von Joachim Gruber

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Proposals for TV-Productions

Vorschläge für TV-Produktionen

Fred Cuny - Richard Butler - Scott Ritter - Arthur R.G. Solmssen: A Princess in Berlin

PROPOSAL 1: Independent Minds and Modern Heros

-awarded second price by Me, Myself and Eye, Hamburg, Germany-

A single broadcast or a series of broadcasts presents extraordinary individuals of our time, who worked for a better world on their own initiative and usually not at all courageously, but unflagging, and consistently disregarding their own advantage. Although not aiming at it, they are heros and thus fascinate the young in egotistic times.

Scott Anderson: The Man Who Tried to Save the World:
The Dangerous Life and Mysterious Disappearance of Fred Cuny
Based on excerpts from

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December 2, 1999
Life and Death of a Hero by Lawrence Weschler

"A mountain of a man, but not because he was loud (he was quiet), nor because he was boisterous (he was gentle)Ñrather because of the intelligence and commitment he radiated. Intelligence and commitment, yes, and these went along with the wonderfully expansive and savvy humor that characterized him whenever I saw him, not least at that last dinner. I'd asked him something along the lines of what on earth kept him going and he conjured up a story from one of his earliest missions, in Biafra in the early Seventies, where he'd gone to help out as a pilot in the air relief campaign. One day, he recalled, taxiing his ramshackle, fully laden aircraft out onto the mud-rutted runway, he'd radioed the control tower for clearance. "Hold on, Red Cross Three," came the reply, "till after this next plane lands." Watching that plane in the distance coming in for its landing, he'd noticed how one of its engines seemed to be expelling smoke. "Then I saw another one catch fire," he recalled, "and then a third, and finally all four. The plane lurched toward the runway, banked and then came slamming onto the tarmac, breaking up and erupting in flames, a sheet of boiling fire racing right past my idling plane and down the rest of the runway. At which point, over our earphones came the squawking voice of the control tower: 'All right, Red Cross Three: cleared for take-off.' Nothing stopped, you just kept going - and that's pretty much what you do: you just keep going." 

""Chechnya is the scariest place I have ever been," Cuny declared flatly" But Cuny, being Cuny, concluded his own terrifying litany by saying offhandedly: "So, naturally, I've got to be heading back." He was only fifty years old. He never came back. ... He had quite literally saved tens and probably hundreds of thousands of lives. Since his own death, over four years ago now, there are likely many thousands more who have perished for lack of his interventions. It is not uncommon to hear that he could have made a difference in the refugee camps on the borders of Kosovo or East Timor or in Angola.


Fred Cuny became an expert in inventing new kinds of relief work. It was his revolutionary insight that he saw disasters as opportunities, as occasions for societies to reinvent themselves and in particular for the most disenfranchised members of those societies to discover a fresh sense of agency and possibility within themselves. He wanted to work out methods of assistance that fostered such potentialities rather than overwhelm them in a typical binge-and-famish cycle. Conventional disaster relief, for example, to rush food assistance into some fresh disaster site, might be oblivious of the bankrupting effects such relief might have on outlying farmers. 

He had prodigious practical knowledge of construction techniques, hydraulics, and medicine,.... And then there was his sheer, almost loopy ingenuity. He once headed off a rapidly developing famine in one region of Ethiopia by manipulating the currency exchange rates in a market town several hundred kilometers away. 

Cuny's Organization, International Technical Consultants in Emergency Management (Intertect), attracted the investment banker and philanthropist George Soros. Soros employed Intertect for almost a dozen projects in Eastern Europe, including supervision of the rehabilitation of the schools in Albania and a fuel assistance program in Macedonia. Also the U.N. contracted Intertect for the evaluation of a relief programs in Bangladesch. 

Soros spends hundreds of millions of dollars, not only to influence wrong social developments. Like Cuny, he senses the obligation to change societies (G. Soros, Who lost Russia, New York Review of Books, April 13, 2000: "The collapse of the Soviet empire in 1989 and the Soviet Union in 1991 offered a historic opportunity to transform that part of the world into open societies; but the Western democracies failed to rise to the occasion and the entire world has to suffer the consequences." ). In Russia he generated a foundation that supports the sciences and universities.

