This Is a … Oh, Never Mind

Apparently the robber’s conscience got the better of him.

Kids Thwart Robbery With Piggy Banks

An attempted robbery in the German state of Lower Saxony took an unexpected turn earlier this week when an armed burglar called off his own holdup, having been shamed by a pair of children.

At around 6:25 p.m. on Monday evening, an armed robber wearing a ski mask and a long black coat forced his way into a private home in the town of Schwanewede after a babysitter answered the door, police reported Wednesday.

Hearing the commotion, two small children in the house came downstairs — holding their piggy banks.

They approached the gunman, who had been holding his weapon under the babysitter’s nose, and offered him their life savings.

The man lowered his weapon and left without a word.

“We’re assuming that in the face of these small children holding out their piggy banks, he regretted his course of action and chose to retreat,” police spokesman Jürgen Menzel told SPIEGEL ONLINE.

Though nothing was stolen, the would-be robber isn’t entirely off the hook. Authorities are now seeking a perpetrator assumed to be in his early twenties, about 185 centimeters (6 feet 2 inches) tall, for attempted robbery.

__________

Full article and photo: http://www.spiegel.de/international/zeitgeist/0,1518,798372,00.html

Advertisements

Con Artist Sentenced in ‘Hitler Diaries’ Art Fraud Case

Forgeries of a Forgerer’s Forgeries

Konrad Kujau holds up one of the volumes of the “Hitler Diaries,” which he had forged. He was sentenced to four-and-a-half years in prison.

A Dresden court has sentenced a woman for forging copies of masterpieces made by Konrad Kujau, famous as the author of the “Hitler Diaries.” Copies of his copies allegedly earned the convict 300,000 euros.

The story sounds like it could be made up, an elaborate hoax meant to fool Germany’s media and public alike. A woman claiming to be the great niece of Konrad Kujau, author of the mother of all forgeries, the “Hitler Diaries,” has been convicted of selling forged versions of paintings made by Kujau in his later years, themselves copies of famous masterpieces.

Even more suspicious, an in-depth piece on the trial recently appeared in the German newsmagazine Stern, the same publication which fell hard for the Hitler Diaries back in 1983. This time, though, the story is true.

On Thursday, following two years of legal proceedings, a Dresden court handed Petra Kujau a two-year suspended sentence and ordered her to perform 180 hours of community service for having obtained 300 falsified paintings, attaching Kujau’s signature to them, and selling them for a total of €300,000. Her partner received a suspended sentence of 20 months.

The falsifications in question were, absurdly, fakes of Konrad Kujau’s own copies of masterpieces from artists such as Vincent van Gogh, Franz Marc and Claude Monet. A talented artist, Kujau, who died in 2000, turned to producing fakes in the late 1980s following his four-year stint in prison for fraud stemming from the “Hitler Diaries” case. Though clearly marked as fakes, Kujau’s newfound fame meant that people were willing to pay up to €3,500 for his work. He also sold many of his own pieces.

Made in Asia

Dresden prosecutors say that Petra Kujau and her accomplice purchased fakes produced in Asia before attaching Konrad Kujau’s signature to them and selling them on. She was convicted and sentenced on the basis of the 40 counts she ultimately confessed to.

Excerpts from Kujau’s “Hitler Diaries” were published by Stern in April 1983 after a reporter for the magazine received the documents, which had allegedly been smuggled out of East Germany by a “Dr. Fischer.” The diaries were said to have been found in the wreckage of a plane that had crashed just before the end of the war. Stern paid 9.3 million deutschmarks (€4.7 million) for the 62 volumes. Soon after the magazine began publishing excerpts, a test performed on the diaries by Germany’s Federal Criminal Police Office revealed that the paper on which the diaries had been written was clearly a postwar product. The case generated headlines around the world.

Petra Kujau worked for Konrad Kujau for a time in the 1990s. Prosecutors on Thursday, however, expressed doubt that she was in fact related to the famous forger.

