News Digest Télécom vs Telekom

By David Hudson France Télécom snaps up a majority stake in E-Plus, Germany's third largest mobile phone company. Also: The weekend papers reflect an ongoing fascination with World War II.

Ok, let's try to keep this straight. France Télécom and Deutsche Telekom were once telecommunications monopolies in their respective countries. When the European market was deregulated, they clung to each other as allies. With Sprint in the US, they formed the Global One Alliance. Now, of course, Sprint will most likely end up in the hands of MCI WorldCom, but even before that megamerger, France Télécom and Deutsche Telekom had had their falling out.

It began when Deutsche Telekom (DT) made a bid for Telecom Italia (see the April 16 "Digest"). France Télécom (FTE) was furious, felt betrayed and eventually declared its relationship with DT "dead". Even after DT lost out to Italy's own Olivetti. While DT has continued to flounder in its search for international partners (see the July 26 "Digest"), FTE forges ahead - right into DT's home turf.

DT's T-Mobil is Germany's second-largest mobile phone company after Mannesmann (the two companies have also recently sparred when DT refused Mannesmann's bid for DT's cable television network, the world's second-largest). The third-largest mobile phone company in Germany is E-Plus Mobilfunk.

Earlier this month, FTE got a foothold in E-Plus when it paid 3.42 billion marks ($1.8 billion) for the British-US Vodafone Airtouch's 17.24 percent stake in the company. Monday was threshold day. FTE agreed to fork over 14.4 billion marks ($8 billion) for the 60.25 percent stake in E-Plus held by two German utilities companies, RWE and Veba. As Peter Lessmann writes in SPIEGEL ONLINE, after Veba brought RWE on board for its doomed adventure with mobile phone company Otelo, it became clear that the corporate cultures of utilities and telecommunications are incompatible.

Further, when Veba, Germany's second-largest energy group, merged with Viag, Germany's third-largest energy group, its destiny became all the clearer. Veba's business is energy, and it's pulling out of telecommunications. All the better for France Télécom, of course.

But what about German consumers? They can look forward to an even more frenzied price war than the one they've enjoyed all year. "Because of the ongoing conflicts between France Télécom and Deutsche Telekom, the French will try to win market share via pricing," says Maximilian Ardelt, head of Viag Interkom, Germany's fourth-largest mobile phone company. Naturally, Ardelt's not too happy about that; German consumers, though, will be.

Germany and Europe on the Web today:

The France Télécom, E-Plus  and Deutsche Telekom  sites in English. Jamie Doward in Sunday's "Observer" on the "Americanisation " of the European telecom market. Kirstin Ridley sounds a similar note in her report for Reuters from the Telecom 99  trade fair in Geneva.

Chris Barrie in the "Guardian" on Rupert Murdoch's German media moves. Also: Alan Henry on the Formula One debacle  that spoiled Michael Schumacher's comeback. Free registration required

"Cynical Berliners are used to giving short shrift to visiting dignitaries, especially when they come in vast cavalcades, with dozens of police outriders known disparagingly as 'white mice'." But as Quentin Peel reports in the "Financial Times", "Eduard Shevardnadze , president of Georgia and former foreign minister of the Soviet Union, is different." Berlin "laid out the red carpet for the man who, second only to Mikhail Gorbachev, is seen as responsible for the fall of the Berlin Wall, 10 years ago next month, and the subsequent reunification of Germany." Also: Hugo Dixon with the latest on the merger  of France's Aerospatiale Matra and Germany's DaimlerChrysler Aerospace (Dasa). Free registration required

In the "International Herald Tribune", Barry James outlines European Union leaders' accomplishments, such as a common asylum and migration policy, at their weekend meeting in Tempere , Finland. There was also a Counter-Summit  protesting the formation of a "Euro-Fortress".

Peter Schwarz and Ulrich Rippert offer a socialist analysis of "the Lafontaine debate" at the "World Socialist Web Site".

"Maybe it is a desire to wrap up the terrible 20th century for good that has inspired the current wave of interest in the second world war ." Maybe. Peter Millar ponders this notion in his review for the "Sunday Times" of William Shirer's This is Berlin: Reporting from Nazi Germany 1938-40 and To the Bitter End: The Diaries of Victor Klemperer 1942-45. "Klemperer" is a 12-part series currently running on German television based on these diaries, and as DER SPIEGEL reports in this week's issue, the series will be extended with another round covering the years 1946-1959. But if the weekend papers are any indication, fascination with the war and its aftermath shows no sign of letting up.

