Monday, January 06, 2014

Germany: It's good to be the king

Meet the former video store owner who claims to be a monarch.
By Jason Overdorf
GlobalPost - January 6, 2014

LUTHERSTADT-WITTENBERG, Germany — The leader of the Fourth Reich is in trouble with the law. Again.

Meet Peter Fitzek, the 48-year-old self-proclaimed monarch of the so-called Königsreich Deutschland, or kingdom of Germany.

Dressed in tight-fitting black pants and a black fitted shirt with the Königsreich coat of arms on its breast pocket, with his shoulder-length hair combed straight back in a pony tail, Fitzek looks more like a nightclub impresario than polo-playing royalty.

He has no hereditary claim to royalty and little hope of getting his kingdom to secede from the federal republic.

But with his own currency, “state-run” health care scheme, some 3,500 subjects and even a driving license issued by the Königsreich, he's become a notorious nuisance for the authorities.

That's just the way he likes it.

More hippie than Nazi, Fitzek's ideology is hard to pin down.

He chose to use “reich” not out of any enthusiasm for Fascism, he says, but to inspire Germans to question why they can never be allowed to forget the past.

His kingdom — a 22 acre plot where his purported 3,500 subjects reside rent-free — in the former East Germany is more like a commune.

“I've purposefully driven over the speed limit — radically over the speed limit — so someone will finally take me to court,” he says.

“The court must decide whether I have this authority or not.”

Fitzek has been nabbed for moving violations as many as 24 times and written up for driving without a license eight times before a judge in Lower Saxony sentenced him to three monthsin prison in October.

“You have built a fantasy world with a fanciful political worldview,” Judge Thorsten Steufert told the self-proclaimed monarch.

Germany's Federal Financial Supervisory Authority (BaFin) has ruled that his Reichsbank and health fund violate the law and repeatedly ordered him to repay all depositors.

“BaFin has prohibited Peter Fitzek several activities in insurance business as well as his unauthorized banking business,” BaFin spokesman Ben Fischer said in an email.

It would also be very surprising if the king avoids a run in with the Federal Central Tax Office, given his attitude toward that institution.

“I don't pay taxes just like I don't pay speeding tickets,” he says.

Fitzek has vowed to fight his legal cases all the way to the Supreme Court in a bid to force the nation to recognize his sovereignty.

Although he may be just having a lark, he says he’s starting an alternative to the financial system that plunged Europe into its ongoing economic crisis.

“Collapses of the monetary system have always been accompanied by conflict," he says. "Then they start building the same system all over again."

“It's important there be an alternative.”

Citing Germany's Basic Law and the 1933 Montevideo Convention on the Rights and Duties of States, Fitzek carved out a territory outside the medieval city of Wittenberg and declared it a sovereign state last year.

Previously, the commune operated under the name “Neudeutschland,” or “New Germany.”

The king argues that under Montevideo, the only requirements for his claim are a permanent population, a defined territory, a government and the capacity to enter into relations with the other states. But he's gone further than that.

Working with a company Fitzek says also supplies paper to the mint, the Königsreich launched its own currency, the “Engel,” or Angel, complete with invisible fluorescent markings that appear only under a black light. On the downside, it's not freely convertible to euros and can be used only for goods and services sold by other Königsreich subjects.

More recently, the kingdom launched inflation-proof silver coins named Neue Deutsch Marks.

“How many wish for the good old Deutschmark back?” reads an announcement on the kingdom's website.

In September, Fitzek launched the Königsliche Reichbank, a central bank that also offers free customer accounts. Promising refuge from a possible collapse of the euro and investment returns of 2 to 9 percent, it's purportedly “safer than any other bank” because it’s not required to conform to any European Union or German law.

But its claim to legal status — to which German regulators continue to object — depends on aclause that says it's not obligated to give depositors’ money back when they want it.

Fitzek says a similar clause means the kingdom's alternative health scheme, which was launched in 2009 and took in more than $40,000 per month in premiums in 2012, is also immune to regulatory interference from BaFin.

Called the Health Checkout, it's a “holistic alternative to the health insurance system” that doesn’t actually guarantee its members the right to any benefits.

It does offer seminars on healthy lifestyles to help members beat ailments that are “90 percent psychosomatic.”

“The authorities don't appreciate that we've been able to heal a lot of people,” Fitzek says. “We haven't had a single incident of cancer since the health system was set up among more than 200 members.”

Whether Fitzek is a visionary, fantasist or conman, it’s hard not to enjoy the show.

In the tomb-silent lobby of the Reichsbank — an ordinary-looking bank branch on one of Wittenberg's cobblestone streets — the fast-talking Fitzek reels off his grievances with the authorities.

Citing legal cases he claims to have memorized with the aid of a photographic memory, he says Hitler’s Third Reich was never officially dissolved after World War II. Therefore, Germany has no constitution and no legitimate authority over its citizens.

At least two post-war elections have violated the government's own regulations, he says.

“This indicates it's only criminals who are in power, and they are not obeying their own laws,” Fitzek says.

Born in the former East Germany before the fall of the Iron Curtain, he belongs to the “lost” generation of Germans whose upbringing in the communist east left them ill-prepared for life after reunification.

Many of his peers never adjusted. A 2010 poll conducted by Stern magazine, for instance, found that two-thirds of Germans from the former East felt they were still isolated from the “unified” country.

More than two decades after the Berlin Wall came down, unemployment remains about a third higher in the east than in the west despite a mass exodus following reunification.

Fitzek, who wanted to be a teacher, never got the education he wanted. Trained as a cook, he worked in various restaurants and hotels before opening a video store then a bar — without finding a way to fit in.

With the Königsreich, he's finally found an answer of sorts. As long as he has the energy to keep all the balls he's juggling in the air, apparently so have his followers.