West Germany: Who Should Pay the Playboy?

  • Share
  • Read Later

The latest chapter in the bizarre saga of the Krupp dynasty, whose fortunes were based on blood and iron, unfolded in Germany's Ruhr last week. It involved a playboy's high-spending habits — and a squabble over a major industrial merger.

When financial woes forced the family-owned Krupp empire to become a public corporation, lawyers drew up a unique contract in which the late Alfried Krupp's son and sole heir, Arndt von Bohlen und Halbach, renounced his rights to a $500 million inheritance. In return, Arndt, for the rest of his life, would receive 2½% of the sales from Krupp's Rossenray coal mine, one of the richest in the Common Market. This year that stipend will amount to $400,000.

Miners Rebel. A problem arose when the government persuaded a group of coalmen to get together this year to form Ruhrkohle, A.G., a state-funded giant that aims eventually to mine 85% of the Ruhr's coal. Everybody wanted the Rossenray in the combine mine—but who would pay for Arndt's allowance? Naturally, the combine would have to do so, insisted Günther Vogelsang, the chairman of the executive board of the Krupp empire, who has brought the company back from the brink of bankruptcy in 1967 to the point where it now expects a profit this year. But others rebelled, notably the powerful German miners' union. The miners figured out that for every ton of coal they dig out of the ground, Arndt collects 40¢.

What enrages the workers is that Arndt, now 31, admittedly devotes his life to a pursuit of pleasure. He spends his money supporting his yachts, estates and Rolls-Royces and buying extravagant gifts for his wife, former Austrian Princess Heñriette von Auersperg, who is four years older than he, and for the many men friends whose company he cherishes. "If Ruhrkohle takes over the responsibility of paying for Arndt, the state will be financing his playing," said Horst Niggermeier, a union official. "Is it right for 1,000 miners to work to support one playboy?"

Maybe not, but protesters seem to agree that they are helpless to break the legally tight contract. And Krupp officials believe that they have a moral obligation to uphold the late Alfried's wishes. The chances are that everybody will accept some face-saving compromise in which the merger will go through and Arndt will somehow continue to receive his fun fund.