Our Kids Will Live To Be 100 - Time To Celebrate?

By Nataly Bleuel

Half of the people born today in Germany will live to be 100 years old. I just read that in a study produced by the Max Planck Institute for Demographic Research, and it scares me. My kids live in a large northern city — Berlin — often celebrated for its eternal youth. And now that mecca of urban bohemia is supposed to morph into a hotbed of Methusalahs (Methusalah being, according to the Hebrew bible, the oldest person who ever lived)?

Oooff.

I wish my kids long, healthy lives, but I do wonder what they are going to do with all that time?

The daughter of a colleague of mine graduated from high school last year at 16, two years ahead of the usual age. She skipped two grades and was enrolled in “fast-track” classes, but hers was far from a unique case. There are a lot of kids like her. After completing a three-month language course at Oxford, she applied to the university just for fun. To study math. Her dad was a little upset by this because she was accepted, and he didn’t have a clue how he was going to pay for it.

But this is what shocked me: A 16-year-old girl can’t think of something better to do than apply to university? My colleague is somebody who squatted buildings when he was younger, although you wouldn’t notice any signs of his subversive side now.

When I was 16, my parents grounded me from my favorite disco as punishment for staying out past midnight. When I went out, my mother could sleep only after she heard the sound of my motor bike returning. What time I came home were the kinds of things she worried about. But somehow all that was normal, and at 21 I still didn’t know what I wanted to study at university and what I wanted to become.

How can you know that at 16? I don’t understand it, and I worry about my children. What does a child do when they’ve got their Oxford degree at age 20? Get a job right away, start a family, build a house? And then at age 30 they have a midlife crisis and find themselves asking: What now?

And then there are 70 more long years ahead.

Of course, they could opt to remarry, pay off more debts, work even harder, start another family. And then, what, they’re maybe 45? What then? Approaches to living need an overhaul.

New classifications of old

There are various definitions of old out there, with young-old considered by different studies to be the 60-74 age group, middle-old the 70-84 age group, with very old starting between ages 80 and 85.

The study shows that most very, very old people not only live in the northern part of Germany but they live in big cities as well — something that surprised the researchers. In the beautiful south, where the climate is mild, many more people are reaching very old age but not very, very old age. There could be a genetic component to this, the researchers say, because people in the north tend to be taller and bigger. They infrequently change addresses. They often eat healthy. And there are plenty of nearby hospitals.

This is food for thought. My babies were big at birth. They’re already in the world’s coolest city, so they presumably won’t want to leave it. The ice cream they get here is organic. I can only hope they’ll get old — but sexy old. Under no circumstances will I let them skip even just one grade.

(Translation by WorldCrunch, photo by dpa)

When A Child’s Shyness Becomes A Medical Condition

By Johanna Bruckner

As a two-year-old, Mia would hide behind her mother’s legs when other children or adults spoke to her at the playground. The child’s pediatrician assured her parents that this was a normal phase in her development. As a four-year-old, Mia loved going to the supermarket, but when her dad went to the meat counter to buy sausage, Mia buried her face in his shoulder to avoid looking at the sales lady.

“You were shy as a kid too,” Mia’s grandmother told her son. “She’ll grow out of it.”

But when Mia reached school age, the problem grew worse. When she was supposed to present her favorite book to the class, she got a stomachache. On the night before her flute recital, she cried so hysterically that her parents kept her at home instead of making her play at the concert. They started to wonder if their daughter’s painful shyness constituted some kind of illness.

“Normal behavior includes many more things than some parents think,” says Helga Ulbricht, head of the state school counseling service in Bavaria. “Children have a natural respect for the new and unfamiliar.” That includes social situations they are not used to, she says. For some children, that could be playing with kids their own age at the playground or a school event where kids are expected to perform for their parents.

It’s also normal to go through shy phases in childhood. “Just as kids display defiant behavior, 90% of them experience introverted phases, mostly during a growth spurt or a period of mental development, or if they’ve been sick for longer periods,” explains Ulrike Petermann, a professor for clinical child psychology at the University of Bremen. “They then go through a shy period during which they stick very close to their parents.”

Ulbricht, the school psychologist, notes that parents monitor their children’s development very closely — and critically — these days. “They want their son or daughter to have the best chances. Unfortunately, this can lead to overinterpretation of failures and concluding that there is some sort of deficiency.”

She points out that shy children are not necessarily unhappy. “Sometimes the parents suffer greater psychological stress than the children.”

Petermann too says that she sees extremely well-informed parents in her practice, but that this can sometimes lead them to “dramatize” their child’s condition. Shyness is one of several characteristics that are in good part genetically determined. “At least one parent tends to be reserved,” Petermann says. Scientific literature calls the physical dimension of shyness the “behavioral inhibition system.”

“Physiologically, shy people have a lower arousal threshold. Even mild stimuli get their sympathetic nervous system into higher gear,” says Petermann. “They get excited more easily than other people do.”

The science of bashfulness

This excitement can be measured — not visible but very present are higher levels of salivary cortisol and adrenaline, while redness, sweaty palms, and a trembling voice are among the outwardly perceptible signs. Shy people also develop avoidance strategies.

Shyness expresses itself in social withdrawal,” Petermann says. “Shy boys and girls try to avoid places and situations they don’t feel comfortable with.” When these kids are in familiar situations, their shyness all but disappears. “At home, you don’t notice it. They react intuitively with their parents, grandparents and siblings.”