__________

Full article and photo: http://www.spiegel.de/international/zeitgeist/0,1518,716613,00.html

A loonie boondoggle

Ostentation in a time of austerity

FOR all his gifts as a political tactician, Stephen Harper, Canada’s Conservative prime minister, may have miscalculated how much Canadians want to pay to host the G8 and G20 summits from June 25th to 27th. As the government struggles to close a large budget deficit, it is spending C$1.2 billion ($1.2 billion) to host the world’s leaders—60% more than Japan, the previous record holder, coughed up for the G8 gathering in Okinawa in 2000.

Mr Harper points out that Canada is holding back-to-back summits—doubling the cost, he says. The government also notes that it can hardly be blamed for providing airtight security. It has built a steel fence around the woodland cottage resort at Muskoka that will receive the G8, and deployed special forces on overtime to lurk in the water and surrounding forest.

But critics counter that Mr Harper could have saved money by inviting the G20 to Muskoka as well, rather than receiving them separately in Toronto, 200 km (125 miles) to the south. Moreover, they note that much of the budget has gone on items of dubious utility and taste. The prime minister has become the butt of jokes for commissioning an artificial lake, complete with mock canoes and recordings of the call of the loon, for the G20 summit’s media centre—which sits just yards from the real Lake Ontario. In Muskoka taxpayers are on the hook for a refurbished steamboat that won’t even float until the summit is over, and new outdoor toilets 20km from the meeting site. So much for small government.

__________

Full article and photo: http://www.economist.com/node/16377317?story_id=16377317&source=hptextfeature

Tintin in the Land of the Lawyers

Why hide a piece of Belgium’s colonial history?

“Baboons! Baby-snatchers! Bagpipers! Bald-headed budgerigar! Bandits! Bashi-bazouks! Bath-tub Admiral! Beast! Belemnite! Big-head!” -Captain Haddock, The Adventures of Tintin.

Georges Remi’s tales of Belgium’s best-loved Boy Reporter come with no shortage of insults for just about everyone. Their deft caricatures, and the vituperations regularly hurled by Tintin’s sidekicks, have kept both censors and free-speech advocates busy since Remi (pen-name “Hergé”) first unleashed his daring cowlicked hero in a Belgian newspaper in 1929.

Now, after a three-year effort, Congolese national Bienvenu Mbutu Mondondo may succeed in getting Tintin’s second adventure, “Tintin in the Congo” (1930-1931), banned in Belgium. The local press reports that a Brussels court will rule this week on the Belgian resident’s case for yanking the book from shelves, or at least wrapping it in a label that warns of its “racist” content.

Congolese national, and Belgian resident, Bienvenu Mbutu Mondondo

Tintin is no stranger to controversy, having been called everything from a Nazi shill to an anti-American (neither is true). Hergé’s first epic, “Tintin in the Land of the Soviets,” delivered an early, lurid picture of the oppression and degradation of the Soviet Union. In 1942, Hergé’s publisher reportedly asked him to temper his buck-toothed renderings of Japanese people in his 1936 tale “The Blue Lotus.” No points for guessing the animal-rights line on Tintin, who in a long-altered scene once disposed of a rhinoceros by drilling a stick of dynamite into its hide. Just this February, Turkish authorities fined a TV station for airing a Tintin animation that included smoking, in violation of a Turkish ban against tobacco-use on air.

But it’s the depiction of Africans in “Tintin in the Congo” that strikes a particularly raw nerve. Hergé—who would come to lament the early work as the product of an ignorant youth who naively bought into the attitudes of the time—continually revised it until his death in 1983, though never to critics’ satisfaction. Today, the book may be sold in Britain only with a warning seal (which, predictably, has proven the best advertising that money can’t buy), and the Brooklyn Public Library keeps it under lock and key in a back room, available only by appointment.

More often than not, Tintin can be defended as the victim of hyperactive taste police. But Mr. Mondondo’s case about the Congo tale is different, at least on the surface. When “Tintin in the Congo” hit newstands, it had been just 22 years since King Leopold II’s barbarous personal rule over the Congo had given way to an only somewhat less-awful Belgian colonial system. Belgians—whose former leader had transformed the country into a forced-labor camp, taken hostages in lieu of paying wages as a way to incentivize rubber harvesting, and maimed and murdered many—seem to have no business laughing at the infantile Congolese depicted in Hergé’s pages.

