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Barenboim, Schiff and others beg Angela Merkel to let precious instruments through German Customs

The repeated instrument seizures at Frankfurt airport and elsewhere have resulted in a high-level approach from a sheaf of top musicians to the German Chancellor, asking her to grant Customs exemption to musicians travelling with high-value instruments.

Here’s the full letter (auf Deutsch). Anyone care to translate?

merkel pope

UPDATE: Rough translation:

Open letter from artists to the Federal Government, with the support of the Association of German Concert Agencies

Dear Mrs. Chancellor,
Dear Minister Dr. von der Leyen [Labour and Social Affairs],
Dear Minister Dr. Westerwelle [Foreign Affairs],
Dear Minister Dr. Schäuble [Finance, as such responsible for customs]
Dear Minister Neumann [Culture],

We percieve with great concern some measures taken by the customs authorities in the context of the import or re-import of musical instruments into the EU jurisdiction. Some prominent colleagues of us have recently been held at customs; in same cases their instruments were seized because of allegations regarding supposed violations of customs regulations. We perceive these measures as a great impediment against practicing our profession. We therefore suggest that instruments carried on by musicians in the context of their profession shall be allowed to be imported and exported as personal belongings without any customs formalities being required. Especially at airports the use of the green channel must be allowed.

In the past weeks, there has repeatedly been mentioned that with so called ATA carnets musicians could travel without impediments at customs. However, this regulation ignores the fact [translator's note: it's actually not the regulation that should be the subject of this phrase, but I suppose you get what they mean] that the ATA carnets – depending on the value of the instrument – come with considerable costs, as for issuing an ATA carnet a guarantee of 30% of the instrument’s value has to be deposed.

We have in mind a regulation, according to which [incorrect grammar here in the German original, translator's note] a simplified customs procedure would apply for carrying on the instrument, the artist being allowed to import and export the instrument with a proof that he [only the male form is used, translator's note] is the owner of the instrument or with a certificate of the owner (e.g. a foundation) identifying him as the entitled user. As a proof for the practice of the profession, a contract for a performance in Germany or a country of the European Union should be sufficient. The same applies for the binding acceptance by a concert organiser or appropriate concert announcements or posters.

Entry and exit of international artists into the European Union is an important contribution to the cultural life in Europe. This should not be hampered by customs procedures in a way that in the end considerably handicaps the professional practice of us and our colleagues.

We may ask you as responsible ministers of the Federal Government and you, honourable Mrs. Chancellor, to take care of this problem.

Yours sincerely

Signed by:

[signatures]

Julia Fischer, Viktoria Mullova, Daniel Barenboim, Andras Schiff, Frank Peter Zimmermann, Mandelring Quartet… and more

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Comments

  1. Apologies for any errors, inaccuracies etc. BTW, my English may be a bit rough, but the German of this letter isn’t an eminent example of style either. Nevertheless, in my view they have a point.

    Rough translation:

    Open letter from artists to the Federal Government, with the support of the Association of German Concert Agencies

    Dear Mrs. Chancellor,
    Dear Minister Dr. von der Leyen [Labour and Social Affairs],
    Dear Minister Dr. Westerwelle [Foreign Affairs],
    Dear Minister Dr. Schäuble [Finance, as such responsible for customs]
    Dear Minister Neumann [Culture],

    We percieve with great concern some measures taken by the customs authorities in the context of the import or re-import of musical instruments into the EU jurisdiction. Some prominent colleagues of us have recently been held at customs; in same cases their instruments were seized because of allegations regarding supposed violations of customs regulations. We perceive these measures as a great impediment against practicing our profession. We therefore suggest that instruments carried on by musicians in the context of their profession shall be allowed to be imported and exported as personal belongings without any customs formalities being required. Especially at airports the use of the green channel must be allowed.