Here are some few stations of Cuny's life:

  • 1969: Biafra
    • In summer 1969, age 24, visits the West African nation Dahomey, base for the airlift to Biafra.
  • 1970: Bangladesh
    • cooperates with relief projects after one of the deadliest cyclones in history
  • 1976: Guatemala
    • realized that what was needed was immediate road repair so that parts of the country that hadn't been devastated could start assisting parts that were (thereby improving the overall economy of the entire region); but repair work needed to be done in a way that would employ and train as many local (and suddenly now unemployed) laborers as possible. Earthquakes were frequent in Guatemala, and the country was going to need such indigenous expertise on a long-term basis. The Guatemalans also need cheap, easily reproducible models for new housing of the sort that might more effectively resist future earthquakes. Cuny and his local advisers developed such modelsÑsome capable of being dismantled and carried in backpacks to remote peasant villages..
    • Initially the program seemed to prove a huge success. If anything, however, it was too successful: it bred an entire new generation of indigenous leaders, apostles of self-sufficiency and empowerment, leaders who then began threatening the local power establishment, which in turn began training its death squads on them. The ensuing massacres provided Cuny himself with a horrifying and sobering lesson. As a result, his future interventions were more politically nuanced, more aware of possible opposition from powerful opponents. 
  • Winter 1991: Kurdistan
    • 1/2 million kurdes flee from Saddam Hussein's troups into the desert. Within 2 months he bluffs - in contact with the US State Department, but without its approval- the Iraqi troops from the country and returns the kurds.
  • Somalia
    • recommends the US (the Bush administration) and the UN to build bases in the countryside, leaving the cities to the competing war lords. These zones of peace and order might radiate outward once Somalis started to hook up with the bases.
  • Sarajevo
    • imports fifteen miles of plastic tubing so they could tap into the main natural gas feeder line that passed through the city (and then went on to Belgrade, and hence was not likely to be shut off). 
    • He brings an entire custom-designed two-hundred-yard-long water filtration plant, constructed offsite in Texas and then snuck in, in modular segments, on successive C-130 air transport runs and secreted in an abandoned highway tunnel; this was the centerpiece of a brilliant scheme to resupply water to the homes in a large part of the city. He thereby supplies heat and stove-fire to tens of thousands of people who thereafter didn't need to leave the house for water and fuel and be killed by their enemies. 

    • Callous inaction of the Bosnia government in view of corruption and greedy warlords, who were making a small fortune from the way water, delay the turning on of the plant by a 8 months. This challenged one of Fred's most deeply held assumptions about humanity, one that guided and compelled him throughout his life: that people were essentially good."

  • March 1995: Cuny's International Crisis Group (ICG) is about to become reality
    • ICG ist eine consulting group, composed of the world's most accomplished humanitarian aid experts who would conduct independent analyses in regios where disaster loomed, then report back to the US government, the UN, and private relief groups to coordinate preventative action. The ICG steering committee comprised a formidable array of international statesmen and business leaders, including Desmond Tutu, Elie Wiesel and George Soros.
  • 1995: Chechnya
Further Reading: Frederick C. Cuny und Richard B. Hill,  Famine, Conflict and Response : A Basic Guide, Kumarian Press, 1999. 

PROPOSAL 2: Whistleblower

"Whistleblower" is the American word for a person, who -mostly in his/her field of professional expertise- detects dangers and sees wrong demands from their employer and who informs the public after all attempts at solving the problem internally have failed (for more detail see e.g. Title V -- Whistleblower Protection,, U.S. Department of Labor, Office of Administrative Law Judges, 2003) The whistleblower decides to do so well aware of the prospect of losing his/her job and facing grave personal harm, because s/he feels a responsibility for his/her work. 

US environmental protection laws include sections for the protection of whistleblowers (e.g. Clean Air Act, Clean Water Act, Toxic Substances Control Act, Resources Conservation and Recovery Act, Atomic Energy Act, all from the late 1970's). Such a protection cannot be found in German laws, although the German Atomic Energy Act has been derived from the US Atomic Energy Act.