But what if a child is not only shy but completely withdrawn, and displays symptoms in social situations like a racing heart or breaking out in sweat? “Social fear, the phobia of social situations, is a psychological disturbance that not infrequently is caused by their shyness,” Petermann explains. “Kids who suffer from this develop an overwhelming fear that all eyes are on them. It’s fueled by the anxiety that they might end up reacting in a humiliating way, or that they might be blamed, and they may as a result avoid all social contact. In some cases that leads to complete isolation.”

Shy people whose shyness has not gone that far do take part in social life, but they too feel unwell if they become the center of attention. Shy children fear two scenarios in particular. “One is meeting new people,” Petermann says. “For example, the mother is visiting an old friend whom the child doesn’t know. This friend has a child the same age as the shy child — the ideal playmate, or so one would think. But a shy child needs — even with a child their own age — an hour or more with that child before they can start to warm up.”

School exacerbates anxiety

Shy people also often fear of being judged, “which has nothing to do with the fear of exams,” says the child psychologist. These people constantly mirror their own behavior and have little confidence in themselves. “They are full of anxiety that in a social context they won’t react appropriately and that they will be judged negatively by others.” For shy kids, this can mean that the simplest communication becomes an insurmountable obstacle. “Shaking hands with somebody, or saying ‘hi’ — they won’t do that,” Petermann says. And as with Mia, the pressure on shy kids gets worse in school because they are expected to participate in class life.

Petermann makes the case for teaching kids a step-by-step approach to social situations that they can use their whole life long. “Parents should encourage — even pressure their child a little bit — to join a sports club or play in the orchestra,” she says. Teachers too can help shy kids. “They need to have a certain pedagogic feel for the situation. If they have that they can support the child and encourage him or her to surpass themselves, but it has to be in areas where the child can successfully manage to do that.”

For example, a teacher could call on a shy child in class to answer an easy question the child would have no trouble answering. “What’s important is for the teacher to stand near the child because the child will probably respond to the question in a very low voice. The teacher can repeat the answer to make sure the whole class hears it, but under no circumstances should the teacher say: ‘And now say that again so everybody can hear you, Katharina!’ That would make the child the center of attention, which is something shy kids particularly fear.” That’s why praise for the right answer also can’t be too effusive. “It’s better if the teacher just leaves it at ‘That was the right answer’ and then gets on with their teaching.”

Parents are part of the problem

Many parents react the way Mia’s did when they see how their child becomes stressed out in certain situations, says school psychologist Ulbricht. They want to protect their child. “For mothers and fathers, it’s naturally not easy to see their son or daughter suffer. Some of them start to wonder if they enrolled their child in school too early, if the child isn’t being over-challenged,” Ulbricht adds. “But focusing on school shouldn’t come before everything else, and the children should be helped with their social development.”

Petermann too is familiar with the problem of overprotective parents. “Studies show that parents who are themselves shy have a tendency to try and shield their offspring from uncomfortable social demands and tasks.” But they are doing their child no favors, she adds, because this sends the message to the child that he or she is not up to dealing with such situations on their own, and in the future they will depend on mom and dad to get them through. “That’s how you create problem behavior,” Petermann says. The result is deficient social and emotional development — the children don’t learn how to interact appropriately with others.

Petermann has developed a therapy program for socially insecure kids and their parents, and generally recommends encouraging shy kids to do stuff on their own from an early age. “That’s the only way the child will learn that, ‘Yes, I can!’ ”

(Translation by WorldCrunch, stock photo by dpa)

Ukraine Mismatch: Fearless Putin vs Toothless Europe

By Daniel Brössler

Now that the world is watching Moscow make its next power grab in eastern Ukraine, there is suddenly a lot of talk about Russia’s weaknesses. European politicians point out how much the annexation of Crimea has already hurt Russia economically and how much more suffering is yet to come. They also stress that Moscow in now totally isolated.

But such assessments aren’t much good right now. President Vladimir Putin isn’t concerned with the cost to Russia down the line. He’s interested only in the moment, and he is brutally exploiting every second of it.

Europeans weren’t prepared for the conflict in Ukraine, which is taking place on their own continent. So the EU pays lip service to international law, imposes modest sanctions on Russia, and threatens to impose harsher ones. Meanwhile, Putin puts armed forces in eastern Ukraine and knows the Europeans will waste time with endless discussions about how to react.

Time is the factor that works relentlessly against Ukraine and all those who want to rescue the country from Russia’s aggression. With the best intentions, Americans and Europeans worked to bring Russians and Ukrainians to the same table. And it was also in good faith that EU foreign ministers meeting in Luxemburg Monday urged caution so that impending talks Thursday between all parties in Geneva would not be jeopardized. Which also means that Putin can get on with his destructive work virtually unhindered until then.

Economically, Putin can’t take on the European Union. Halting energy deliveries to the West would be an ineffective, self-defeating weapon because Russia is totally dependent on this revenue. Putin has only two advantages in this situation, and they are not insignificant: his military might and his determination. Since the EU first warned against “further” escalation of the crisis, the Russian president has covered a fair amount of ground.