    In the past weeks, there has repeatedly been mentioned that with so called ATA carnets musicians could travel without impediments at customs. However, this regulation ignores the fact [translator's note: it's actually not the regulation that should be the subject of this phrase, but I suppose you get what they mean] that the ATA carnets – depending on the value of the instrument – come with considerable costs, as for issuing an ATA carnet a guarantee of 30% of the instrument’s value has to be deposed.

    We have in mind a regulation, according to which [incorrect grammar here in the German original, translator's note] a simplified customs procedure would apply for carrying on the instrument, the artist being allowed to import and export the instrument with a proof that he [only the male form is used, translator's note] is the owner of the instrument or with a certificate of the owner (e.g. a foundation) identifying him as the entitled user. As a proof for the practice of the profession, a contract for a performance in Germany or a country of the European Union should be sufficient. The same applies for the binding acceptance by a concert organiser or appropriate concert announcements or posters.

    Entry and exit of international artists into the European Union is an important contribution to the cultural life in Europe. This should not be hampered by customs procedures in a way that in the end considerably handicaps the professional practice of us and our colleagues.

    We may ask you as responsible ministers of the Federal Government and you, honourable Mrs. Chancellor, to take care of this problem.

    Yours sincerely

    Signed by:

    [signatures]

  2. Just a few additional personal remarks: I think this is a good initiative (however, they might have considered involving a proof-reader). Pushing for suitable rules is certainly better than blaming the ciustoms officer for doing his/her job. And yes, the costs of the ATA carnet make it an unsuitable solution for many musicians.

    However, I’m not sure whether arguing at customs with concert announcement posters would be an appropriate solution. I don’t believe an ordinary customs officer will be able to recognise a fake concert announcement, and there’s certainly much room for arbitraryness in this proposal, which is never good.

    There should indeed be something like a carnet ATA, just without the required deposit. More or less like this: If you are a professional and frequently travelling musician, you go to a customs authority once (!), register your instrument (they might want to take some photos), deliver some proof that you are a professional musician and the owner or entitled player of the instrument, and get an internationally recognised certificate which allows you to freely travel with your instrument for, say, the next five years.

    However, IANAL but I assume that this will only be possible at European level. Ms. Merkel might stil be the right addressee (BTW: Why is Mr. Thielemann missing on the list of supporters?), but it will nevertheless take a couple of years…

  3. Fabio Fabrici says:

    I don’t know why we can’t have the equivalent of passports for instruments?
    A passport for a human costs roughly 50 € to issue, while the “value” of a citizen is certainly higher than 150,- € in average (I hope) to a country.
    A passport with unique identifiers to the instrument that can’t be forged easily and voila, the problem would be solved. The issuing authority could be national, or supranational but recognized by all relevant countries, like international drivers licenses are recognized.
    Come on, it can’t be that difficult.

    • This is perhaps the best solution I have heard to date … hopefully it will be implemented in the near future!

    • Rosalind says:

      Great idea Fabio. After all look at how our beloved pets can have passports to facilitate international transport these days. Can’t be much different to implement a similar system for musical instruments. It would also be a good deterrent against theft, as a stolen instrument could be immediately flagged up in a database, making it much harder to smuggle out of the country.

    • James Creitz says:

      Excellent idea.

    • James Creitz says:

      Fabio, why don’t you propose how this should work, as the idea is good. Who would issue these passports? Governments? What would have to be demonstrated? Undeniable proof of ownership? What would that be? Presumably it should include photos. Should your local passport office determine that these papers correspond to the instrument you are carrying? Or a violin dealer? Who determines which dealer is reliable?
      And then how do we prove we are a traveling musician? I know plenty of dealers who were/are musicians and could prove this. They could potentially travel with instruments they are selling, using such papers.
      And ultimately, what is any easier about all of this than just carrying your papers and your concert contracts when you are on the road?
      -Jim
      P.S.: I will post another proposal (maybe unworkable?).

