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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 following day.

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 titled “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 beer perchance?

 

*

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 than likely. 

 

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