And the EU is doing relatively little to stop him. Travel sanctions and blocked bank accounts are merely symbolic and political. The threat of economic sanctions has already failed. The thinking was to more or less accept the annexation of Crimea but to make Putin fear dramatic financial consequences were he to continue his incursion into eastern Ukraine. It didn’t work.

The Europeans would be well advised to stop pointing out Russia’s weaknesses right now and start dealing with their own.

(Translation by WorldCrunch, photo by AFP)

A Touch Of *Elitism* In German School Policy For The Disabled

By Yannik Buhl

Things seemed clear to Kerstin Ehrhardt: Next school year her son Henri would be attending high school in Walldorf in the southwestern German state of Baden-Württemberg.

Henri has Down Syndrome, but at his school he was part of a model experiment with two other mentally disabled children, all three of whom attended regular school classes. But while the other two children have been accepted into high school because they had chosen the program to prepare for the Abitur exam, which puts students on the university track, Henri is not. The powers that be at the high school thus refused him admission because it would require a separate pilot project.

Since then controversy has broken out about the question of inclusion — non-disabled and disabled children learning together in the same classes — in higher school. Henri’s mother, Kirsten Ehrhardt, believes that “no differences should be made with regard to the children.” She has the state school board in Mannheim and the education authority in the town of Walldorf on her side, with the school providing the specialized teachers offering to follow Henri on to high school. Moreover, the UN Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities states that disabled children have a right to be educated with non-disabled children.

If the pilot project comes through Walldorf would be the first high school in Baden-Württemberg with a fully inclusive class. For all parents, a fundamental issue is at stake. “It has to be absolutely clear that the principle of inclusion is something that concerns all kinds and levels of schools,” says Ehrhardt.

The mother says the risk is that more special systems, for disabled and otherwise, continue to be created. Ehrhardt finds it particularly important that no exception be made for the high school “elite” pursuing the road to university.

The high school principal, Marianne Falkner, told Süddeutsche Zeitung that her school always accepted disabled kids so long as they intended to go for the Abitur. “It hurts a lot to find ourselves pushed into the category of being against people with disabilities.” But Falkner also defended the decision not to accept Henri, saying that there presently is no legal framework for dealing with a case such as his.

Fast solution

Falkner added that she didn’t think they could presently provide the kind of support to kids like Henri whose goals for his high school education differed from the norm and observes that his non-acceptance only concerns the coming school year.

Meanwhile Gerd Weimer, the state’s commissioner for matters regarding people with disabilities, is urging a quick solution to the dilemma because despite the clear guidelines in the UN convention “the fact that the entire faculty of a high school believes that inclusion doesn’t concern their school is a fatal sign.” Implementation of the inclusion idea is taking more time than expected, Weimer said, while “people with disabilities want an inclusive approach right now.”

The case has also created a stir beyond state boundaries. Associations for the disabled all over Germany are protesting the high school’s decision. “The UN convention specifically addresses all the parts of a state, so how can a high school take it upon itself to make an exception like that?” asks Dorothea Terpitz from the Verein Gemeinsam Leben in Hesse, an association that supports inclusion for all.

Both the parents of the three disabled children as well as Walldorf high school see it as the duty of state Minister of Education, Youth and Sports Andreas Stoch to clear the matter up. But his ministry is reluctant to lead a pilot project and prefers negotiation.

"The Ministry is in discussion with all concerned in order to try and find a solution," it said in a statement.

Stoch stressed the need to make schools understand the degree of support they get from the specialized teachers that work with the disabled children. He also pointed out that the decision with regard to the pilot project was still pending.

(Translation by WorldCrunch)

Liechtenstein Banker Murder, The Silicon Valley Connection

By Uwe Ritzer

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They think the accused murderer is dead, but can’t be sure of much at this point.

"We believe he may have committed suicide," says Jules Hoch, Liechtenstein’s police chief. "But as long as we haven’t found the body we have to assume he may still be alive."

Authorities continue to search in and around Vaduz, the capital of the tiny principality while helicopters equipped with infrared cameras circle overhead.

Security was also tightened in the principality, which counts 35,000 inhabitants. The parliament building is being watched more closely than usual, and there is talk of cancelling hearings. The financial institutions as well are under close surveillance.

The man that everybody wants to find, dead or alive, is named Jürgen Hermann (pictured above).

On Monday he is alleged to have shot dead the well-known fund manager Jürgen Frick, 48, head of the eponymous Liechtenstein private bank. The brother of Mario Frick, a former Head of Government in Liechtenstein, Jürgen Frick is survived by his wife and three children.

Hermann is said to have killed him in the bank’s underground garage. Surveillance camera images reportedly show three shots being fired.

That evening, along the Rhine River, the police found a jacket, keys, a driver’s license, a passport, a letter and a confession from Hermann — but no trace of the man himself.

This reporter can offer a suddenly relevant flashback to a sunny day in 2008, sitting with Jürgen Hermann in an outdoor café. He was sounding off on the financial industry of Liechtenstein, which he believed was run by “criminals.”

He’d show them, Hermann muttered.

He spoke about his life. How in his 18 years in the United States he’d made a fortune, in part due to his invention of a dive computer. He’d owned beach homes in San Francisco and Hawaii, he said.

"In those days my family and I would easily spend a million a year." When we spoke, however, he was living off some remaining capital, because when he came back to Liechtenstein “they” had led him to ruin — “they” being the Frick bank, financial authorities, the government, the princely family, everybody in Liechtenstein in fact. And they were going to pay a heavy price for that, he declared.

