing magic in brewing a good beer. In the Middle Ages,
the setting of his novel, that may have been the case, but I
fear it was his publishing house that suggested the title to
make the novel more sellable. A bit of suspense and mystery
all mixed in with the mash – and the publisher will laugh
all the way to the bank.
Actually, the plot keeps
you in its grip. It revolves around a young man who becomes
a brewer in Weihenstephan, then moves on to St. Gallen,
falls out with the Inquisition, escapes to Bitburg, make his
way to Cologne only to have a final and fatal showdown … I
will not give away any more.
For anyone who is mildly
interested in the history of brewing and life in the Middle
Ages, this novel is a must-read.
The painter Valeska is a
friend of mine. But even if she had not been, I would have
chosen her painting “Globalisation” for my website. True, we
have had to cut it down in size to fit onto a computer
screen. We have multiplied it and done a Warhol on her. Our
excuse? Call it artistic licence.
But should you ever get to
Munich, ask your taxi driver to take you along Mittlerer
Ring (Circular Road). Across from the mighty old pile that
is the Bavarian Prime Minister’s Office, there is a bank
building and on the ground floor there is a permanent
exhibition of Valeska’s gigantic canvasses. That’s why I
suggested taking a taxi. That way you will not cause an
accident (like other unlucky drivers before you) once you
see Valeska’s work for the first time. These red hues,
applied on canvasses several square metres large, are quite
a sight to behold. Especially at night. You can take at look
at Valeska’s art at www.atelier-valeska.de