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The German press stays silent in the face of a musical outrage

Not one German newspaper or media outlet has bothered to report the confiscation at Frankfurt airport of a Stradivarius carried by the Dresden concertmaster Yuki Manuela Janke. Ms Janke carried all the necessary documentation from the Nippon Foundation, which owns the instrument. The customs officers were being officious, and possibly racist, as they were last month with the Brussels-based soloist Yuzuko Horigome.

The only media reports this week have been in Slipped Disc, on the AFP wire and, today, in the Japan Times. It is six days since the violin was seized. The German silence is incomprehensible.

If an abuse of power like this had occurred in any British, US, French or Spanish airport, the vibrant and highly competitive local news outlets would have vied to get the instrument released.

In Germany, they stay stumm. Why? We have a tendency in English-speaking countries to regard German newspapers as stuffy, complacent, filled with old news and unwilling to challenge authority. Whatever can have given us that impression?

Anyone home at the FAZ?

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  1. It is growing though (France, AFP, Yahoo, Bangkok) and probably the Japanese foreign minstry will get involved again. This is worse than the previous incident.

  2. Martin Weldner says:

    This is a regrettable incident, where some imbecile at the airport made a great mistake. Neither is this typical of Germany nor has it anything to do with racism. It`s just an official who exceeded his competences, and this, by the way, can happen to anyone in any country of the world. No lack of blockheads in our world! Those customs officers in Frankfurt should be removed anyway, as they are obviously not suited for this job. The German newspapers in general are better than their reputation in English-speaking countries, I would say.

  3. Jaakko Kuusisto says:

    But SURELY after the much-publicized Horigome disaster, they should have known better this time.

    • Or maybe, after the Horigome , and earlier Kopatchinskaja, “desaster” artists should “have known better” and provide full documentation. Or at least their managment.

      Think about it, the Nippon Music Foundations main business is loaning instruments, THEY should have known better after the Kopatchinskaja incident with the swiss customs, wich was very similar. And note that back then, the swiss government, while apologizing for the trouble, made it clear that the customs officer actually had no choice and did what he had to do (seizing the violin).

      • the point is: the violin does not belong to the person who brings it in the country. what can the nippon foundation do more than provide documents that they are a japanese foundation, lending a violin they posses to a person who lives in germany and also travels with it?! this is all the documentation there is, – and it has been provided!!
        if this is not enough it means musicians can not cross borders any more.

        • She is still importing the violin. Ownership doesn’t necessarily matter. Otherwise, anybody could lend any stuff to any traveller, import it tax free and selling it afterwards.
          I am aware this is not a likely scenario here, but this is the reason such regulations exist, to close loopholes. And sadly, a honor system doesn’t work, that’s why the burden of proof is on the person importing. It’s not like a traveller can just say “I promise I won’t sell or consume it” and the customs officer will say “Well that’s fine, I will just trust you, move along.” Not if millions are at stake.

          Now, what could they have done?
          a) if the violin will stay in germany permanently, officially import the violin, declare it (!), pay taxes and have it documented.
          b) if the violin will be in germany only temporarily, declare it (!) and fill out an ATA carnet beforehand. This is what everybody should do if bringing very valuable items into a different country. You will have to proove that the items will be brought back into their country of origin in a year, but that’s no problem as you can do that at the customs when/before leaving the country again.
          c) if the violin is supposed to stay in germany for an extended period of time, but will be brought back eventually, declare it (!) and deposit the taxes or have another security – a bank guarantee for example. It will be refunded if the violin leaves germany for good.

          Is it complicated and annoying? YES! But I don’t see a more simple way. Thousands of people that are travelling frequently (for business or for different reasons) do it that way. I don’t see why there should be exceptions for artists.

          • blafasel – you entirely miss the point. Ms Janke had all the documents including who owned the violin, insurance, proof of purchase by the Nihon Music Foundation and a loan document. She is also the 1st Concertmaster of the Dresdinkappelle. Someone with a perfect right to have such an instrument and using such an instrument for her work. With all of this available there is not reason for the German Customs to seize the violin and attempt to extort money from her. It just makes them look stupid. Simple research could rapidly have ascertained her status. The Nihon Music Foundation does not loan Stradivari to anyone but to musicians of talent and ability who will use the instruments for their work. No some numbskull has blundered and should pay for their stupidity.

          • @blafasel: I believe you are right, what should have done is what you stated under b).

            now, 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 and keep the violin locked up for such a long time! Taking all this into consideration I find it is a shame that the German press has not reported about it.
            see the scource in german:

          • Nandor Szederkenyi says:

            Aside that you don’t get the point and just want to prove your own right, getting an ATA carnet is far more difficult than you think. It may be different from country to country, but e.g. here in Austria, a Person is allowed to fill a carnet up to 5000 (five thousand) Euros.

  4. Galen Johnson says:

    What exactly is German customs law regarding a German citizen bringing in anything of great value that has been leased in a foreign country? Maybe the law is wrong or confusing, not the customs officers? Well, maybe…

    • You are supposed to pay import sales tax, wich is basically “late” VAT for stuff bought outside the EU.

  5. Well, Norman has indeed got a point in regarding “German newspapers as [...] unwilling to challenge authority” – at least concerning the mainstream media. It would indeed be their job to inquire the backgrounds of these cases – and wether the customs officers, the lawmakers or the artists themselves are to blame for this undoubtedly regrettable situation. So far we all don’t know.