Richard Butler: The Greatest Threat
Iraq's Weapons of Mass Destruction And the Global Crisis of Security
Scott Ritter: Endgame
Solving the Iraq Problem
(see also Khizhir Hamza: Saddam's Bombmaker, Scribner, 2000)

Two of these courageous people have worked for the United Nations: Richard Butler, last head of the United Nations Special Commission (UNSCOM) and Scott Ritter, chief weapons inspector. Both are concerned that proliferation of biological, chemical and nuclear weapons of mass destruction (WMD's) is unsufficiently controlled. In 1999 and 2000 both have surprised us with the political thrillers, "The Greatest Threat" and "Endgame". Richard Butler reveals us the gears and failures of international diplomacy. Scott Ritter lets us accompany him on the inspections. 

We see horrific cynicism and life threatening confrontations, but at the same time the tragedy of multifacetted culture clashes, i.e. the conflicts between the arabic, the anglo-saxon, the french, russian and chinese cultures, and -on a level above the nationalities- between diplomatic and technical-scientific thinking/acting. 

At times, the events are extremely funny and entertaining. Butler and Ritter have a talent for writing and fascinate us with the colors of human characters, individual failure or human greatness in difficult circumstances and the joy after a successful endeavor. 

These are novels of a new kind and time, in the sense that their authors are multitalented: specialists in their fields and excellent entertainers.

This is the background: The nations of this world are in a state today, in which e.g. the principalities were in the middle ages: As a consequence of their connections through trade, science (and today industry and internet) they form a community. The conscience of politicians (as well as the people) is still under the impression of the age in which they were isolated. The states do not share organizations which could come up with a constitution and reinforce it against the individualistic interests of single member states. 

The United Nations (UN) were founded for that purpose. But international diplomacy does not consider action against mass murder to have priority, to be above the pursuits of traditional policy. This is comparable to a situation in which a state accepts murder a a means of solving problems within the state and thus does not prosecute it. 

In his introduction published in 2000, Richard Butler presents us a scenario which underlines the importance of the issue and shows that acts of agression do not need to make use of missiles or airplanes. 

A hit squad from somewhere in the Middle East travels to New York City carrying a one-liter bottle filled with one of the several chemical weapons agents we have long known Saddam Hussein to be developing. Using a simple sprayer (like one that a gardener or house painter might own), they diffuse the contents into the air over Times Square on a Saturday night or into the main concourse at Grand Central Station at 5:30 P.M. on a weekday evening. Hundreds, maybe thousands of people die agonizing deaths as a result. Because of their own handling of the substance and the strategic concern to maintain ambiguity over the source of the attack, the terrorists may have to be prepared to die themselves. 

Obviously, the world would erupt in almost unprecedented horror and outrage. A search for the perpetrators would be launched. Identifying them, dead or alive, on the ground in New York may prove difficult, but even if their identities became known quickly, it may not be clear whom they represented or, above all, who provided them the deadly weapon. Answering this question beyond a reasonable doubt might not be easy. 

Most Americans (and American allies around the world) would be loath to punish any single nation or people through military strikes or other assaults without specific proof. And assembling such proof might take years, as the ongoing struggle to affix responsibility for the explosion of Pan Am flight 103 over Lockerbee, Scotland, and the 1996 attack on the Khobar Towers complex in Saudi Arabia suggests. Under these circumstances, it's quite possible that Saddam could get away with the act. Sadly, on the question whether there is a defense against such an event, the answer seems to be probably not. 

Even if the crime could be clearly traced to Saddam - if, for example, Saddam were to boastfully acknowledge his responsibility in a public statement or simply say he supported it - it's not clear exactly how the U.S. government and world community could and should respond. Of course, the sense of anger and the demand for retaliation would be overwhelming, and the media would feed these reactions. (Imagine the televised scenes from hospital emergency rooms overwhelmed by victims, the weeping relatives, and then the shots of anti-American demonstrators in Baghdad dancing with glee in the streets.) The president, Congress, and the U. S. military would be pressured from all directions to hit back at Iraq - and hard. 

But what would be the purpose of an American attack? Would it be simple revenge? If so, would it be fair to slaughter innocent Iraqi civilians, the most likely victims of U.S. bombing raids? Would the purpose be deterrence of future terrorism? In that case, if those actually perpetrating the crimes are not the ones who suffer, it's unclear how effective the deterrence would really be. Would the purpose be removal from power of Saddam? If so, who would take his place as the head of the Iraqi government? Whose support would he enjoy? How could we know the new strongman would be better than the old one? 