The drama began when Hermann, an electrical engineer, created two funds — Silicon Valley Equity and Global Equity — that invested in technology companies in Silicon Valley. On that sunny day in the café six years ago, he spoke with a mix of enthusiasm and bitterness about how his funds had “garnered attention worldwide” and placed top in all the rankings.

Absurd and unfounded

Then, “for no reason,” financial authorities roped them in, apparently because their advertising had been too strident. When that news got out in 2004, many investors withdrew their money. The funds ended up in liquidation. Hermann claimed to have lost 30 million Swiss francs ($34 million).

He saw himself as a victim of a plot by competitors and people who envied him — something that Jürgen Frick called “ludicrous, absurd, and unfounded.” Hermann filed a multimillion suit and started circulating information about the case on the Internet and to the international media.

The impression Jürgen Hermann made as he recounted his version of events was of a volatile, cocky man, highly intelligent and angry beyond all measure. Over the years, that anger became hatred. His correspondence became increasingly aggressive and often riddled with cheap shots at numerous targets. He went to court and predicted triumphant victory shortly before the verdict — these judges knew what they were doing, he said. When he lost, he described them as a “monkey court.”

Justice authorities were warned to keep an eye on Hermann, whose behavior was becoming ever more erratic. At some point he started calling himself Robin Hood. It was him against the financial mafia. His legal fights morphed from campaigns into crusades. Behind the scenes he was on a constant quest for contacts in the princely house, in government and other Liechtenstein institutions, to see if some out-of-court settlement could be reached. But nothing panned out. The situation worsened.

When he got a letter from somebody criticizing his methods as excessive, Hermann angrily faxed the letter back to the sender with the words “where there is injustice there is soon war” written on it. By this time, even people who sympathized with him were taking their distance.

"He was his own undoing," says someone who knew him well.

And now the spectacular end — if in fact it is the end. The place where Hermann’s belongings were found is along a dangerous stretch of the Rhine with life-threatening whirlpools and currents. A place where a body is unlikely to be found. But until one is, locals aren’t buying the suicide theory.

(Translation by WorldCrunch, photo by AFP)

Why Germany’s Nazi Art Seizure Was Wrong

By Heribert Prantl

The seizing of the 1,280 Gurlitt artworks by Augsburg’s district attorney two years ago was a legal error — a major, and in some ways incomprehensible error. Reading the dryly ambitious search-and-seize request that made it possible doesn’t help the case.

The charges were tax-related — and to deal with this minor case the authorities moved in on a collection of art valued in the hundreds of millions of euros. The reaction was completely out of proportion, bordering on the scandalous. But at the same time, the seizure itself was a blessing in the sense that it led to fantastic discovery and revelation: A bad application of the law yielded the truth about the fate of a genuine cultural treasure.

Before their dubious seizure, the pictures were dead. Now with the research into their provenance, they’re talking. They talk about their past, where and in whose premises they hung. They tell the tale of forced sale, of plunder. The artworks are imbued with the invisible signs of Nazi crimes, but also the very visible ones of having been hoarded and hidden.

Law has limits

Many of the seized works were the objects of greed and avarice. They once adorned the salons of Nazi bosses and the stockrooms of Nazi-era art dealers, as their rightful owners disappeared into concentration camps. In a moment in time when the last human witnesses are dying, when memory thus risks expiring, the future of Holocaust remembrance lies very much among objects, with pictures such as these.

The pictures are silent witnesses of Nazi crimes, and prompt renewed discussion of those crimes. When trying to analyze the legal ownership of these pictures, we discover how difficult it is for the heirs of Nazi victims to get back the belongings wrongfully taken from their grandparents. The law books aren’t up to handling the repair of acts of political perversion.

Many of the Gurlitt pictures represent injustice itself. And yet they should not have been seized: The law isn’t about getting pictures to talk. The law is only there to ascertain guilt and mete out punishment.

Cornelius Gurlitt was not directly responsible for the crimes associated with the pictures: He inherited the art, which is not illegal. The value of the art adds up to at least 10,000 times the amount of his alleged tax issue — 9,000 euros. In this sense, Gurlitt has suffered an injustice.

But of course the people to whom Gurlitt’s pictures formerly belonged suffered far greater injustice. It can’t be compared. Maybe the story is a ruse of history that brings us eyeball-to-eyeball with the very limits of justice and the law.

(Translation by WorldCrunch)

How Gurlitt Wants To Return Masterpieces From His Phenomenal Art Collection

By Hans Leyendecker, Georg Mascolo and Jörg Häntzschel

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Henri Matisse’s portrait “Seated Woman/Woman Sitting in Armchair”—known for its radiating, trusting intimacy—already has a long history. Now the painting may have yet another story to tell. A new chapter has been opened for “Seated Woman” by the Gurlitt case. Perhaps even a chapter of redemption.

In the days of February and March of 2012, as investigators searched the Munich apartment of Cornelius Gurlitt, confiscating some 1,280 works of art, “Seated Woman” was among them. The portrait had been taken out of its frame and left loose. Had someone transported the priceless artwork unframed, or—even worse—rolled up? The painting, made around 1924, is estimated to bare a price at least in the low double-digit millions. And actually, it’s a wonder it still exists.