Tintin himself was no brute—even in his early adventures, my girlhood idol remains a paragon of rectitude and virtue. All the same, his Congolese sojourn is deeply paternalistic, and while never hateful, woe to the polemicist who tries to deny that it’s also racist.

From Tintin’s faithful terrier Snowy being crowned king by the Africans, to a black woman bowing before the blond boy and declaring “White man very great. White mister is big juju man!” the relic toon reflects the colonial mindset that Africans were inferior. Why wouldn’t they be insulted that Belgians still delight in the tale?

Yet all this only bolsters the case for Tintin’s freedom. Silenced sages from South Park to Socrates remind us the only speech that needs defending is that which offends. Erasing Tintin might momentarily cheer some Congolese (though most have bigger problems), and our self-appointed czars of decorum would be thrilled. But that wouldn’t erase Belgian history in central Africa.

Miss Jolis is an editorial page writer for the Wall Street Journal Europe.

__________

Full article and photo: http://online.wsj.com/article/SB10001424052748704302304575213960636815080.html

G-8 Chefs Baffled By Laura Bush’s ‘Poisoning’ Claims

‘Hey Man, Good Food’

 

Then-US President George W. Bush and Laura Bush at Heiligendamm in 2007: Laura Bush writes in her memoirs that they may have been poisoned.

In her new memoir, former first lady Laura Bush writes that she, her husband and the American delegation may have been poisoned at the 2007 G-8 summit hosted by Germany. German federal investigators as well as the kitchen staff at the Grand Hotel Heiligendamm refute her account.

Steffen Duckhorn still remembers well the day Laura Bush thought she might die. He was feeling a bit worked up because he had heard that President George W. Bush, who was attending the G-8 summit in June 2007 in Heiligendamm, Germany, wasn’t feeling well. Duckhorn had cooked for the president, and Bush was now complaining he had a stomach ache.

“We immediately contacted the German Federal Office of Criminal Investigation to find out if there was anything to it,” Duckhorn told SPIEGEL. “There was nothing.” During the summit, he said, toxicologists had been constantly present in the kitchen of the five-star hotel collecting samples in test tubes of every bit of food which had been prepared. “Before the meal, during the meal and after the meal,” he said.

Almost three years later, Bush’s stomach ache has somehow been recast as a possible murder attempt against close to a dozen US delegation members. In her memoir, which will land in bookstores this week, Laura Bush writes of a possible poisoning.

“In the past,” she writes, “there had been several high-profile poisonings, including one with suspected nuclear material, in and around Europe. The overriding fear was that terrorists had gotten control of a dangerous substance and planted it at the resort.”

The former first lady writes that she suddenly felt deathly ill one afternoon. She writes that other delegation members experienced the same.

‘Every Chef Has His Honor’

Duckhorn, 34, who has now become head chef at the Grand Hotel Heiligendamm, is irritated. “Every chef has his honor,” he says. Together with the hotel’s former head chef, who is now working in nearby Rostock, he has reconstructed the events of the summit.

He said that samples taken by toxicologists were tested in a laboratory set up directly at the site, and that there was never even the slightest reason for any suspicion. The cooks also claim that the kitchen only prepared meals for the presidents and prime ministers, as well as their spouses and close employees, but not for the rest of the delegations. “They brought their stuff with them,” Duckhorn said, adding that the Americans, for example, brought their own cola and M&Ms with the White House logo on them.

The chefs had arranged each course of the official meals together with Germany’s Foreign Ministry. They served upscale German cuisine, including dishes such as herring tartar, pike-perch with braised cucumbers, calf schnitzel with fresh asparagus and guinea fowl fricassee. The fresh ingredients all came from the area, and background checks had been carried out on suppliers and kitchen workers before the summit. Each delivery and worker was inspected on site by bomb-sniffing dogs and with metal detectors. Officers with Germany’s Federal Office of Criminal Investigation (BKA) were always present at the doors to the kitchen. And even if something had happened, “then we would have been the first to drop,” Duckhorn said. “We do taste our things.”

