Beer Monopoly





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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 criminals.

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 Party.

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.



january 09 · october 08 · june 08 · may 08 · april 08