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Breaking: German customs seize a second violin from Japanese artist

Days after the customs authorities at Frankfurt airport returned a confiscated Guarnerius to Yuzuko Horigome, the same group of officers have grabbed a Strad belonging to the Dresden concertmaster Yuki Manuela Janke and demanded a $1.5 million ransom.

This would be an outrageous abuse of powers, if it weren’t also tainted with the suspicion of racism. Why is it that Japanese players are being picked on in Frankfurt? Is it because hardline German civil servants think they are unfit to play precious Cremona instruments? The question needs to be asked, and an official answer is required. I hope German politicians will demand it.

Yuki, 26, is a German citizen with a German father and Japanese mother. She took third prize in the 2007 Tchaikovsky Competition  and is one of Germany’s rising orchestral stars. Her violin is owned by the Nippon Foundation, which will doubtless act swiftly to reclaim its asset and restore it to the unfortunate artist.

Meanwhile, here’s a red-flag warning to string players: avoid Frankfurt airport where possible.

UPDATE: Why won’t the Germans report this story?


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  1. “This would be an outrageous abuse of powers” – What makes you sure? Is there any law that forbids the seizure of violins by customs under any conditions whatsoever? Or do you have more information on the legal aspects of this case? Then please tell us.

    And yes, I am sure there is plenty of racism among German customs (although I have no information whether this has had any influence on this specific case). But I am sure you will agree that we could say the same about any customs, immigration authorities, police etc. all over the world.

    • Organisations make mistakes. When they make the same mistake twice, one has to suspect prejudice.

      • How do you know they made a mistake?

        • Nandor Szederkenyi says:

          “How do you know they made a mistake?”

          come on Realist, this is a fact!

        • Twinkle Edgett says:

          Quote from Linus Roth: ” The instrument was taken away even after Janke showed her loan contract with the foundation, proof of insurance on the instrument, the violin’s photograph, and proof that the foundation had legally imported the instrument to Japan.”

          • Well, there must be SOME legal foundation, otherwise she could just sue the hell out of them. I’m sure this is annoying as hell for Mrs. Janke, and she will get her instrument back.

            But it seems this is legal behavior. I wonder why only apparently on officer – it is word here it is a certain individual in the ranks in Frankfurt – does use his appointed power in that way.

            Anyway, we can’t call it a mistake then, if the law in any way implies this. As strange and annoying as it seems. This is Germany, not Russia. The officer in question is certainly acting legally, yet using his power in a most disgusting way.

          • Ever tried suing the hell out of the German government? Life’s far too short.

          • The important word here is “imported the instrument to JAPAN”
            It has been brought into germany now.

  2. jack borg says:

    I’m pretty sure the $1.5mil “ransom” is an abuse of power… anyway, that’s more money than Somali pirates have demanded for some human lives!

  3. This is an outrageous incident!
    Here is another article about it:
    a quote of it: “This is clearly a problem. They (German officials) don’t have anything specific to tell us, like ‘if you have these (documents), you are OK’,” Narabayashi told AFP. The instrument was taken away even after Janke showed her loan contract with the foundation, proof of insurance on the instrument, the violin’s photograph, and proof that the foundation had legally imported the instrument to Japan.”

  4. The confiscations are based on proof of ownership and taxes paid. Obviously, there is a serious problem in Frankfurt that they should be the only such personnel in the world enforcing this requirement in this way. Shameful.

    • Or is it a problem – from a customs & border viewpoint – that Frankfurt are the only ones enforcing the letter of the law, and others are much more lax?
      If there is a requirement as you suggest, why should it not be enforced? If it doesn’t need enforcing, why is it a requirement?

      • Twinkle Edgett says:

        Why should it cost 1.5 mil to get your own violin back? Let’s not forget the MOST IMPORTANT question here.