‘No One Was Running Around’

Laura Bush writes in her memoir that the Secret Service went on full alert, combing the entire hotel for potential poisons. But Duckhorn disputes this. “No one was running around the courtyard anxiously,” he said. The Americans simply ordered a chicken broth from him for the president.

Sources at the BKA say they are unaware of any poisoning scare at the G-8 summit. Officials at the US Embassy in Berlin are also unaware of any such incident.

Bush writes that she doesn’t even know herself if any poison was discovered. She writes that the most concrete conclusion any doctors could reach is that “we contracted a virus that attacks a nerve near the inner ear and is prevalent in Heiligendamm.” She claims that one White House staffer lost all hearing in one ear and that another had trouble walking. The military aide’s “gait has never returned to normal,” she writes, “nor has our senior staffer regained hearing in that ear.”

“No, no, no,” Stefan Hummel says, trying to catch his breath after an outburst of laughter. Hummel, 59, is the chief pulmonary doctor at the Median Clinic, a medical facility located just behind the Grand Hotel. He finds it strange that one person had a gastro-intestinal problem while another supposedly had an ear problem and a third a walking problem. A highly infectious virus wouldn’t have remained contained within the delegation, he knows that much. And if many people had fallen ill, he says, he would have heard about it. He also said the climate at the resort was a “hostile one” to viruses.

And on the day after George W. Bush had his chicken broth, he was apparently already feeling much better. Steffen Duckhorn met the president, who was in what Duckhorn describes as good spirits, in the courtyard. Bush shook his hand and praised the cook for his meals. “Hey man, good food,” Duckhorn recalls him saying.

__________

Full article and photo: http://www.spiegel.de/international/germany/0,1518,692452,00.html

German Firm Wins Right to Make Beer Called ‘Fucking Hell’

A tourist scrutinizes the sign. The village is believed to be named after a 6th century man called Focko. The “Fucking Hell” trademark has been registered by German entrepreneurs Stefan Fellenberg and Florian Krause. Tittelconsulting, a marketing agency, said in a statement on Monday that the owners will use the trademark to manufacture a variety of products including clothing and beer. The new brew is likely to be presented in August or September, Tittelconsulting said. It remains unclear where the beer will be brewed.

The EU’s trademarks authority has permitted a German firm to brew beer and produce clothing under the name “Fucking Hell”. It may be an expletive in English, but in German it could refer to a light ale — Hell — from the Austrian town of Fucking. Whether it will be brewed there is another question.

The European Union trademarks authority has permitted a German firm to register the brand name “Fucking Hell” for a new beer, much to the irritation of the Austrian village of Fucking.

In English, the term “Fucking Hell” is just an expletive used to express irritation or surprise. In German, it could refer to a light ale from Fucking in Upper Austria, because “Hell” is a term for light ale in southern Germany and Austria.

The problem is that Fucking has no brewery, and the town’s mayor, Franz Meindl, is not aware of any plans to build one there, Austrian public broadcaster ORF reported on its Web site.

The Trade Marks and Designs Registration Office of the European Union said in a statement that it had rejected a complaint that the trade mark “Fucking Hell” was upsetting, accusatory and derogatory.

“The word combination claimed contains no semantic indication that could refer to a certain person or group of persons. Nor does it incite a particular act. It cannot even be understood as an instruction that the reader should go to hell,” the Office said in its statement.

EU Trademark Office Has No Problem with Name

“Fucking Hell” was an “an interjection used to express a deprecation, but it does not indicate against whom the deprecation is directed,” the Office added. “Nor can it be considered as reprehensible to use existing place names in a targeted manner (as a reference to the place), merely because this may have an ambiguous meaning in other languages.”

That is good news for German marketing executives Stefan Fellenberg and Florian Krause, who own the rights to the brand name, and who had referred to the town of Fucking in their application to register it.

Tittelconsulting, a marketing agency, said in a statement on Monday that the owners will use the trademark to manufacture a variety of products including clothing and beer. “It includes the marketing of a beer among other things,” Tittelconsulting said in a statement.

The new brew was likely to be presented in August or September, it added. Contacted by SPIEGEL ONLINE, Fellenberg declined to give further comment, so it’s unclear where the beer will be brewed.