  6. @ Linus Roth:
    Yes, this is the legal grounds for doing b), but it still requires the person in posession to declare it and fill out paperwork beforehand, maybe even have the customs to approve it first.
    Also, further down in the page, they state that it is necessary to provide a security as high as the potential taxes.

    • Paperwork does NOT seem to be necessary in every case the same paragraph it also says: “in case of VERBAL declarations there is also the possibility of a reduced security deposit.”
      Reduced to what? Half? Or zero? Kind of vague, isn t it..
      I don t know of any musician who had to put down a certain sum as a deposit for his instrument when entering Germany. No orchestra or soloist would tour this country any more, if it really was obligatory.

      • The process is quite simple if someone is leaving his country of residence, them returning after the tour: just declare stuff and have an ATA carnet with you, and everything is fine. This is, for example, what a friend of mine does when visiting foreign countries and having lots of technical equipment with him (he’s a professional camera man).

        For Mrs Janke and Mrs Horigome, it’s a little more special as they are residents of the EU. Therefore it’s reasonable to assume their instruments will stay in the EU with them when they return in their country of residence, in wich case they would have to pay taxes. As everybody else.

      • Linus, I guess you are speaking german, so I will link this interesting article:

        • blafasel, yes I do speak German. But I would never read “Bild”, as this is not serious journalism. Luckily the FAZ and the Sueddeutsche had some reports by now.

          • Well, I share you feelings about “Bild”, they have been the first to report the news, though, other papers have picked up the story from Bild later.
            It’s gonna be interesting to watch things moving on now.

  7. @ Sardis:
    Did you even read what I wrote? I explained at length why the provided documents are NOT sufficient. You claiming otherwise doesn’t change the laws.
    I respect your opinion that it should be easier, but it isn’t at the moment.

    • blafasel you produced a long post of obfuscation. The German customs themselves are not clear about what musicians require and this is now causing music agencies to advise musicians to avoid Frankfurt. We went over this issue in the post on Yuzuko Horigome. One cannot legitimately operate a system whereby the rules are not clear to the people who want to bring instruments into Germany and it is the responsibility of the German customs to make it clear and transparent as to what is needed. As they are not doing so they are failing their duty and demonstrating incompetence (and perhaps even racism). That is all there is to it. The documents coupled with the fact that Miss Janke clearly uses the violin as professional equipment (for a German orchestra no less) should be enough. The fact that German customs seems willing to operate a second shakedown attempt suggests that changes need to be made. Just because they are German customs does not mean that they have gotten the law right.

      • “it is the responsibility of the German customs to make it clear and transparent as to what is needed”

        That’s the problem right here. It is NOT their responsibility. It’s the responsibility of the person that is bringing million-dollar goods across borders to check beforehand what kind of problems might arise, more so if they are travelling frequently and professionally.

        It’s a golden rule: if handling money, check your facts and do some research or get professional help. I cannot, for example, just ASSUME what’s the right thing to write in my annual tax declaration, I have to do research, ask the tax authorites, or hire a tax adviser.

        As for the german customs: they DO have info pages, they DO have hotlines, they DO have forms specifically for handling cases like this.
        And for musicians that are bringing their instruments to europe temporarily, it’s a quite simple process, you have just to invest 30 min of research to find out how to do it.
        This is a good start:

        For Mrs Janke and Mrs Horigome, it’s a little more special as they are residents of the EU. Therefore it’s reasonable to assume their instruments will stay in the EU with them, if wich case they would have to pay taxes. As everybody else.

        • No Blafasel it is their responsibility. That avoids arbitrariness and confusion. Public servants are there to serve the public and if possible to help the public in their dealings with officialdom. I note that neither fuss (which has left the German customs with a reputation in tatters) needed have happened. Both musicians had a perfectly legitimate right to have the instruments and no need (according to the regulations) to pay taxes. A more cooperative attitude and less red tape would have avoided the problems which incidentally tarnished Germany’s reputation and reinforced stereotypes. Are you a member of a customs service? I ask because it seems you are a bit too keen on defending the indefensible.

  8. Anon in Spain says:

    Well, the Spanish press has got wind of this and they are not pleased. Apparently Ms. Janke is the 2008 1st place winner of the Pablo Sarasate Violin Competition, held in Pamplona, Spain. Spaniards stand staunchly behind artists they have encouraged.

    Spain’s ABC gives a comprehensive report of Ms. Janke’s dilemma here:

    Comments following the article indicate resentment towards the stodgy Germans, with mention that had Ms. Janke been passing through Madrid’s Barajas Airport with her instrument, she would have had no trouble at all.

  9. Thaddeus Watson says:

    This incident has turned into a bizarre political scandal in Germany with officials of the German customs authority filing suit against the German Financial Minister for demanding the immediate release of the instrument without the penalties. Minister Schäuble is being sued for obstructing the payment of 1.5 million Euros due to the German people. Here is the link from the Süddeutsche Zeitung:

    • Excellent. Endlich.

      • Yes, endlich…! But as usual some “journalist” of the “Bild” (German version of the English “Sun”…) seems to have invented something…: that the customs are filing suit against the German Financial Minister. Sueddeutsche writes: Allerdings heißt es auf SZ-Nachfrage in der Berliner Staatsanwaltschaft, es liege gar keine Anzeige vor= when the SZ asked the Berlin Public Prosecution they said that there were no legal proceedings.

  10. @blafasel if what you’ve said is the case, then the Frankurt Airport customs should be seizing people’s violins all the time and apparently, we’ve not read about news like this. If there is indeed a rule, it should be implemented in the clearest and unbiased fashion.

  11. So, she had to declare the Violin without paying this fee but used the “green” exit.

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