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.