      • Fabio Fabrici says:

        The passport would be issued to one owner and to max. one “holder” (for violins owned by foundations but used by musicians) which would be named in writing in the instrument passport.
        Instrument passports would only be issued, if all the proper taxes and ownership documentation is in order.
        Pretty much like it is done with humans, who have to show birth certificates.
        Could the DNA from a certain wooden part of the instrument be used as a unique identifier, the DNA sequence being stored with the issuing authority?

        • James Creitz says:

          What a brilliant idea. Can it be done? But would we want to be constantly taking little scraps of wood out of our instruments to verify that it is the same instrument? Ultimately the old Hill & Sons method of implanting a number in two hidden places in the instrument was less destructive and more effective. Ultimately, their system was excellent and fails only because they were the only dealer who did it.

  4. James Creitz says:

    Here we go again. That which this letter is asking for is basically already in place. I have yet to hear of a musician traveling with proper or even reasonable documentation (certificate of ownership of instrument, concert contracts. etc.) being detained. Germany has a very simple procedure for musicians traveling abroad to be able to return with their instruments. James Ehnes posted a few months ago on this site (Norman, maybe you could repost his account?) his positive experience detailing the documentation he was carrying.
    What is being asked for here is to my knowledge what already is, if only musicians would carry proper papers.

  5. James Creitz says:

    And finally here is another idea (enterprising internet wizards looking for a business opportunity, take note): an international database of instruments. Many of the most valuable instruments are fully documented and known to many of us. Putting this information (including digital copies of certificates, proof of ownership, etc.) in a central place using standardized guidelines and protocols could make our lives and those of customs officials easier. It would also be exceedingly useful to law enforcement and dealers in the event of theft or loss.
    (Admittedly, it could also be useful to crime syndicates.)
    Thoughts, anybody?

  6. Nandor Szederkenyi says:

    I remember the post from James Ehnes, he has all the proper papers and never had problems with customs. But I am sure most of us are in all kinds of different situations. It would be probably easy to have a database for those instruments, all the Strads and Guarneris are well known; and to have a kind of passport for them. But how about the many thousands of other instruments with less known names and very different values (varied by dealer’s opinion)? Alone, recognizing an instrument from a photo is some times difficult even for experts to start with, makes me hesitant to believe in feasibility of such a database and the idea of a passport.

    • James Creitz says:

      You may well be right. I certainly don’t have the answer, but thought if we put the considerable collective intelligence and creativity of the readers here together, maybe we would find a solution.

  7. I read this yesterday. It is more for the sale of instruments and bows than travel but who knows, it may be the start of something. http://www.allthingsstrings.com/News/News/Inside-the-Musical-Instrument-Passport-Program

    • James Creitz says:

      Gail, this is brilliant – thank you. It is mainly by and for the US and regards import/export of restricted materials, but should be a huge help in the case of tortoiseshell frogs and ivory keys. This would presumably have prevented US customs from destroying Krystian Zimerman’s piano a few years back. Until now it was almost impossible to get through all the CITES requirements in order to import/export antique or older pianos.

  8. Dale Forguson says:

    It occurs to me that one concern that needs to be addressed is the musician (or person posing as a musician) who enters a country with his/her instrument but then leaves without it (because it was sold) thereby evading payment of duties. For very valuable instruments there is significant incentive to try this.

    • Fabio Fabrici says:

      But that problem exists for many things. Gold, Diamonds, other valuables, can be brought into a country illegally and sold there without paying the duties. Why singling out musical instruments?

      And if we had the above mentioned passport system for instruments, the new owner could only get his instrument registered for a passport, if he could document the purchase including payment of all legal duties. This problem would thus solve itself. Unless you sell to collectors who never intend to play and travel with their instruments.

    • James Creitz says:

      Exactly, Dale, that is the point of customs. Customs officials worldwide are already quite tolerant and even trusting of us. I am not sure what a system better than the present one would look like.

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