The Gruesome Reprieve

It took a gay, Net-surfing cannibal to distract "Bild" from its prey of choice: Chancellor Schröder

Chancellor Schröder hasn't had much to say about the cannibal of Rotenburg, but privately, he's got to be thinking that there is indeed a silver lining in every cloud, no matter how dark. For weeks, Bild, the sensationalist tabloid that is regrettably Germany's top-selling daily paper, had been bashing him over the ragged state of the German economy (see The Scope of the Crisis) and the attacks were getting personal and ruthless.

"Don't Destroy Our Country!" screamed one recent headline next to a photo of Schröder looking as if he'd just bitten into the bitterest of lemons. And when, early last week, word got out that the angry chancellor had privately told his fellow Social Democratic leaders that, "Anyone who thinks he can do better should go ahead," Bild eagerly fanned the flames of speculation that Schröder would be resigning any moment now. Oddly, it took Schröder a day or two, a full news cycle, for him to stamp out such speculation with the just as oddly unreassuring comment that the chancellor would not "leave the ship," invoking the image of Germany as the Titanic moments after its infamous run-in with an iceberg.

Even editors of other papers never make the mistake of underestimating the impact of Bild on public opinion. Selling four million copies a day and with an estimated readership of 12 million, it is Europe's biggest paper, and so, a must-read for the press and politicians alike. Every morning, Bild raises many of the questions they'll be answering all day, making chief editor Kai Dieckmann an unelected agenda-setter. And ever since the election in September, whenever Bild has cast its eye on Gerhard Schröder, it smelled blood.

That's why news of blood of a far more sensational sort can't have been all bad for the chancellor. This story had everything: Via the Internet, mind you, a 42-year-old gay man contacted a 41-year-old Berliner who consented to have his penis cut off so that the two of them could dine on it together. Then the first guy finished the job, sliced up the body, froze some parts for future dinners and buried others in the backyard of his 18th century manor. And video'd the whole thing.

The story broke mid-week, but it's still serving as headline fodder for Bild. Thus reprieved, Schröder has been able to concentrate on other things, such as the expansion of the European Union from 15 states to 25, joining forces with France to shoot down Turkey's hopes for joining, too, any time soon (partly in reaction to unseemly US pressure) and trying to find a way to keep the US happy while resisting its persistent request for more support for a war on Iraq -- despite Schröder's promise that Germany wouldn't in any way, shape or form (see The Cowboy in the Castle).

Elsewhere

Nazis are all Brits know or care about Germany, Thomas Matussek, the new German ambassador to Britain, recently commented. This is a theme that pops up in the UK every so often and the Guardian has responded with a lead editorial -- "The truth is that Britain, not Germany, is the nation that is the prisoner of its past" -- and a piece by novelist Al Kennedy: "Two generations ago, they allowed themselves to let racist pride, paranoia and greed force them into appalling crimes on a worldwide scale. Now they're looking at the UK and the US and recognising all the symptoms of the same disease."

The BBC offers its fellow citizens a quiz, ten variations on the question, "What do you know about Germany?"

"Only in Berlin would an argument over the future of three opera houses take on the dimensions of a constitutional crisis," writes Alex Ross in the New Yorker.

A quick batch of film-related items: JT Leroy and Bruce LaBruce chat about the latter's The Raspberry Reich in Filmmaker; For Film Comment contributor Olga Solovieva, Fassbinder's The Bitter Tears of Petra von Kant is "all about dressing"; Andrew Grossman interviews 60s Austrian actionist Otto Mühl in Bright Lights Film Journal, where you'll also find a review of a survey of German National Cinema. (David Hudson)