The answers to these questions would be far from obvious, yet they are essential to determine the nature of the appropriate response. Would the United States be prepared to land American soldiers on the ground to go to war against Iraq? What level of U. S. casualties would he acceptable for such a mission. A hundred? A thousand? Ten thousand? What would we ask our allies to do? What could we expect from the other Arab nations? (President George Bush barely managed to hold together the Gulf War coalition against Saddam; an invasion aimed at overthrowing Saddam's government would find little support among other Mideast regimes.) Would Russia simply stand on the sidelines? What would happen to Israel if the Mideast erupted? 

Merely to list these questions makes it clear that the decisions involved would be intensely difficult. Clearly, it would be unacceptable for Saddam Hussein to use chemical or biological weapons to kill thousands or tens of thousands of innocent people and to do so with impunity. Yet it would probably be equally unacceptable in the eyes of the world community to see the United States respond by killing tens of thousands of Iraqi civilians in return. 

Such a terrorist action would bring us to a virtually unmanageable place, a situation in which angry Americans are baying for blood; the more sober heads at the Pentagon and the White House are trying desperately to figure out how to keep the situation from exploding; and leaders of dozens of other countries - from Russia, China, and France to Syria, Iran, North Korea, and maybe even Cuba - maneuvering to exploit the crisis to their own advantage. It's likely that all of the choices facing the U.S. president (and, for that matter, world leaders at the UN and NATO) would be horrendous, not readily promising peace and justice but, more likely, more death and terror. 

The only real solution to the dilemma posed by weapons of mass destruction is to ensure that no such dilemma should ever be faced - that the world act now to prevent any attack with a chemical, biological, or indeed, a portable nuclear weapon, not only by Saddam Hussein but by other states, terrorist movements, "armies of liberation," lone lunatics - anyone with the motivation to launch such an attack. The only reliable means of prevention we know is offered by the treaties, conventions, and global organizations directed against the manufacture of such weapons and to their ultimate elimination. But the effectiveness and possibly the very existence of these restraints is now being undermined by Saddam Hussein.

Richard Butler und Scott Ritter do not want us to be discouraged. During their work, their teams have received advice - mainly from American research centers (some examples, deficits of German research). Based on this experience they propose ways out of the danger, which remind us of solutions after World War II, of the Dayton Accord and peacemaking in Kosovo. 

PROPOSAL 3: Film based on Historical Fiction

Arthur R.G. Solmssen: A Princess in Berlin
Little, Brown & Company, Boston/Toronto 1980
Berlin 1922: Pandemonium reigns in the capital of Germany after the Allied victory in World War I and the fall of Kaiser Wilhelm II. The proletariat have swarmed out, waving the red banners of Communism; private armies of unemployed, disaffected veterans - Freikorps- roam the streets thrashing the Communists. The Weimar Republic ts established under the protection of the Freikorps. An explosion of radical music, theater, and art manifests the seething rancor and nervous energy of the people. The most insane, paralyzing inflation the world has known makes life a misery for the hungry, desperate populace (see also  1 ). Although the flower of their kind lie buried in Flanders fields, a few aristocratic families preserve their privileged, even exquisite lives: boating parties at summer palaces, chamber music in great townhouses on Sunday afternoons. 

This is the rich backdrop of "A Princess in Berlin" (full text-version:, a social novel in the grand tradition of e.g. Theodor Fontane in the Germany of the 19th century. 

Into this feverish society comes Peter Ellis, a young American from Philadelphia who was an ambulance driver on the Western Front. In Paris, given a year by his Quaker family to get over his shell shock, Peter encounters a former German officer, Christopher Keith, whose life he saved at Verdun. Christoph is shepherding the young Bobby von Waldstein, scion of a family of Berlin bankers, once Jewish. At their urging, Peter agrees to come to Berlin, to study painting. There Peter is ushered into the Waldstein milieu, where he meets Max Liebermann and Walther Rathenau (see also 1, 2, ), then foreign minister of the German government. Princess Helena, a daughter of the Waldstein family, becomes a good friend, and through her and her brother, Peter realizes the sadness with which (the hated and despised Jew) Rathenau tries to moderate politics and social life in Germany. 