When construction workers bumped into Hitler's bunker  last week, it set off another round of an old debate. William Drozdiak in the "Washington Post": "Should Germany bury all vestiges of the Hitler era to prevent such sites from becoming neo-Nazi shrines, or should the generations born since the war deal openly with such relics in confronting the Nazi era?"

Oskar Schindler , the subject of Steven Spielberg's "Schindler's List", is "known to millions as ... the flawed hero who saved hundreds of Jews from Hitler's gas chambers." Denis Staunton reports in the "Observer" on the discovery of a Samsonite suitcase containing the "original list", hundreds of letters and a copy of the speech Schindler delivered on the last day of the war to the laborers he saved from the camps. Free registration required

While Staunton describes how Schindler met the couple in whose attic the suitcase was found, Peter Conradi and Michael Woodhead go one step further in the "Sunday Times", quoting Uwe Vorkötter, editor of the "Stuttgarter Zeitung", the German paper which broke the story, as saying the wife was Schindler's "last lover". Another tidbit: Fritz Lang was once interested in filming Schindler's story . The team also reports on the proposed plan to lower the retirement  age in Germany to 60.

In Saturday's "Guardian", Desmond Christy talks with Ian Kershaw , "author of a Hitler biography which even German critics have said puts 'all previous biographies of Hitler in the shade'." Hitler: 1889-1936 is widely praised as a book more "about the society and politics that made him possible" than the man himself. Says Kershaw: "You look for the inner life - it isn't there." Which is precisely the point of contention in the debate  between Hitler's Niece author Ron Hansen and reviewer Melvin Jules Bukiet in the "Boston Review". Free registration required for the "Guardian"

"Germar Rudolf  - who is regarded as a hero by far-Right extremists around the world - absconded in 1995 rather than serve a 14-month jail sentence for breaching Germany's Holocaust denial legislation." The "Telegraph" has found him hiding in Britain, as Jessica Berry and Chris Hastings report. Also: Robert Tilley on a tribute to the "Desert Fox ", Field Marshal Erwin Rommel, attended by 400 British and Commonwealth veterans of WWII. And Tony Paterson on the current wave of "Ostalgie ", a bittersweet nostalgia for former East Germany (see the October 6 "Digest").

Magali Perrault traces the "idea of Austria " since 1945 in the "Central Europe Review" and concludes: "The results of the [October 3] Austrian elections do not indicate a return to Nazism or even a rise of neo-Nazism on the Austrian political landscape but are a warning sign to be taken very seriously: an intolerant and xenophobic populism threatening democracy can thrive just as well in a prosperous environment as amidst poverty and unemployment."

In the "New York Times", Michael P. Steinberg offers another perspective on Austrian identity in his report on the ongoing " culture wars" that came to a head this summer at the Salzburg Festival. Free registration required

Jonathan Levi reviews Lost, a novel by German poet Hans-Ulrich Treichel  in the "Los Angeles Times".

In the "Times" of London, Roger Boyes looks ahead to "the Berlin republic's new social season ", takes notes at the Frankfurt Book Fair  and sketches a portrait of Hans-Jürgen Massaquoi , 73, black, a man who once longed to join the Hitler Youth but who eventually became Editor-in-Chief of "Ebony".

In the "Sunday Times", Eleanor Mills chats with Boris Becker  about money, success, family histories and Steffi Graf: "Amid the adulation of millions like me, Becker - widely dubbed the most famous German on the planet - has managed to retain a remarkably cool head." And Simon Fanshawe meets Ute Lemper . The topics on the table: The singer's childhood in Münster, Marlene Dietrich and "songs from the Weimar Republic, 1918-1933, a period she calls 'the most incredibly intense, provocative and decadent period of political art in the century' and around which she has crafted her one-woman cabaret show..."

The US is finally handing over files on hundreds of thousands of people kept by the former East German secret police ... The switch to the euro - the actual coins and bills - presents a huge logistical challenge ... Summaries in English of these and other selected articles from this week's DER SPIEGEL.

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