The FDP’s Karneval conspiracy

With the Rhineland gearing up for Karneval this week and Germany’s pro-business Free Democrats (FDP) riding high in opinion polls, Roger Boyes, the Berlin correspondent of British daily The Times, uncovers a stunning conspiracy at the highest levels of government.

The FDP's Karneval conspiracy
Photo: DPA

It’s difficult being August Hanning – and I don’t mean struggling to survive on a pension from his stint as former head of Germany’s BND intelligence agency on top of his current deputy interior minister salary.

No, the dilemma is this: if, as one of the country’s top security officials, you don’t warn people about terrorism, then you look like a failure when something happens. But if you do warn the Germans about a concrete threat, you get accused of being a fearmonger like ex US Vice President Dick Cheney. And if you warn people only vaguely then you begin to sound like your own mother, constantly nagging and going on about something that everyone just starts to tune out.

Now Hanning – a former civil servant for the tax office in the state of North Rhine-Westphalia (apparently one of the classical ways of becoming a senior spy in Germany) – recently issued his most scary warning yet: Islamist terror network al Qaeda, he says, is planning to influence Germany’s general election in September.

Well, you and I, as responsible citizens, know that the only true way to influence the upcoming election and block the return of the not-so-grand coalition of Christian and Social Democrats is to vote for the Free Democratic Party (FDP). There, I have said it; I never thought I would write those words.

And this fact naturally raises an intriguing question. What does Hanning really know? Has al Qaeda penetrated the FDP? Have they set up joint training camps? Is there an Islamist plot to destroy the German tax system? The answer, of course, is a resounding yes. A senior federal police official, while obviously unable to reveal his sources, gave the game away when he told Bild am Sonntag newspaper that the fundamentalists have been particularly active along the lower Rhine region. After you know that it all quickly begins to make sense. Does FDP party leader Guido Westerwelle not come from Bonn? We won’t even mention the late Jürgen Möllemann and the Düsseldorf connection. The Rhineland is a nest of sedition.

Let us sift through the evidence.

First, political violence is increasingly being expressed by the throwing of shoes at world leaders. George Bush demonstrated quick reflexes for the first time in his political career while dodging Iraqi footwear last year and this month Chinese premier Wen Jiabao had a shoe thrown at him by a pro-Tibetan German student in Cambridge.

Throwing shoes is more than a sign of contempt, it is a substitute weapon. It is a way of saying: look, if that had been a grenade, you would have been dead; a security cushion cannot protect you from the anger of the people.

There is an ideological link to the notoriously stupid shoe-bomber, Robert Reid, who inserted explosives in his Salamanders with the aim of blowing up a plane and entering heaven. Shoes are the extension of politics by other means. And who first discovered this principle in Germany? Guido Westerwelle shocked the nation by chalking 18 percent on the soles of his fine leather shoes during a television talk show. And looky there – did the FDP not just crack just that number in a national opinion poll? Clearly, there are signs afoot for FDP sleeper cells to wake from their long slumber and bring Guido to power this autumn.

And here’s another oddity from the murky undergrowth of the security services. The domestic intelligence services are alerting local police authorities to be particularly vigilant about so-called “converts.” These apparently are the most dangerous members of our community. They are the most likely, it is alleged, to take steps ahead of the election.

One could naively believe this to be a reference to German converts to Islam. In fact these people are, with a very few exceptions, completely harmless youths with a taste for growing peach-fuzz beards. The converts that pose a real danger to the grand coalition in Berlin are the strange, un-bearded fanatics who are moving from Chancellor Angela Merkel’s conservative Christian Democratic Union (CDU) to the Free Democrats. And that is the real cause for concern.

A determined investigative reporter does not take intelligence reports at face value. He digs for facts. A trip to the Rhineland was called for – I used to live there, before the Bundestag canteen moved to Berlin a decade ago. It has certainly changed since then. The Rhinelanders have grown richer, smugger. Perfect recruiting grounds in other words for yuppie FDP voters, the militant youth wing of the new terror movement.

And what did I find? In the shooting club in my old Bonn neighbourhood, once a CDU fortress, Free Democrats are now in control and are running the Karneval committee. Yes, something disturbing is about to happen during this general election.