        • Well, if you buy anything of value outside the eu and bring it to Germany, you have to pay tax. Just like with cigarettes, alcohol etc. These things belong to you and still you have to pay. That is the whole point of customs. The 1.5 million is 25% tax which she will get back when she leaves the country with the violin. If a normal person enters the country these terms apply. Why shouldn’t they for a violin player…

        • It’s not her violin. It belongs to a Japanese foundation supposedly.
          And if you buy something abroad and import it into your country, you have to declare it and pay VAT plus possibly import taxes. Anywhere, not only in Germany. If the value is many millions, then the VAT can easily be 1.5 mil.
          But here, if the instrument belongs to a Japanese owner, it seems strange why she should be bothered. Maybe they didn’t accept the copies she carried as valid documentation and want to see the originals.

  5. James Brinton says:

    Such things can usually be traced back to one or a few people acting either with intent, or committed to a misunderstanding of regulations.
    Either way, the German customs service needs to send a troubleshooting team to Frankfort to put a halt to this,
    Germany never lost its reputation as the foremost nation to abuse official powers (the DDR may have been worse in its day than the USSR), and this sort of idiocy is fast raising its profile, yet again.
    In Frankfort, ist alles nicht in Ordnung.

  6. Maybe there’s an amateur violinist in Frankfurt customs who enjoys playing high-quality violins?

  7. It’s a fiddle no doubt about it! Or maybe, once again, one of the officers wanted to use the violin case for nefarious purposes.

  8. Patricia Kopatchinskaja’s violin was also seized.This time by the Swiss customs in April. I don’t see any case of racism.

  9. Wie geht’s

    Perhaps these artists (and their managers) should refuse to perform in those cities/countries until the lunacy desists?

    “Im Westen, nights neues” -Rilke

  10. “This would be an outrageous abuse of powers, if it weren’t also tainted with the suspicion of racism.” — I’m sorry. I don’t understand this sentence. Are you saying that because the action is tainted with racism, it is therefore NOT an outrageous abuse of powers?

  11. Hal Starkey says:

    I kind of wonder why, or how, the Japanese have some of the prestigious Strads. The famous 1735 Lamoureux, ex-Zimbalist Strad was stolen in New York in 1981. It has once been seen in Japan, but not recovered. It’s owner, David Sarser (now 91), bought the istrument from Efrem Zimbalist in 1948. Sarser was a soloist and performed in the NBC Symphony Orchestra under Arturo Toscanini. After his Strad was stolen Sarser never played again.

    Quite a few stolen famous instruments have popped up in Japan over the years. Some were supposedly purchased – some of those from unknown sources. Certainly, these instruments show up in other countries. Japan just happens to really have a share of them.

  12. on the site of the German custom authorities it is clearly stated in the chapter “temporary import and export of goods”
    “Eine vollständige Einfuhrabgabenbefreiung kommt z.B. in Betracht für
    - Berufsausrüstung
    A full import duty exemption is eligible for
    - Professional equipment”
    In this case the violin is clearly professional equipment. So, maybe it should have been declared as such, but there ´s no reason to ask 1, 5 million for it!
    see the scource in german:

  13. Juergen Becker says:

    It is the same like in every other banana republic… they breath into the neck of private individuals returning from overseas with a piece of jewellery, a stack of books or, like here, a musical instrument. However, they miss the container-loads of digital cameras, HiFis or exotic furniture which have mysteriously disappeared or reported lost.
    The proverbial German perfection has long gone down the drain…
    Blind, unquestioned compliance to archaic and recent laws has replaced common sense.

  14. Agreed – totally stupid on the level of common sense – especially considering that it happens all the time that musicians travel with their instrument.

    Wait a second – racism?? Wasn’t there a connection between the Germans and the Japanese a few decades ago? I have never seen racism towards Japanese in Germany. There are better “fits”.

    Ransom?? Really?

    Ever heard of a Carnet ATA? It’s kind of a passport for things.
    The ATA Carnet is an international customs document that allows the holder to temporarily (up to one year) import goods without payment of normally applicable duties and taxes, including value-added taxes. The Carnet eliminates the need to purchase temporary import bonds.

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