It is likely to heighten Fucking’s fame, which is something Meindl, the town’s mayor, isn’t happy about, given the trouble the name has caused it over the years. “Twelve or 13 town signs have been stolen. We’ve taken to fixing them with concrete, welding and rivets.”

The Bavarian towns of Kissing and Petting have the same problem, as does the eastern German town of Pissen. But so far, there are no plans to name a beer after them.

__________

Full article and photo: http://www.spiegel.de/international/zeitgeist/0,1518,686305,00.html

Seven Ideas to Beat the Crisis

Funny Business

Times are tough. But not so tough, as it turns out, that you can’t make a buck. From bovine meditation to organic bird buffets, SPIEGEL ONLINE brings you seven strange business ideas that should never have worked — but did. 

The German economy isn’t what it used to be. Just this week, it was announced that the economy didn’t grow at all during the fourth quarter of 2009, leading many to fear that the country might have to wait a while longer to recover from the economic downturn. 

Even worse, the European common currency, the euro, is in turmoil as speculators continue to try and profit from Greek budgetary woes. The currency has fallen substantially against the dollar in recent weeks and there are fears that it could continue to plummet. Indeed, things have gotten so bad that a Greek consumer group has called for a boycott of German products, as a result of criticism from Germany — most particularly in the form of a tasteless cover from the newsmagazine Focus — of Greece’s financial practices. 

But while many would prefer to stick their heads in the sand and wait out the crisis, there are those who prefer to confront uncertainty with ingenuity. If you’ve got the right idea, now might just be the time to start up your own business. Why not begin baking specialty products for pets? Or start a travel agency for stuffed animals? Meditation with farm animals is certainly also a good opportunity for instant profits. After all, a bit of time in the stall is sure to calm the nerves of today’s stressed out managers. 

For those who think they might have a good business idea, but are too shy to try, SPIEGEL ONLINE brings you some inspiration — in the form of seven business concepts that never should have found success, but did. 

Travelling Teddies 

Apparently there are around 1.2 billion cuddly toy animals in the world — and you can bet that most of them have never seen the city of Prague. Or indeed, many other prime European tourist destinations (unless it happens to be their home town, of course). Now a Czech company, The Czech Toy Traveling agency, aims to change all that. Send them your inanimate, furry friend and they will send you pictures back of your stuffed beast in front of various landmarks around Prague. 

__________

The concept for the toy travel agency was inspired by the French film “Amelie,” in which a character receives mysterious pictures of his stolen garden gnome posed in front of famous monuments around the world.

The idea received support after it appeared on the Czech version of reality television, investment show, Dragon’s Den.

A basic package tour for your teddy bear costs €90 and includes 30 photos on a disc, a certificate of proof that your bear was there, a profile created on your bear’s behalf on social networking sites and daily e-mail contact from your bear, or any other stuffed toy you care to send their way.

The most expensive package, which costs €150, includes a special travel box, with a pillow and blanket, so that the cuddly toy travels first class all the way back home.

Agency co-owner Tomio Okamura said that although the business only launched last week, “we already have dozens of orders, mostly from the US, Japan and Germany.”

__________

The concept, which was inspired by the French film “Amelie,” in which a character receives mysterious pictures of his stolen garden gnome posed in front of famous monuments around the world, received support after it appeared on the Czech version of the reality television investment show “Dragon’s Den.” In the Czech Republic, the show is called “Den D” (or D-Day). 

A basic package tour for your teddy bear costs €90 and includes 30 photos on a disc, a certificate of proof that your bear was there, a profile created on your bear’s behalf on social networking sites and daily e-mail contact from your bear, or any other stuffed toy you care to send their way. The most expensive package, which costs €150, includes a special travel box, with a pillow and blanket, so that the cuddly toy travels first class all the way back home. Owners can also specify whether their insensate sweeties are vegetarian or should be allowed a drink after dinner. “We are focusing on North American, Southeast Asia and the European markets,” agency co-owner Tomio Okamura told SPIEGEL ONLINE. “We launched our business last week and we already have dozens of orders, mostly from the US, Japan and Germany.” 