When German troops flew over France in 1940, the Parisian art dealer Paul Rosenberg, who owned “Seated Woman,” hid it with other valuable works of art in a safe in the small village of Libourne in France’s Dordogne region. Nazi henchmen looted the safe in 1941. For a short time, the portrait was part of the looted art collection of Hermann Göring, a leading member of the Nazi party. He then traded it for a piece of work from the School of Fontainebleau, with art dealer Gustav Rochlitz.

Later the painting somehow landed in the hands of Hildebrand Gurlitt, Cornelius Gurlitt’s father. Places and dates tracing the transfer of the stolen goods are hard to come by. The original owner Paul Rosenberg was an art dealer but hadn’t planned on selling “Seated Woman”. So when the war was over he went on an extensive search for his stolen painting. 

His holdings were surprisingly well documented. His two granddaughters Marianne Rosenberg and Anne Sinclair (one a prominent lawyer in New York, the other Dominique Strauss-Kahn’s ex-wife) also find the theft of their grandfather’s art hard to let go. “I think of it as a crusade,” Marianne Rosenberg told the New York Times in 2013. And now atonement seems to be closer than ever.

"We’re not saying, ‘go ahead—sue us!’” 

Supposedly the 81-year-old Cornelius Gurlitt now wants to give “Seated Woman” back to the Rosenbergs, without conditions. The move is meant to prove that Cornelius Gurlitt isn’t apathetic to the Nazi crimes. And that he wants to help right the wrongs of war. The restitution lawyer Christopher A. Marinello, Founding Director of Art Recovery International, who represents the Rosenberg heirs, met several months ago with Hannes Hartung, one of Gurlitt’s lawyers in London, to discuss the Matisse painting.

"You can see that we’re not taking a traditional legal stance," Hartung told Süddeutsche Zeitung after the London meeting. "We’re not crying, ‘statue of limitations!’ We’re not saying, ‘go ahead—sue us!’” 

It’s still unclear under what conditions Hildebrand Gurlitt acquired the Matisse painting, but negotiations for a hand-over continue. The Rosenberg heirs still haven’t received the painting, which is among the confiscated items that the Austrian public prosecutor in Ausburg obtained in 2012. The German authorities owe it to the victims to solve the case quickly, the Rosenbergs’ lawyer Marinello said early in the process.

Since December no one has been able to talk to Gurlitt, who isn’t doing well after heart surgery and is confined to a hospital. Others do the talking for him: the criminal defense lawyer Tido Park (who wrote the standard reference book on “Search and Seizure”), the criminal defense lawyer Derek Setz, Hartung, the art expert, and the PR expert Stephan Holzinger. And most importantly, his legal counsel Christoph Edel, who the court appointed Gurlitt in December.

Edel visits Gurlitt regularly in the hospital and they discuss how to proceed with the art collection for hours on end. Gurlitt says he promised his father, Hildebrand—also an art collector, who died in 1956—that he would protect the collection. But he also doesn’t want any more legal trouble. “It is Cornelius Gurlitt’s wishes that the paintings that were robbed or stolen be returned to their Jewish owners or their heirs,” Edel said. “He’s given us free rein to do so.” We should all feel “confident” that a solution would quickly be reached. It almost sounded like a bulletin. And now Gurlitt had to live up to the promise.

Central legal issues still await a concrete resolution

It threw his confidants into a crisis. Would Marinello come to Munich to sign the necessary legal contracts on Wednesday? Was everyone in Gurlitt’s entourage in agreement about the contracts? Marinello didn’t come. He stayed in Paris. Six heirs had already come forward demanding their art be returned. The number of allegedly stolen works grew to 590. The real number is considerably lower, but exactly how low is also unclear, even among Gurlitt’s lawyers. One said there were “40 to 50” works to be returned. Another lawyer, Hartung, considered that number much too high.

Apart from the Matisse, there is a drawing by Spitzweg (which Gurlitt claims to have bought from the music publisher Henri Hinrichsen shortly before he fled to Belgium in 1940), two works by Otto Dix, about 13 paintings from the collection of the Jewish lawyer Fritz Salo Glaser, and Max Liebermann’s well-known painting “Two Riders on the Beach,” which the Polish art collector David Friedmann’s heirs demand be returned. Hartung says there’s no evidence to prove the works by Glaser weren’t already in Gurlitt’s possession by as early as 1933. Hartung also has doubts about “Two Riders”. 

To confuse things even more, Gurlitt’s legal team isn’t in agreement on some of the very basics. On Wednesday Hannes Hartung, who was responsible for negotiations with the claimants, was withdrawn from his post. He is no longer allowed to speak for Gurlitt. Through the many twists and turns in this bazaar case, the central legal issues still await a concrete resolution. 

Gurlitt then decided to bring some transparency to the matter. A team from German public television broadcasters WDR and NDR and the Süddeutsche Zeitung would be allowed to see the paintings that had been found just a month before where they now were being kept, in his Salzburg home. When the Salzburg discovery first became public, there was talk of some 60 pieces of art being held there. Turns out, there are many more. The list includes some 238 paintings, watercolors, drawings, and sculptures.

The house was in “absolute disrepair”

We’re used to seeing great art hung on freshly-washed walls in stately buildings, or in well-designed homes. Sometimes great art is kept in a safe as its worth appreciates. For more than a month, these hundreds of pieces of artwork including original Monets, Picassos, and Renoirs were kept in a place neither Gurlitt’s own confidants or German investigators would’ve ever suspected.

