Der Tagesspiegel argues the saga might not be over just yet. "/> Der Tagesspiegel argues the saga might not be over just yet. " />


VW and Porsche: Germany’s unending automotive saga

Volkswagen’s takeover of Porsche is a wreck of epic proportions for fans of the fancy sports carmaker. But Henrik Mortsiefer from Berlin newspaper Der Tagesspiegel argues the saga might not be over just yet.

VW and Porsche: Germany’s unending automotive saga
Photo: DPA

Why should we worry about the woes of a few billionaires caught in a family feud over their car-making empire? Should we really be captivated by the fate of an arrogant executive like Wendelin Wiedeking, who was unceremoniously fired after leading Porsche for 17 years – and given €50 million for his trouble? And why are we interested in the future of a car company that makes products most people cannot even afford?

The luxurious problems of the Porsche-Piëch automobile dynasty wouldn’t be worth all the excitement seen last week, if they didn’t so clearly demonstrate how business works. That is, normally it’s all about money, power and intrigue. The business world, so it seems, is full of brilliantly unpredictable people (VW godfather Ferdinand Piëch), individuals who clearly overestimate their own abilities (Wendelin Wiedeking), and those ready to profit politically from the mistakes of others (Lower Saxony’s premier Christian Wulff).

Wiedeking’s dream was nothing if not epic: he wanted to lead the world’s largest carmaker by swallowing Volkswagen even though it was 15 times bigger than Porsche and he didn’t have the cash upfront. He tried and failed, but he’s certainly no tragic hero. His career as a fabulously well-paid auto executive might be over, but it was not without its achievements. He resurrected a German automotive legend – turned a Porsche ready for the scrap yard into one of the world’s most valuable and fascinating brands. But in the end, the straight-taking man from Westphalia was tempted by the worst parts of casino capitalism and was consumed by his own delusions of grandeur. He also underestimated the 60 members of the crazy Porsche-Piëch clan, which slowly abandoned him.

Could it all have been avoided?

The family-run business Porsche might be listed on the stock market, but that doesn’t make its management transparent or particularly well controlled. The Piëchs and Porsches failed to stop the company’s executives from engaging in financial acrobatics. Instead, the cousins Ferdinand Piëch and Wolfgang Porsche carried out a family feud that affected everyone from the VW and Porsche workers councils all the way to the highest levels of German politics. Nothing shows more clearly the darker side of Germany’s famed family-run companies, which are supposed to be models of sustainability and discretion.

Admittedly, the global financial crisis kyboshed Porsche’s dealings with VW stock options. But the firm was also more vulnerable than many others. Its management believed it could operate like a hedge fund – while simply making cars on the side. It speculated with money it didn’t have and that’s a risk even small-time investors know they shouldn’t take. But it can be intoxicating when profits are suddenly larger than a company’s entire turnover.

That buzz is now long gone. The flashy Porsche will soon be a modest Volkswagen. The luxury carmaker will be unceremoniously parked alongside VW’s other nine brands in order to rid it of some €10 billion in debt. For Porsche fans it’s an autobahn wreck of epic proportions, but VW supporters will also have their doubts.

Things are unlikely to calm down only because the feuding parties of the last few months are now sitting down together at the same board meetings. The state of Lower Saxony won’t be shy about using its legally sanctioned veto power over VW doings. And the sheiks from Qatar will want to have their say as the company’s new large shareholder. Wolfgang Porsche certainly won’t soon forget that his cousin Ferdinand helped prepare Wiedeking’s precipitous fall. And Piëch will know just how to protect himself from his family’s attempts at revenge.

Germany’s automotive saga has only just begun.

This commentary was published with the kind permission of Berlin newspaper Der Tagesspiegel, where it originally appeared in German. Translation by The Local.

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How a German castle has sparked civil war in Monaco’s royal family

Prince Ernst August of Hanover, the husband of Princess Caroline of Monaco, is suing his son to win back control of a German castle and prevent it from falling into public hands, a court has said.

How a German castle has sparked civil war in Monaco's royal family
Marienburg Castle in Lower Saxony pictured during the recent snow. Photo: DPA

Ernst August, 66, gave his son the fairytale-like Marienburg castle and several other properties between 2004 and 2007, but now wants them back citing  “gross ingratitude”, the district court of Hanover said in a statement on Tuesday.

It is the latest public spat to hit the aristocratic family, whosepatriarch has over the years been nicknamed “the party prince” and even “the brawling prince” over his jetset lifestyle and drunken escapades.

According to the court statement, Ernst August filed a lawsuit at the end of last year seeking to revoke the gifts of Marienburg Castle, the Calenburg manor house and a royal property in Herrenhausen.

He accuses his son, Ernst August junior, of acting against his wishes and going behind his back by offering Marienburg Castle to the state of Lower Saxony as public property – partly because of the huge costs of maintaining the mid-19th century Gothic-style building.

READ ALSO: Just one sixth of Germans want own monarchy back

The plaintiff, who lives in Austria, also accuses his son of improperly appropriating artworks and antiques owned by the family.

Ernst August senior estimates the total value of the disputed properties and items at some five million euros, the court said.

Ernst August junior, 37, told German news agency DPA that the case had no merit, saying all the arguments raised “have already been invalidated out-of-court in the past”.

He said the deal struck to transfer ownership of Marienburg Castle to the regional authorities of Lower Saxony was “legally secure”.

“There's nothing that stands in the way of the long-term preservation of Marienburg as a central cultural monument of Lower Saxony, open to all,” he said.

The court has not yet set a date for a hearing.

Ernst August senior has been feuding for years with his son over the family's royal properties.

So severe was the spat that he declined his official consent to his son's 2017 marriage to Russian-born fashion designer Ekaterina Malysheva and stayed away from the wedding.

Princess Caroline, who has been separated from her husband since 2009, did attend the nuptials.