Page last updated at 11:16 GMT, Thursday, 3 March 2011

Guttenberg, victim of Germany's obsession with titles

By Stephen Evans
BBC News, Berlin

German defence minister Karl-Theodor zu Guttenberg resigned after admitting copying large parts of his doctoral thesis. But why was he so keen to be a doctor in the first place?

Former German Defence Minister Karl-Theodor zu Guttenberg
Karl-Theodor zu Guttenberg lives in a castle owned by his family since 1482

You would think that Karl-Theodor Maria Nikolaus Johann Jacob Philipp Franz Joseph Sylvester Freiherr von und zu Guttenberg had enough titles.

In Germany, the "von" and "zu" denote aristocracy and he has both. And the word "Freiherr" means "Baron".

But if you want real clout in politics, being a doctor is desirable and that was his downfall. The title in front of even such a grand name is desirable, but not if it is the product of the work of others.

Royal fascination

Germans do set great store by the ornaments of status.

A German friend of mine offers this theory.

There were two catastrophes for the country in the last century. World War I at the end of which the German royal family abdicated, leaving a republic. And World War II, when German society was smashed - the old social structures were buried under the rubble.

A search for a doctor on a Lufthansa flight revealed a string of doctors of philosophy, music, law and theology

So they like a good sign of social position and I also think they like a good royal wedding, as I realised as I passed a second-hand clothes shop near where I live in Prenzlauer Berg, a well-worn area of the old East Berlin with a mix now of incomers with money and old inhabitants without it.

In the window were two mannequins with the faces of the Queen and Princess Diana.

Beate and a mannequin wearing a Princess Diana mask
German shop owner Beate is a fan of the British Royal Family

Needless to say, I popped into the shop, and discovered Beate, the Anglophile owner who calls herself Queen B, which is the name that adorns the shop.

She told me that for Germans in general, and East Germans in particular, the British royal family held a fascination.

She is 50, so she lived the first 30 years of her life under communism, and she grew up to learn that the British Royal Family was the mark of capitalist oppression.

But now she rather liked it. She realised that it was not quite like that in reality, and it offered a touch of glamour missing in German life. She had put the masks on her mannequins to catch the eye but also as a show of affection.


There is, in Germany, intense interest in the royal wedding. Kate Middleton, the bride, is rarely off the pages of Bild, the ultra-popular tabloid (though actually it is only a tabloid in style not in size - it is bigger than most broadsheets).

Kate Middleton meeting members of the public
Kate Middleton is set to marry Prince William on the 29 April, 2011

There she is on its pages, Kate Middleton, alert to the cameras, talking to a man in a baseball cap - here she is holding flowers.

The last time I looked there had been 253 stories about Kate Middleton in Bild.

At the moment, there is pretty well a picture a day. And a headline - "Psycho Trainer für die neue Prinzessin Kate Middleton!" (a psychology trainer for the new princess, Kate Middleton) - "England feiert Kate schon als Königin" (England already celebrates Kate as queen).

This, of course, is show-business coverage - the mentions are alongside Catherine Zeta-Jones and Victoria Beckham. But that does not mean that the German fascination with aristocracy and titles is not real.

Doctors everywhere

No German businessman - and most are male - or politician is complete without a doctorate.

Dr Merkel's is in chemistry and involved serious research into, and I quote and translate: "An investigation into the mechanism of decomposition reactions with simple bond breaking and the calculation of their rate constants based on quantum chemical methods".

And the title is used. When the chancellor went to the headquarters of Mercedes Benz the other day, she was Dr Merkel and she met Dr Dieter Zetsche, the chairman of the board.

All these doctorates were no doubt what the former defence minister was thinking about as he wrote, or rather assembled, his doctoral thesis, though it then became the stick to beat him with. Doctor Cut-and-paste, Doctor Googleberg, the papers called him.

Maybe Germany has too many doctors, though one less now with plain Baron zu Guttenberg, or more like Mr zu Guttenberg.

It is said that a search for a doctor on a Lufthansa flight when someone was taken ill revealed a string of doctors of philosophy, a doctor of music, a doctor of law and a doctor of theology.

All very useful in their way, no doubt, but not if you are a sick passenger or a former defence minister looking for a new job.

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