It was a sunny morning on February 10 as lawyers, art experts, security forces, and—as a precaution—someone from the insurance company, all made their way to 9 Carl-Storch Street. Most of the cars were parked on side streets. Even during the preparation for the tour, things remained mysterious. A code name for the trip was agreed upon: “company outing.”

Cornelius Gurlitt says he has lived in the Salzburg house for 50 years. The German Honorary Consul in Salzburg issued him a passport in 2001. In 2012, a Munich tax investigator asked the Salzburg officials how long Gurlitt had lived there. They said the house was in “absolute disrepair” and they presumed it “impossible” for Gurlitt to be living there. But, apparently he was.

In 2011 Gurlitt had moved into a 100-square-meter apartment in Munich, which he owns. From there the trips to his doctor in the neighboring region weren’t so long. 

With the discovery of the Salzburg collection, the true immensity of Gurlitt’s vast art collection began to reveal itself. There were some 1,518 pieces of art in addition to the 1,280 in his apartment. Which begs the question: Are there other depots that simply haven’t surfaced yet? No one knows, but it’s definitely not impossible. Gurlitt’s father controlled six such art depots at one time.

The entire collection found in the Munich raid is in the hands of the German justice department. But not a single piece of the Salzburg house collection was confiscated, as there’s no proof any of it was obtained illegally. Two years ago, when the Ausburg district attorney’s office requested administrative assistance, the Austrian judiciary said they were not able to help for legal technical reasons.

“Aware of the moral dimensions of the case”

In Germany a task force was set up to determine the origins of Gurlitt’s art. How exactly they are doing this isn’t public information. But the art in the Salzburg house isn’t part of their investigation. Gurlitt himself says he wants to find out the story behind these. “We’re on our way to get something going,” his lawyer, Edel, said. Either independent researchers or “existing institutions” would be contracted for the work. “No specific cases of looted art have been found yet in Salzburg.” 

It’s likely though that some of the works in Salzburg were in fact looted. And if they were, they’d have to be returned. Defense lawyers trained in Latin speak of criminal cases as a process because they must progress. And for many involved in the legal case, this has been quite the learning process.

On February 14 the search-and-seizure specialist Tido Park filed a 45-page wrongful confiscation complaint about the drawings and paintings in Munich with the District Court of Ausburg. The complaint—which calls into question the two-page search warrant the Ausburg district attorney issued in 2011—is itself a work of artful juristic acrobatics. Park uses legalese such as “undue investigation search” and “seizure inappropriateness”—creations that can leave even federal judges feeling challenged.

Park argued that his client and the defense were “aware of the moral dimensions of the case.” But the criminal case was, “not the right place for moral categories.” The authorities suspect any over-due taxes on the art collection to be relatively small. Why then, Park asked, would the entire collection have to be taken as collateral? A single painting would cover the alleged tax debt. The “judicial determination of the legality of the confiscation of this entire collection,” is of “preeminent importance,” Park wrote. But the prosecution objected; they maintain that the seizure of art was proper and lawful.

All Gurlitt’s trouble began at a German-Swiss border customs inspection in September 2010. Gurlitt caught the attention of customs officers. He seemed nervous. They patted him down and found a white envelope full of 9,000 euros in his jacket pocket. When asked where the money came from Gurlitt said it was from an auction house sale in Bern, Switzerland where he had sold some of his father’s paintings. The Augsburg public prosecutor opened proceedings on the grounds that he had shorted the state on import sales taxes. But import sales tax law only applies when the goods are brought into the European Union and not when the goods were sold in a foreign country. A strange case, indeed.

During the search of the Munich apartment on February 28, 2012 Gurlitt answered questions posed by an investigator: How did he get all these paintings? From his father, Gurlitt said. What does he live from? From capital gains from his investments, Gurlitt said. He didn’t make much from them, but he’s always lived rent-free. Very occasionally he would sell a piece of art. The last time he did that was more than 20 years ago, he said. “Do you have anything else to say?,” the investigator asked. “Yes,” Gurlitt said. He wanted to “protest” against the fact that he was being investigated. Gurlitt said he never imported any art from Switzerland. This elusive old man who led a phantom existence for all these years wanted to clear his name.

“Alone with his paintings”

At the very beginning of the Gurlitt examination papers there’s a sentence that reads: “I have a great fortune.” Gurlitt later struck through the word ‘great’. In letters written on a typewriter and fitted with a tiny signature, Gurlitt tried amiably to explain his story to a prosecutor and the customs legal counsel. He has to pay his doctors. He isn’t insured. That’s why he has to sell these paintings. His whole life revolves around these paintings and the doctors who take care of him. Gurlitt had, “only the absolute necessary contact with the outside world for the last few decades,” his lawyer Park wrote. He lives “alone with his paintings.” He doesn’t receive retirement or pension benefits and has no health insurance either. Gurlitt wrote: “I can’t make a bad financial impression when I go to the hospital and am treated by doctors.” To be able to pay for all those visits over the years, he was forced to sell stocks from his Swiss accounts and to replenish the accounts he sometimes has to sell a piece of art in Switzerland. He has two equity portfolios and bank accounts in Switzerland whose values taken together add up to a million euros. Yet he told investigators that he never “possessed securities or bonds.”