Okamura, who is one of the businessmen supporting the venture financially and also the vice president of the Association of Tour Operators and Travel Agents of the Czech Republic, explains that once a travel reservation has been made for a toy, and payment received, the fluffy friend can be posted to the company. Sightseeing in Prague will take between one and three days and the Toy Traveling Agency will also take stuffed animals to special events upon request. “We already have a request from Japan to take the toy to see a top-flight European football match,” Okamura says. 

Eventually the company’s founders also want to be able to offer toys travel opportunities to other European cities, including Berlin, Munich and Bratislava. 

First on the Dance Floor  

The party is great, the music is playing, your feet are tapping. But the dance floor is empty. Even though you are aching to get out there and shake your proverbial thing, you don’t dare to hit the dance floor all alone. And then all of a sudden, there they are: Two enthusiastic hoofers who don’t seem to care who sees them getting down. Relieved, you — and all the other bashful bootie shakers — migrate to the dance floor while the host stands by, satisfied and smiling broadly that this fest is such a success. 

Such success, as it turns out, can be bought. A Berlin company, called Be My Dancer, hires out people to break the dance floor ice. Most of the firm’s business involves the time honored profession of the “taxi dancer,” the name first given to the courteous men who hired themselves out as dancing partners after World War I where there weren’t enough masculine dancing partners around. The trade has survived primarily on cruise ships, providing elderly, single ladies with a waltz partner. But in Berlin, the modernized Be My Dancer provides male and female dance partners to suit any occasion, from one’s first cha cha session to themed swing nights and tango parties. 

The Be My Dancer crew can be rented solo or as a team and each dancer costs around €40 an hour. It is also possibly to hire the trained professionals as private dance teachers. Most often the company’s employees can be seen strutting their stuff at the Bohème Sauvage, themed 20s costume parties in historic locations. 

Meditating with Cows 

Forget staring at stones or focusing for hours on single blades of grass. A Dutch farmer, Corné de Regt, has come up with a whole new method for meditation. And it all takes place in his cow stalls on his property on the outskirts of Denekamp, near the German border. One of the services de Regt’s business, “Rode Wangen” (Red Cheeks) offers is a wellness retreat for stressed out businessmen. And when it comes time for a spot of meditation, de Regt and his clients head out onto the farm. Into the cow stalls, to be more exact — where they will sit on hay bales together and meditate. 

“Unfortunately the silence is often broken,” de Regt told German freelance journalist Helmut Hetzel. “When a cow drops something, or when the animals are unsettled. But all of that belongs to the meditation sessions. Some of my guests complain about the smell. But that too, is all part of it. Ultimately all of one’s senses are stimulated through meditating alongside the animals. It is a unique experience. And most of the managers that come here like it.” 

Besides finding metaphysical peace with our bovine friends, the stressed will also be able to relieve their anxieties through other farm-based activities. Excess energy is expended through a hearty round of testosterone-fuelled wood chopping, which can then be followed up with a skinny dip in a nearby stream. There’s also plenty of fresh farm food, historical walks and the enterprising de Regt also offers a selection of goods for sale, including wooden toys, baked goods, woolen hats and slippers and apple juice. 

“My concept for therapy counts upon the fact that the business men who come to me have red cheeks before they leave. They are ‘refueled’ — and not only with fresh country air but also with the unique experiences they have on the farm and in the cow stalls,” de Regt says. 

Breaking Up with the Help of the ‘Terminator’ 

So you want out but you just bear to tell your erstwhile loved one it’s all over? Call the professionals. As the Web site for Berlin-based firm, The Separation Agency, says: “We can end it — perfectly and forever. We will turn one unhappy couple into two satisfied singles. Either that, or your partner gets one last warning, as delivered by us.” 

The agency offers a variety of packages. If you just can’t face it, then for €29.95, the agency will conduct the split over the telephone and make sure you two stay on friendly terms. For a little more — €64.95 — they will conduct that conversation with your soon-to-be-ex in person. If you are literarily challenged, then they will help you write the most appropriate “dear John” letter. And if you have just, plain and simple, had enough and want them to go away and leave you alone, then the agency will let the lover-turned-stalker know that too. 

