Karl-Theodor zu Guttenberg: Baron without a title

By Stephen Evans
BBC News, Berlin

Image caption,
The defence minister is 'the very model of a German aristocrat'

Names and titles matter in Germany. For the moment, Defence Minister Dr zu Guttenberg will be plain Mr or Minister - or maybe Baron - and that will be painful.

He told a swarm of reporters enquiring about the plagiarism allegations swirling around him: "I will temporarily - I repeat temporarily - give up my doctoral title."

He will do so, he said, while the university that gave him the doctorate completes its investigation into whether it really was all his own work.

It follows the publication of pages from his thesis alongside pages from other articles by other authors. His writings mirror word for word the writings of the earlier articles.

The allegations have great force because Karl-Theodor zu Guttenberg is a dream of a politician: rich, good-looking with a beautiful wife, the very model of a German aristocrat.

His full name reveals his aristocratic background: Karl-Theodor Maria Nikolaus Johann Jakob Philipp Franz Joseph Sylvester Freiherr von und zu Guttenberg. The "von und zu" reveals his lineage, while Freiherr means "baron".

'Iron chancellor'

His home is a castle in Bavaria which has been in the family since 1482; he is good-looking; his wife is a glamorous chat-show host and a great-great-granddaughter of "Iron Chancellor" Otto von Bismarck.

Image caption,
The doctorate title will be dropped for the moment, the minister has decided

He is dynamic, an action man sort of defence minister, seen by television cameras vaulting over fences. Or striding from helicopters in Afghanistan, accompanied by his wife.

At 39, he is young for a politician. He is often mentioned as a possible successor to Germany's chancellorship.

Dr zu Guttenberg - as the name on his military fatigues describes him but as he will for now not call himself - is no stranger to controversy.

There has been a string of fusses - scandals might be too strong a word - over events in his ministry, which prompted accusations that he was not fully in control of his department.

Lurid goings-on

The most recent case surrounded events on a military training ship where it seems there was a mutiny when cadets refused to climb rigging from which another cadet had fallen to her death.

Lurid tales of sexual goings-on then emerged. The headlines were big and the heat on the minister was high, not for any failings of his own but because he was the man at the top.

His ministry was also criticised when it announced that a German soldier had shot himself in Afghanistan - and it then emerged that he had been shot accidentally by another soldier.

And there was a row over a visit to Afghanistan with his wife last December.

Image caption,
The minister was criticised by opposition politicians for visiting Afghanistan with his wife

They were filmed by batteries of cameras, leading to an accusation from one opposition politician that "a staged spectacle like this, in one of the worst conflict zones of the world, can barely be beaten for tastelessness".

After one visit to Afghanistan, the German media said had he turned up at an evening social function still wearing his military fatigues from the day's visit to the troops.

He said he hadn't had time to change. His critics said it was showmanship.

But these are of a different order from plagiarism, which the Oxford Dictionary defines as "taking someone else's work or ideas and passing them off as one's own".

'Baron Cut-and-Paste'

The University of Bayreuth which awarded the doctorate has given the defence minister two weeks to respond the allegations. If it then decides to revoke the doctorate, that might present a problem for plain Mr or Baron zu Guttenberg, or whichever title he chose to use.

He has been the darling of the people but not the media. As Manfred Guellner of the Forsa polling institute put it: "People like the fact that he is not a product of the Berlin political establishment. But journalists find him arrogant."

The press have had a field day. Every scandal needs a "gate" on the end, so this one's been dubbed "Xerox-gate" in Spiegel, which also refers to "Guttenberg's printing press".

Financial Times Deutschland, showing greater modernity, refers to "Baron Cut-and-Paste". And financial daily Handelsblatt calls him the "Minister of Scandals".

So the removal of the opening word in the short cotton label sewn to the chest of the defence minister's camouflage fatigues might be a very costly cut indeed.

More on this story

Related Internet Links

The BBC is not responsible for the content of external sites.