Sexism row over German charity event

Eiswette ceremony, Bremen, 2008 Image copyright Godewind/Wikimedia Commons
Image caption The Eiswette festival is full of colourful traditions

A row over sexism has broken out in the German port city of Bremen, after a prestigious charity event refused to invite the co-mayor because she is a woman.

The Eiswette (Ice Bet) club hosts a black-tie dinner each January, among the many more colourful events that make up the popular festival, to raise money for the country's maritime search and rescue service, the local Weser Kurier newspaper reports.

Germany's great and good, along with their foreign guests, turn up in their hundreds to bet on when the ice on the River Weser will break - but only if they are men. The gala dinner has been an exclusively male preserve for 190 years. But this year it faced a dilemma on Saturday when the city's main mayor, Senate President Carsten Sieling, bowed out in order to attend the funeral of Pawel Adamowicz, the murdered mayor of Gdansk in Poland.

'How awful!'

The Social Democrat mayor nominated his female co-mayor, Finance Senator Karoline Linnert, from the governing coalition's Greens junior partner, to attend in his place. But the Eiswette refused to break with tradition, and allocated the place to the mayor of neighbouring Bremerhaven, who happens to be a man.

Ms Linnert did not hide her disgust. "The gentlemen of the Eiswette set great store by etiquette. But protocol suddenly doesn't matter any more when - how awful! - the official substitute for the male mayor of Bremen turns out to be the female mayor of Bremen," the Green politician posted on Facebook.

Image copyright Bremen Senate
Image caption Karoline Linnert wished the diners a pleasant evening

She was particularly offended that, in the year when Germany is celebrating 100 years of women having the vote, "the Eiswette still thinks it right to exclude women under cover of tradition," but wished the men a pleasant evening anyway.

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The story has appalled much of the German press, and expressions of support for Ms Linnert predominate on social media too.

Bremen's interior affairs senator, Ulrich Mäurer, turned down his invitation in solidarity with his colleague. "The Senate decides who represents the Senate, not the Eiswette organisers," his spokesman told the Weser Kurier.

Social Affairs Senator Anja Stahmann was also unimpressed by protestations of tradition. "If you really want to embarrass Bremen, you just carry on like this. There has been a mayor present at the Eiswette for 189 years. That's a tradition too, but the gentlemen threw it overboard just so they can stay together," she told the Bild tabloid.

'Gender nonsense'

The Eiswette decision found some support on social media, with much of it - name-calling apart - based on the club's argument for tradition and the money it raises.

"The Eiswette has been around for decades, and it's traditional that only men are involved. Big sums are donated, and you should be happy about that, instead of making a fuss about old customs," one club defender wrote under Karoline Linnert's Facebook post.

The Eiswette organisers themselves remain unrepentant. Just ahead of the dinner, Club Chairman Patrick Wendisch was scornful of the wave of public criticism.

"We are a gentlemen's club, and can't be doing with any gender nonsense," he told Bild. "If the Pope were a woman, even he wouldn't get in," he added.

Image copyright
Image caption The gala dinner is exclusively male, except for the serving staff

Reporting by Martin Morgan

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