Along with all of the above, the agency guarantees “delivery of the unwelcome news, de-escalation of pent up emotions, guidance on the difficult talks” and, best of all, your stuff back. 

Since it was founded in 2006, the agency which is run by former insurance salesman Bernd Dressler, has been a success. The “Terminator”, as Dressler has come to be known, doesn’t do any jobs without money up front and most of his customers are women in their 20s. He has even written a book about his experiences. Dressler says he delivers the message in a style that it is in accordance with his customer’s wishes. As he told the British media: “I say to them: ‘Good day, my name is Bernd Dressler from the Separation Agency and I have been asked by your partner to inform you that he or she wishes to end your relationship.'” 

Table Football Fashion  

When it comes to sports in Germany, there is really only one game in town. Newspaper sport sections, to be sure, report copiously on handball, ping pong and luge — or on any other sport that a German athlete may excel at. But football is the undisputed national pastime. 

And for those without the hand-foot coordination to succeed on the pitch, there is table football — known to Americans as foosball. It is a serious pastime in Germany, accompanied with shouts of joy, groans of dismay and no small amount of perspiration. To the consternation (and distraction) of non-players, tables can be found in offices across the country. The best players can even get the static plastic figures to pass the ball to each other. 

Perhaps it comes as no surprise then, that a German company offers little jerseys for the little players. For just €15.90, you can outfit your entire team with the football shirt of your choice — the company, known as Kicker Trikot — has a number of national teams on offer along with a selection of German league teams. Recently, the company has even begun making custom jerseys to order — for €49.90 a set. 

The company, based in Hamburg, started in 2006 and has seen a steady rise in turnover since then. With the World Cup just around the corner, the company is no doubt hoping for another uptick in sales. North Korea anyone? 

Baking for the Birds 

Germans love organic food. Despite the economic downturn and ongoing uneasiness about the robustness of the recovery, people in Germany have continued to pay extra for the knowledge that their foodstuffs are free of pesticides and insecticides. 

“Fears that consumers would save on their purchases of organic products during the financial and economic crises have proven false,” said the market research group GfK in a statement earlier this month. 

With such an addiction to food purity, it is perhaps no surprise that a company near Bielefeld offers organic snacks for parrots. Called the Parrot Bakery, the company’s product line includes palm oil muffins, Eucalyptus snacks and nut balls for your favorite feathered friend. “Only the best for your parrots,” is the company’s motto. 

Products are available both in Marita Grabowski’s small shop as well as on the Internet. Grabowski started her company when, in 2007, her Gray Parrot “Charlie” fell ill and she had to make him crackers without seeds. Her company has since found substantial success, supplying pet food stores across Europe. She has even written a book: “The Cookbook for Parrots and Parakeets.” 

The Karaoke Cab 

“Turn it up, driver, I love this song.” It’s a common enough refrain, heard in taxis all over the world as they ferry a weekend’s worth of merry makers to their destinations. And although some cab drivers find this annoying, there is one clever chap in the German city of Münster, in the state of North Rhine-Westphalia, who is making a business out of those kinds of requests. 

Taxi driver Nizamettin Kilincli has installed a screen in the back of his eight-person taxi van, over which he can play karaoke tracks, or even movies. The reasons passengers like his service are as varied as the passengers themselves, Kilincli told the online city magazine Echo Münster

During the day Taxi Niza, as his business is known, drives around the city like any normal van-for-hire. The screen in the vehicle might be used for a family who wants to keep the kids quiet on the way out to the airport. But by night, it becomes a rolling fun palace, with party goers on the way to a club or a disco entertaining themselves by belting out a few numbers. 

Best of all, the service costs no more than any other cab ride. All of this has seen the clearly very tolerant Kilincli gain a regular clientele who prefer a ride in his taxi above all others. 

As for the kind of drunken, often tuneless, yodeling coming from the back seats, Kilincli does not mind it at all. He’s never been one for singing along, he told the Münster magazine, and anyway, he has to concentrate on the road. 

__________

Full article and photos: http://www.spiegel.de/international/zeitgeist/0,1518,680604,00.html