He could explain the story behind his family’s art. The collection was from his father, who died in 1956. His mother moved to a northern district of Munich in 1960 and bought two apartments, one in which Cornelius Gurlitt now lived. A moving company helped move the art to Munich. His mother died in 1968 and left an unsigned will. Cornelius and his sister Benita were to inherit the estate of their mother in equal parts. Cornelius was to manage the art collection. The two siblings were supposed to pay a large amount of inheritance tax. Nothing was paid. The state’s claim is now past the statute of limitations.

The more the investigators looked into the phenomenon of the Gurlitt family’s history, the fuzzier the picture got. They searched for a criminal charge that could justify their cause. Was there an attempt to launder money? There was nothing to prove it. The tax inspectors were engaged but they weren’t quite sure what they should do. Whether Gurlitt really was—as the prosecution believed—leading an illegal art market still could not be proven. That’s what the Munich tax investigator told the prosecutor’s office last November. There just weren’t any of the credible evidence which the state needed to proceed. After all, Gurlitt only just got his first taxpayer ID in Munich in 2013.

Prosecutors continue to look for evidence that he may have sold art commercially and hidden the profits. They discovered a book called “England. Höhepunkte erotischer Literatur berühmter Autoren.” (England: Highlights of erotic literature by famous authors.) Pages 171 to 520 of the book were removed, and it appeared as though someone was using the cavity of the missing pages to hide money. In the cash box they found a Süddeutsche Zeitung newspaper from October 23, 1974 folded and glued shut and the investigators believe that could also have been used to hide cash. Or, was it just a memento?

Gurlitt wants to move back in — but the paintings will not return

In Gurlitt’s apartment the investigators found a suitcase filled with 149 photos of works of art. Had he visited prospective buyers with this makeshift portfolio? The allegations were weak.

What would happen if after all this the court simply lifted the seizure of possessions and gave all the art back to Gurlitt? His lawyer Park wrote at the end of his complaint that it was “imaginable” for Gurlitt to “voluntarily” allow the authorities to maintain custody of legally controversial pieces of art. That way, “before and after any legal judgment,” he could be “assured access to the art as the beneficiary.” Sounds complicated. But it could be an act of reparation. A new chapter. And it could mean the return of “Seated Woman”. 

The apartment in northern Munich is now being renovated. If and when Gurlitt comes back from the hospital he wants to move back in. The paintings, though, will not return. For many reasons. The million-euro art trove behind a simple house door—is no longer imaginable. Not any more.

(Translation by Candice Novak, photo by dpa)

Why Japan’s Tsunami Refugees Are Still Shut Out

By Christoph Neidhart

Tsukayo Ito lost everything in the tsunami three years ago.

Since the 2011 disaster, the 88-year-old geisha has been living in a settlement of containers in Kamaishi. On the walls of her tiny living room are the few photos that could be salvaged from the rubble. She has almost no possessions, but still the room is cramped.

“I’m small and I’m alone,” she says. “I manage.” For those with families, living in a tiny container is much more difficult.

Ito knows how important community spirit is in these settlements. The elderly people living alone are becoming increasingly isolated, and there are frequent reports of suicide. Geisha Ito puts on performances for the other refugees and teaches traditional dance. “I had dark thoughts at first, but now they’re getting brighter.”

It’s been three years since the disaster and still the refugees are no closer to moving into new homes. Until the local authorities decide how to protect the town from future tsunamis, new houses can’t even be planned.

Six months before the catastrophe, the city of Kamaishi unveiled the world’s largest tsunami wall. Seven meters (almost 23 feet) high and 1,960 meters (6,430 feet) long, the wall took 31 years to build and cost $1.5 billion. When the tsunami hit on March 11, 2011, many Kumaishi residents thought they were safe behind their Guinness World Record-breaking wall. But the wave just swept it aside.

Frustration builds

A few miles north of Kamaishi is the fishing village of Kirikiri. Shortly after the tsunami hit, retired mechanic Matsuhika Haga volunteered to organize the cleanup there. “We’re still not even close to finishing,” he says. The harbor looks the same as it did a year ago, with a boat fishing car tires, refrigerators and other household objects out of the water.

Haga’s house was only partly destroyed, and he was able to repair it with his savings and a grant from the state. He was allowed to do that, but not to build a new house. His friend Takayuki Kimura was not so lucky. The tsunami left no part of his house standing — only his substantial construction debts remained untouched.

As a 53-year-old without a job, Kimura has no chance of securing a new mortgage, so he has moved into a container with his elderly mother. “At least she has her friends. They have tea together every day,” he says. It is not just Kimura’s debts that may keep him living with his mother for a long time. The local authorities have not even begun to develop plans for new housing.

Like almost everywhere else along the coast, the controversial question here is the construction of a new tsunami wall, which has been approved in principle. Authorities in Tokyo are now planning to build a 12.8-meter (nearly 42 feet) wall at Kirikiri, with a 50-meter-wide (164 feet) base.

“In the first few months after the tsunami, almost everyone was in favor of it,” says Matsuhika Haga. “But now most people are against the idea.” No houses can be built in areas where tsunami walls are planned, which means that the refugees are at the mercy of the planners. It has been estimated that the wall at Kirikiri will take three years to build, but everyone here knows that’s wishful thinking. 