Peter lives part of his life in Neukölln, where he studies painting with Fritz Falke, a former student of Liebermann, and with Fritz he experiences the misery in Berlin, which the Quakers, Susan Boatwright in particular, try to alleviate (see also  1, 2 ). Berthold Brecht's songs in Kneipen (pubs) and on parties reveal the dark and dangerous side of the German character, the "anger, bitterness, sullen and discontent" (J. Robert Oppenheimer about Germans in 1927). 

"I've read A Princess in Berlin with entire absorption very slowly, allowing the story to unfold. I was held throughout; alight with interest, moved. I do think the novel is an extraordinary achievement, original, bold, mature .... Ambitious as well as daring .... And what a picture of that time." (Sybille Bedford)

Deutsche Ausgaben unter dem Titel:
Berliner Reigen,
S. Fischer Verlag, Frankfurt/Main 1981 und Aufbau Verlag, Berlin/Weimar 1984 

Schauplatz ist das Berlin der Weimarer Republik von 1922/23. Aufruhr herrscht in der Deutschen Hauptstadt nach dem Ende des I.Weltrkriegs. Das Proletariat ist auf den Straßen, die Rote Fahne schwenkend. Private Armeen, zusammengesetzt aus arbeitslosen, defätistischen Soldaten und Offizieren - Freikorps - ziehen durch Berlin, auf der Suche nach gewaltsamen Auseinandersetzungen. In radikaler neuer Musik, Theater und Kunst zeigt sich die brodelnde, gehässige und nervöse Energie der Menschen. Eine die Wirtschaft lähmende Inflation ungekannten Ausmasses bestimmt das Leben einer hungrigen Bevölkerung, ein Teil derer sich der Verzweiflung und dem Opportunismus hingibt. In den Villenvierteln am Wannsee und im Grunewald glauben aristokratische und grossbürgerliche Familien, ihr Leben in Überfluss weiterführen zu können. 

Dies ist der farbgige Hintergrund, vor dem sich 'A Princess in Berlin' (Volltext-Version: entfaltet, ein grosser Gesellschaftsroman des Amerikaners Arthur R.G. Solmssen in Fontanescher Tradition. 

Peter Ellis, ein junger Amerikaner aus einer Quäker-Familie in Philadelphia, hat bei Kriegsbeginn 1914 sein Studium der Medizin in den USA unterbrochen, um an der aliierten Front in Frankreich als Sanitäter zu helfen. Wir erleben in einer kurzen Episode, wie er 1916 einem Piloten der Gegenseite das Leben rettet (dem Deutschen Christoph Keith), und erfahren später im Roman, daß er einen Teil des Kriegs mit Bombenschock in einer französischen Nervenklinik verbracht hat, wo er mit der Malerei begann. Die Malstudien will er in Berlin fortsetzen. Die Stadt, abgebrüht und verführerisch zugleich, zeigt ihm eine frivole Gesellschaft à la Otto Dix und George Grosz, angesiedelt in prunkvollen Hotels, in den Kneipen der Friedrichstrasse, den Hinterhöfen der Arbeiterviertel, in aristokratischen Residenzen. 

Als Ausländer ungebunden an soziale Schichten, lebt Peter in zwei ganz gegensätzlichen Welten: in der Bankiersfamilie Waldstein und in Neukölln, wo er bei Fritz Falke, einem Schüler Max Liebermanns, Malerei studiert. Falkes Kunst und Leben ergeben sich mit Zynismus dem Unglück, während die Quäker in den Arbeitervierteln  z.B. mit ihren Suppenküchen in anteilnehmender Menschlichkeit ihr uneigennütziges Engagement entfalten, wie sie es in vielen Teilen der Welt bis heute tun. Historisch authentisch sind auch eine Reihe von anderen Persönlichkeiten im Roman, z.B. die Familie Mendelssohn, Mitglieder der Weimarer Parteien und Regierung (z.B. Karl Helfferich, der Führer der Deutschnationalen Volkspartei, Reichskanzler Joseph Wirth), Rathenaus Mörder (Erwin Kern, Hermann Fischer, Ernst Werner Techow- und ihr Helfer, der Schriftsteller Ernst von Salomon), Heinrich Tillessen (der Mörder Matthias Erzbergers -Unterzeichner des Waffenstillstandsabkommens 1918-). Peter Ellis trifft Hermann Göring, Max Liebermann und den deutschen Aussenminister Walther Rathenau, dann Bert Brecht. 