I would ring Herr Hanning and tip him off, but his number does not appear in the phone book.

For more Roger Boyes, check out his website here.


Sleep, seaside, potato soup: What will Merkel do next?

 After 16 years in charge of Europe's biggest economy, the first thing Angela Merkel wants to do when she retires from politics is take "a little nap". But what about after that?

Outgoing German Chancellor Angela Merkel briefly closes her eyes and smiles at a 2018 press conference in Berlin.
Outgoing German Chancellor Angela Merkel briefly closes her eyes at a 2018 press conference in Berlin. Aside from plans to take "a little nap" after retiring this week, she hasn't given much away about what she might do next. Tobias SCHWARZ / AFP

The veteran chancellor has been tight-lipped about what she will do after handing over the reins to her successor Olaf Scholz on December 8th.

During her four terms in office, 67-year-old Merkel was often described as the most powerful woman in the world — but she hinted recently that she will not miss being in charge.

“I will understand very quickly that all this is now someone else’s responsibility. And I think I’m going to like that situation a lot,” she said during a trip to Washington this summer.

Famous for her stamina and her ability to remain fresh after all-night meetings, Merkel once said she can store sleep like a camel stores water.

But when asked about her retirement in Washington, she replied: “Maybe I’ll try to read something, then my eyes will start to close because I’m tired, so I’ll take a little nap, and then we’ll see where I show up.”

READ ALSO: ‘Eternal’ chancellor: Germany’s Merkel to hand over power
READ ALSO: The Merkel-Raute: How a hand gesture became a brand

‘See what happens’
First elected as an MP in 1990, just after German reunification, Merkel recently suggested she had never had time to stop and reflect on what else she might like to do.

“I have never had a normal working day and… I have naturally stopped asking myself what interests me most outside politics,” she told an audience during a joint interview with Nigerian writer Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie.

“As I have reached the age of 67, I don’t have an infinite amount of time left. This means that I want to think carefully about what I want to do in the next phase of my life,” she said.

“Do I want to write, do I want to speak, do I want to go hiking, do I want to stay at home, do I want to see the world? I’ve decided to just do nothing to begin with and see what happens.”

Merkel’s predecessors have not stayed quiet for long. Helmut Schmidt, who left the chancellery in 1982, became co-editor of the weekly newspaper Die Zeit and a popular commentator on political life.

Helmut Kohl set up his own consultancy firm and Gerhard Schroeder became a lobbyist, taking a controversial position as chairman of the board of the Russian oil giant Rosneft.

German writer David Safier has imagined a more eccentric future for Merkel, penning a crime novel called Miss Merkel: Mord in der Uckermark  that sees her tempted out of retirement to investigate a mysterious murder.

German Chancellor Angela Merkel forms her trademark hand gesture, the so-called “Merkel-Raute” (known in English as the Merkel rhombus, Merkel diamond or Triangle of Power). (Photo by Tobias SCHWARZ / AFP)

Planting vegetables
Merkel may wish to spend more time with her husband Joachim Sauer in Hohenwalde, near Templin in the former East Germany where she grew up, and where she has a holiday home that she retreats to when she’s weary.

Among the leisure activities she may undertake there is vegetable, and especially, potato planting, something that she once told Bunte magazine in an interview in 2013 that she enjoyed doing.

She is also known to be a fan of the volcanic island of D’Ischia, especially the remote seaside village of Sant’Angelo.

Merkel was captured on a smartphone video this week browsing the footwear in a Berlin sportswear store, leading to speculation that she may be planning something active.

Or the former scientist could embark on a speaking tour of the countless universities from Seoul to Tel Aviv that have awarded her honorary doctorates.

Merkel is set to receive a monthly pension of around 15,000 euros ($16,900) in her retirement, according to a calculation by the German Taxpayers’ Association.

But she has never been one for lavish spending, living in a fourth-floor apartment in Berlin and often doing her own grocery shopping.

In 2014, she even took Chinese Premier Li Keqiang to her favourite supermarket in Berlin after a bilateral meeting.

So perhaps she will simply spend some quiet nights in sipping her beloved white wine and whipping up the dish she once declared as her favourite, a “really good potato soup”.