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Culture : As Cold War Died, So Did German Scandals : Back when it was one giant spying game, there was plenty of juicy intrigue. Today, the intrigue is decidedly dull.

April 20, 1993|TAMARA JONES | TIMES STAFF WRITER

BONN — Forget about mobsters apparently bankrolling Italian government leaders, or commoners nibbling on British royal toes, or Irish archbishops paying hush money to secret love children. What about "The Drawer Affair" and "The Letterhead Affair" and the infamous "Autobahn Rest Stop Affair"?

What about them, indeed.

Ever since the Cold War ended, Germany has been rocked by a series of scandals.

Rocked to sleep, that is.

Even now, with a veritable smorgasbord of at least a dozen scandals suddenly vying for headlines in the German media, the tidbits are about as tantalizing as a cold bratwurst.

No sex.

No drugs.

No rock 'n' roll.

No bimbo eruptions (can bimbos even have names like Irmgard and Gudrun?).

Just dull politicians breaking dull rules in a decidedly dull fashion.

"Little people taking little advantages," agrees Cologne sociologist Erwin Scheuch, who published a book on German scandals a year ago.

Who cares, after all, if the parliamentary president let her husband use her official car when there wasn't even a mystery woman half-naked in the back with him?

And please wake us up when you've recovered from the shock of the now-former economics minister using official stationery to promote shopping carts.

Wait! What's this promising item dubbed "The Swine Scandal"? A rascally gigolo, perchance? No such luck. It has something to do with the finance minister and his questionable ties to a Bavarian meat wholesaler.

Likewise, "The Cleaning Lady Affair" currently bedeviling the transportation minister also promises more than it can deliver, quickly dashing any kinky feather-duster fantasies with the stultifying facts:

"He was using state funds to pay his housekeeper," explained Joerg Quoos, political editor of the boulevard daily, Bild, "but no, he wasn't sleeping with her."

Boring or not, the steady drip of misconduct has clearly eroded voter confidence.

Even President Richard von Weizsaecker complains about an atmosphere of "political peevishness."

A Wickert Institute poll last month found that 62% of 3,292 voters surveyed thought political corruption happened "frequently," compared to 27% a year earlier--the worst rating in the institute's 42-year history.

Only 38% considered corruption the exception to the rule, compared to 73% in 1992.

"It's all about what the fine print says, about entitlement and patronage," said Scheuch, director of the Institute for Applied Social Sciences. "Not a week goes by without some new scandal popping up."

So, given so many of them, why aren't there any steamier than your basic "Bonanza" episode?

"Maybe Germans are just upstanding people," joked Quoos, adding that, on the universal scale of dullness, "that whole thing about officials with illegal nannies in America is the worst. Now that's really boring. I don't think our readers would care about such a thing at all."

Scheuch firmly believes that Germany "may appear to be a reasonably orderly country, but there's more than meets the eye. It's just that if you want to get ahead these days, you leave the skeletons in the closet, or, as we say in German, the corpses in the cellar."

Things weren't always this dull. Back in the bad old days when the Continent was basically one giant game of "I Spy," the Communists on the other side of the Berlin Wall could at least be counted on to provide juicy intrigues now and then.

East German agents practically mass-seduced secretaries in the Bonn Chancellery during the "Romeo Affair," wheedling carbons of confidential government memos from their smitten sweethearts. And in 1984, a zealous tabloid brought down the country's top-ranking NATO general by accusing him--falsely, though that scarcely mattered--of cruising gay leather bars in uniform.

Sure, there was always a penchant for the pedantic, like the summer the Bundestag called a special parliamentary session to debate formaldehyde.

But you could also be certain that a little something would come along to spice things up, just ask the government wonks who once discovered their favorite neighborhood sausage stand was feeding them donkey meat.

Good scandals have staying power.

It's been nearly 20 years since Chancellor Willy Brandt was forced from office when one of his top aides, Guenther Guillaume, was unmasked as an East German spy.

Even after Brandt's death and German unification, the Guillaume affair survives, and will in fact play a key part in next month's trial of Markus Wolf, the former East German spymaster.

But the end of the Cold War has also taken the punch out of even the most sensational espionage scandals here.

In fact, East German documents and snitches have fingered so many traitors, double agents and garden-variety informants since unification 2 1/2 years ago that such accusations now pack as much shock value as a soap commercial.

"Espionage is out," declared Quoos, who considers the only true "shock scandal" in recent memory a complicated case involving a political dirty-tricks campaign whose key player ended up dead in a Geneva bathtub, an apparent suicide.

Sex is also out, according to Scheuch.

"In general, bedroom affairs are not reported," he said. "They're taboo.

"Even (Chancellor) Helmut Kohl has a sex life," he said.

You just won't hear about it, is all.

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