Peter beobachtet die deutsche Entwicklung mit der Klarheit, die aus der Distanz zwischen der deutschen und amerikanischen Kultur erwächst. Wie in Falkes Bildern zeigen sich in Berlin die gefährlichen Seiten des deutschen Charakters, die Verärgerung, unterschwellige Aggressivität, Feindseligkeit, Verbitterung, Gehässigkeit und Unzufriedenheit. Walther Rathenau wird von vielen als Verräter und jüdischer Intellektueller gehasst und verachtet. Trotz ihrer Trauer (und zuweilen Mutlosigkeit) versuchen Menschen wie er die Politik und die sozialen Spannungen in Deutschland zu moderieren, die polarisierten Seiten einander näher zu bringen, sie zu lösen aus verhängnisvoller Fixierung in einer Kultur des sorglosen Theoretisierens und der Abneigung gegenüber praktischem Handeln in unübersichtlicher Lage. 

Peter möchte das menschliche Chaos von Falkes Bildern nicht übernehmen. Statt dessen sprechen seine Bilder so direkt und mit Präzision von Liebe, Wärme, Kraft und menschlicher Schönheit, daß Liebermann sie schätzt. Ebenso selbstverständlich hilft Peter seinen Freunden. 

Helena, eine Tochter der Familie Waldstein ("die Prinzessin") und Christoph Keith, ihr Ehemann, unternehmen mit Peters Hilfe große Anstrengungen, den Mord an Rathenau zu verhindern. Beide sind Vertraute und Freunde Rathenaus. Im dramatischen blutigen Höhepunkt wird Walter Rathenau ermordet. Von demselben Freikorps werden wenig später Helena und Christoph erschossen.  Auch Peter wird bei diesen Schüssen schwer verletzt. Bezeichnenderweise spielt die Lebensgefahr, in der er in Berlin -wie damals 1916 in Verdun- schwebt, in seinem Bewußtsein und Gefühl keine Rolle. Es gibt für ihn keine Worte dafür, ebenso wie seine Bilder die Sprache Falkes nicht kennen. 

Um sein Studium in den USA wieder aufzunehmen, verläßt er traurig ein Berlin, das seine Heimat geworden war. 

Es ist ein fesselnder Roman mit einer packenden Handlung an historischen Schauplätzen. Die bewegende Geschichte ist in ihrer Stimmung ähnlich der Verfilmung von Christopher Isherwoods 'Berlin Stories', die als 'Cabaret' mit Liza Minelli in der Hauptrolle ein Weltklassiker wurden. 'A Princess in Berlin' übertrifft 'Cabaret' aber um ein Vielfaches an Dramatik durch die Einbettung historischer aufwühlender Ereignisse in die Handlung und die Vielfalt und das Kaliber ihrer Protagonisten. Wir stehen mitten in einer Gesellschaft, wo politisch und intellektuell bedeutende und ungewöhnliche Persönlichkeiten einen uneigennützigen idealistischen Kampf übernommen haben, dem die obere gesellschaftliche Klasse in bequemen Korbstühlen auf Gartenparties genüßlich unbeteiligt und nihilistisch kommentieren. Andere kämpfen um ihre nackte Existenz. Eine bewegende Liebesgeschichte ist ebenfalls Teil der Handlung. 

Nach 50 Jahren Dornröschenschlaf ist Berlin wieder in Mode, besonders bei jungen Leuten. Mit dem neuen Hauptstadtstatus rücken seine Stadtviertel, Plätze, Straßen und historischen Schauplätze wieder in den Vordergrund. Auch ist durch die Wiedervereinigung der beiden Deutschlands ein neues Interesse an der deutschen Geschichte vor 1933 zu beobachten. Dokumentationen über Preussen und historische Persönlichkeiten des 19. und frühen 20. Jahrhunderts findet man nicht mehr nur in Arte und Phoenix (Aktuelles Beispiel: Spielfilm über das Leben der Preussischen Königin Luise in RTL). 

Der Kontakt zum Autor kann über uns hergestellt werden. 


Version: 18. Dezember 2003
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Proposals were submitted by Joachim Gruber - Marianne Steenken.