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Tuesday, 9 January, 2001, 17:29 GMT
Germany gripped by Becker case
By Peter Morgan in Berlin
A real-life soap opera that has transfixed the German nation appears to be drawing towards a climax.
The sudden breakdown of the marriage of tennis star Boris Becker and his wife Barbara has shocked the country.
Not only is Boris Becker one of Germany's brightest stars, but his marriage in 1993 to a black actress and model was seen as a powerful symbol of increasingly liberal attitudes in Germany, where inter-racial marriages are still relatively unusual.
In 1996 the tennis star threatened to leave Germany after receiving a series of racist threats, which prompted him to hire bodyguards to protect his family. He took a high-profile stand against right-wing extremism.
The meeting of Boris Becker and Barbara Feltus in a New York bar has been well documented in Germany's tabloid press, along with the romantic details of how the tennis ace dropped a diamond engagement ring into his lover's cocktail 18 months later.
The pair had two children and an extravagant lifestyle, shared between homes in Germany and the United States.
But just before Christmas came the bombshell that the two had broken up.
Boris was faced with accusations that he was having an affair with a rap-singing former friend of his wife - charges which he has furiously denied.
Day after day the German press has been plastered with reports of how Barbara slapped Boris when he turned up with Christmas presents for the children. And angry accusations from Boris that his wife has effectively kidnapped their two sons - Noah, six, and Elias, one.
The joy of the many reporters following this case was complete as the couple headed for a televised courtroom battle in Miami. Who could tell what salacious details about the life and wealth of one of Germany's most dazzling couples would be revealed?
The first court hearing was broadcast live to German homes via the N24 channel, and other channels were quick to follow suit.
"Becker versus Becker - The war of the roses live from Miami," was how RTL television billed its special coverage.
But it seems this story could end as dramatically as it started.
The judge presiding over the divorce has postponed his judgement on a settlement until 18 January. The reason? It seems Babs and Boris are talking again, and are very close to reaching an out-of-court settlement about the division of the Becker fortune, and custody of the children.
"Babs wins!" said Germany's popular tabloid Bild on Tuesday. "She has the children, the home in Miami - now it's just a question of the fortune."
It portrayed Barbara's lawyer, Samuel Burstyn, as a character "out of a police thriller," with his hair gel, dark glasses, chilling laughter and a grin "that should make you run for cover".