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Customs: Your violin back? That'll be $1.5mln

The Local · 4 Oct 2012, 11:15

Published: 04 Oct 2012 11:15 GMT+02:00

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German-based Yuki Manuela Janke, 26, was returning home through Frankfurt airport on September 28 when customs officers seized her violin, valued at $7.6 million, Nippon Music Foundation said.

German authorities demanded she pay customs duty to the tune of 19 percent of the value of the 1736 instrument, also known as "The Muntz," if she wanted it back, said the foundation's managing director Kinya Narabayashi.

It follows a similar incident earlier this year when Belgium-based Yuzuko Horigome had her 1741 Guarnerius violin, valued at $1.2 million, confiscated at the same airport on pain of a tax payment.

"This is clearly a problem. They (German officials) don't have anything specific to tell us, like 'if you have these (documents), you are OK'," Narabayashi told AFP.

The instrument was taken away even after Janke showed her loan contract with the foundation, proof of insurance on the instrument, the violin's photograph, and proof that the foundation had legally imported the instrument to Japan.

"The main mission of our foundation is to loan the best instruments to musicians all over the world. They (musicians) are actively travelling," Narabayashi said.

The Muntz takes its name from a collector and amateur violinist, H. M. Muntz of Birmingham, England, who owned the violin in the late 1800s, the foundation said.

It is one of the last instruments made by Antonio Stradivari. It is in excellent condition and known for its tonal quality.

Horigome, who also lives in Europe but owns her instrument, had gone through Frankfurt airport a number of times without a hitch.

But in August, her insistence that the instrument was a tool of her work fell on deaf ears and German officers seized her violin.

The instrument was returned to Horigome last month after she presented a number of documents to German authorities, which were also contacted by the Japanese foreign ministry, according to the Asahi Shimbun.

"Even in Ms. Horigome's case, she doesn't know exactly what (the German customs) needed to release the instrument," Narabayashi said.

"Of course we are in touch with Ms. Horigome. We are using all channels available to solve this issue," he said.

Janke, born in Munich to a German father and a Japanese mother, has won a number of German and international prizes.

Story continues below…

She was the top finisher in the renowned Paganini Competition in Genoa in 2004 and won third prize at the Tchaikovsky Competition in Moscow in 2007.

The foundation told the Asahi Shimbun that governments around the world should create passports for treasured instruments to ensure their smooth cross-border passage, particularly for soloists.

The foundation, established in 1974, owns 20 top string instruments such as those created by Stradivari.

The foundation receives funding from the Nippon Foundation, a non-profit giant that uses proceeds from motorboat racing for cultural, medical and philanthropic causes and ocean-related charitable projects.


The Local (news@thelocal.de)

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Your comments about this article

11:39 October 4, 2012 by Berlin fuer alles
She is dealing with Deutsche Beamter. Culture being way over their heads. Common sense should be allowed to prevail here but you know that is unlikely with these dinosaurs.
11:45 October 4, 2012 by wood artist
Sounds like she dealing with GEMA, who claims copyright violations at will, without any documentation or reasoning. I'm still fighting to get my own compositions playable on Youtube within Germany. They claim...sort of...that maybe somebody else holds a copyright, but they can't tell me who, and since I composed the music, created the audio files on my own computer, and wrote the lyrics that appear as teh video, they simply have no idea...but...they don't care. This sounds like more of the same.

12:17 October 4, 2012 by keeps71
Would have been nice to have a quote from German customs - even if it was 'no comment'. Some serious negative publicity can help sometimes. German politicians are still scared of Germany being seen in a bad light.
12:54 October 4, 2012 by Onlythetruth
@ wood artist

I have had only good experiences with GEMA. Did you present them with proof that you were the author of your compositions?
13:20 October 4, 2012 by Repatriated
Looks like the German customs officials must have been short handed and borrowed some personnel from the American TSA.
13:53 October 4, 2012 by BobbyBaxter
@ Onlythetruth

I suspect you work for GEMA.
18:08 October 4, 2012 by TRJ
Kind of ironic that the country home to some of the greatest composers in history seems to be doing everything they can to dissuade the best musicians from ever setting foot in the country. As artists, their instruments are their lifeblood. I would never ever set foot in Germany with my instrument out of fear that a customs agent would seize my ability to earn a living. Since classical music is such an integral part of German culture, it is as if the tax payment law itself is codified anti-German culturalism. A German law that is anti-German.
18:28 October 4, 2012 by Englishted
Shame you can't name and shame the individual responsible for this sadly typical action .

Keep up the fight wood artist hope you win because unlike "Onlythetruth" I can't stand the overbearing twits either.
22:29 October 4, 2012 by wood artist

I was amazed I even got a response, even though I wrote the email in both English and German. They said "they'd look into it" but as of their last note they're still doing that. Three months. I guess it's taking a lot of looking. It wouldn't really be a big deal, but the pieces in question are from an opera in German, and a couple friends (in Germany) actually want to hear them.

Personally, I'd like to know who else is "claiming" a copyright. I suspect it's a phantom, but I have no idea why GEMA would "catch it." There is no ID embedded in the file, so it's not like they found a "I belong to somebody" statement in the audio, and the video clearly states everything.

22:33 October 4, 2012 by Ludinwolf
i d screw maybe my life but i d def leave this country.
15:44 October 5, 2012 by Berliner1978
As it has been since the founding of America, we can always use more immigrants from Germany who have tired of having their government upon their neck in petty little ways such as this. The US government steals your money any way it can tax you there as well, but we do not tolerate this degree of theft, and you would have more rights in many other ways as well. Please register for the green card lottery, and let me bid you welcome in advance!
19:59 October 5, 2012 by Englishted
@ Berliner1978

What me as well?
20:07 October 5, 2012 by gtaglia
Standard procedure for a government that devotes most of its energy to finding new ways to extract money from the public, control, tax and regulate everything that anyone does and prop up the tyrannical EU (which does the same things, with even less public accountability).
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