Iron triangle

According to a survey by the Yomiuri newspaper, only 40% of tsunami refugees want to return to where they used to live. This is in part because there is no work there. Though the new walls will be financed by Tokyo, many people complain that the local economy won’t benefit from the construction work. Haga complains that “30% of the money will go to the big construction company, which will only make a few calls. Local builders will only get 20%.”

In Japan, the relationship between bureaucracy, the construction industry and politics is known as the “iron triangle.” Local authorities in Iwate will be responsible for financing any maintenance on the walls. “But they don’t have any money,” Haga says. “Fishermen live from the sea. You can’t just shut it out.”

Prime Minister Shinzo Abe, who has shown a taste for grand solutions, has decided to raise the ground level in most of the bays behind the new walls by up to 5 meters. This means houses that survived the tsunami will have to be torn down and rebuilt.

Japan is full of ambitious projects that never reach completion. There is a string of 40 large construction projects running simultaneously on the Sanriku coast, and construction has begun for the Tokyo Olympics. “Shoganai,” the locals say. In other words, “There’s nothing you can do.”

The construction sites along the Sanriku coast are stopping communities from helping themselves, and destroying what is left of the social structure there. Many young people are moving away, unwilling to wait for decades in the containers.

Above all, whether the walls are useful is still debatable. “People should consider themselves lucky if the walls even stay up,” says Tohoku University’s Professor Takao Suzuki. “The last earthquake severely weakened the ground in many places.” The heavy walls could fall down, damaging plants and wildlife and destroying mussel and sea snail fishing industries. The foundations would also have an impact on the ground water, he says. “If you separate the land so completely from the water, you damage both.”

The last tsunami was the fourth that Tsukayo Ito has survived. She still remembers the first, in 1933, when she was only eight years old. It came in the middle of the night. “Just like three years ago, someone pulled me out of the chaos,” she recalls.

And then the state began building higher walls between land and sea. Three years ago, these walls only made the disaster worse. 

(Translation by WorldCrunch, photo by AFP)

Your Grown-Up Stress May Be Making Your Children Sick

By Guido Bohsem

In terms of staying healthy, for both parents and children, down time is the decisive factor. According to a survey conducted for AOK, the largest of Germany’s roughly 180 statutory health insurance funds, no other criterion impacts family happiness as much as stress in daily life.

And the amount of stress in families is increasing. In 2010, 41% of parents participating in the survey said they had too little free time, which caused them stress. Four years later, that figure is 46%. Stress is worse for families with children in grade school.

AOK head Jürgen Graalmann believes that one of the reasons for this is the growing number of households with two working parents. That makes organization harder. But another major cause of stress is of parents’ own making. Many middle-class moms and dads trying to provide advantages for their children get caught up in overscheduling them — and consequently themselves — in activities such as tutoring, sports and music classes.

“Stressed parents tend more often to have children with health complaints,” Graalmann says. One in five German children displays symptoms of irritability, sleeping trouble, stomach or headaches, the survey shows. Some 24% of parents who feel squeezed for time have children with such complaints, whereas the figure is only 16% for parents with fewer time constraints.

Unsurprisingly, problems are worse for single parents. Some 17% of them described their own health as bad, and 35% said their health was so-so. In two-parent families, parental health difficulties were far rarer: Only 5% described their health as bad, and 25% as so-so.

But there is at least some good news. Fewer people reported physical, psychological, financial and partnership difficulties in this survey than in previous ones. Four years ago, for example, 33% described their financial situation as burdensome. Now, only 28% reported this, which the survey’s authors suggest could be linked to Germany’s economic growth over the past few years.

(Translation by WorldCrunch)

Big Pharma Targets German Medical Students

By Christina Berndt*

Pharmaceutical companies know that doctors more frequently prescribe medicine produced by companies whose sales representatives visit them regularly. That very logic means that these same companies are also busy trying to “recruit” future doctors across Germany, according to a recent survey of German medical school deans and some 1,100 med students.
The study, conducted by Cora Koch and Klaus Lieb of the University of Mainz, and published in the German-language GMS Zeitschrift für Medizinische Ausbildung, also found that only two of the 30 universities that replied to survey questions had created guidelines for their staff and students for dealing with the pharmaceutical companies.

"That’s a remarkably low number," says Lieb. "We’re behind the U.S. on this by ten to 15 years."

Koch and Lieb were also surprised by the lack of interest in other dean’s offices in such guidelines, with only six of 30 universities without guidelines stating a desire such rules. The study found that most of the students surveyed were eager to have more information about how to avoid such advances from pharma companies.

"It’s possible that the students objectively perceive the influence of pharma companies on teaching to be a problem, but subjectively believe that they can control the interaction with reps and won’t be influenced," write Koch and Lieb. Hence only 22% of the students felt that medical students shouldn’t meet with reps.

Prior studies have clearly shown that the prescription behavior of doctors is in fact influenced by regular visits by industry salespeople — sometimes to the detriment of patients.

A survey questionnaire Koch and Lieb circulated last summer found only 12% of med students had never accepted a gift from a pharmaceutical firm or attended a sponsored event. Forty percent pronounced the content of such events as “distorted” but nevertheless found them to be informative and helpful. And nearly half of survey respondents were of the opinion that it was okay to accept gifts, also expensive ones, as these had “minimal influence” on them.

(*digest item by WorldCrunch, not a direct translation)