Sat 14 May 2005
German humour of a sort as Conservative politician Peter Gloystein pours sparking wine over a Bremen beggar.
Fizzy joke falls flat and ends a career in politics
ALLAN HALL IN BERLIN
A LEADING Conservative politician in Germany has resigned in shame after he tipped a bottle of bubbly over the head of a beggar at a wine festival.
"Here, now you have something to drink too!" laughed wealthy Peter Gloystein as he poured the sparkling wine over the head of jobless and homeless Udo Ottmann, 45.
As political stunts go, it lasted just seconds and did for a career spanning some 20 years in public service.
The incident happened in the rich city-state of Bremen where Mr Gloystein was once mayor and, until Thursday, was also a state senator, number two in the Conservative-Social Democrat coalition ruling Bremen and officially in charge of boosting port traffic at the port city of Bremerhaven.
Supporters say he should have stuck to "ships and sums" instead of agreeing to be the master of ceremonies at the annual German Wine Week celebrations which are hosted in Bremen every year.
After the usual platitudes for the crowds thronged around a stage set up in the cityís old town, near the historic town hall, Mr Gloystein, 59, produced a bottle of sekt, German bubbly. The fact that it was a Winzersekt 2002 Riesling Brut was lost on Mr Ottmann, who was standing at the edge of the stage having previously been walking among the crowds seeking handouts.
"Everyone knows the guy locally," said Hartmut Ebener, an eyewitness. "Heís homeless, harmless and quite sweet. He didnít deserve what happened to him."
Mr Ebener, along with other horrified spectators, was stunned when Mr Gloystein upended the magnum bottle and proceeded to pour it all over the head of Mr Ottmann.
The politician made things worse by laughing and joking even as booing and hissing rose from the spectators.
"Who are you, why are you doing this?" yelled Mr Ottmann as the wine soaked him through. Bodyguards for the politician bundled him away.
As well as being homeless, penniless, jobless and damp, Mr Ottmann suffers from a chronic long-term illness that makes it difficult for him to walk.
As the crowd continued to boo, Mr Gloysteinís political nous, which his friends and enemies alike say must have been on holiday at the time, suddenly seemed to kick in.
He got down from the stage and tried to make his peace with his victim with a groveling apology. Mr Gloystein also tried to give him some money along with his expensive Mont Blanc pen, and put him up for a night in a fancy hotel.
Mr Ottmann was having none of it. "I donít want your money or your presents. You tried to turn me into a jester to make yourself look big," he said.
Mr Gloystein was interviewed by police as he sipped a glass of the sekt - quickly named "Victim Vintage" by local wags - and said that he had tried to pour the wine into Mr Ottmannís mouth and didnít realise he was a beggar.
"It was just a joke. I really didnít mean to pour it over his head, and once I did I thought he would see it was just a joke."
It soon became apparent to him that he had made an error of enormous dimensions.
The head of the government in Bremen, Henning Scherf of the SPD, said there was "no way" his deputy could have stayed, especially after photographs of the incident were published in the German press.
"These pictures are too much of a burden for the entire political class of western Germany to bear," he added. "Such a shameful picture burns itself into the minds of people who see it.
"It makes people think, rather dangerously, that ĎThis is politics, this is what we are all aboutí."
Mr Gloystein will continue to be paid as his CDU party tries to find a replacement for him.
"It is a shame that such a thing happened," said one colleague. "It must have been a moment of madness, but such moments come expensive in public life."