Barschel affair

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Election poster of the CDU 1987 with Prime Minister Uwe Barschel

Barschel Affair (also Barschel-Pfeiffer Affair ) is the name of a political scandal that occurred in Schleswig-Holstein in 1987 . The affair was named after the then Prime Minister of Schleswig-Holstein, Uwe Barschel ( CDU ). Questionable incidents in the election campaign before the state elections in Schleswig-Holstein in 1987 led to the greatest political scandal in the history of Schleswig-Holstein and one of the largest in the history of the Federal Republic of Germany .

Barschel faced the SPD candidate Björn Engholm . On September 7, 1987, the news magazine Der Spiegel reported that the CDU government tried to manipulate public opinion negatively about Engholm. These efforts originated from Reiner Pfeiffer , who was employed as a media observer in the State Chancellery.

In the election on September 13, the CDU lost six percentage points, which resulted in a stalemate between the CDU-FDP government and the opposition in the state parliament. At the end of a press conference lasting several hours on September 18, Barschel gave his " word of honor " that the allegations against him and the CDU were unfounded. Since accusations against Barschel were circulating in the press, which seemed to prove his manipulation, Barschel had to resign as Prime Minister on October 2nd. On the same day, an investigative committee was set up in the state parliament to “investigate any illegal actions by Prime Minister Uwe Barschel, members of the state government and their helpers against parties and their representatives running for the 11th state parliament”. Barschel, who repeatedly protested his innocence, drove with his wife to Gran Canaria to a friend's house. More incriminating material against Barschel was found at the meetings of the committee of inquiry from October 2 and in the press. Barschel was summoned for questioning before the committee of inquiry on October 12, 1987. On October 10th, he flew to Geneva, from there to Kiel.

On October 11, 1987, Barschel was found dead in a bathtub in a Geneva hotel. The police spoke of suicide. An autopsy of his body by the Geneva judicial authorities confirmed this statement. Nonetheless, doubts later arose that Barschel's death in the bathtub was a suicide.

The state parliament's committee of inquiry continued to meet and later found evidence, even after the vote of the ruling CDU party, that Barschel had been involved in unfair machinations. Some of them had taken place at his request, some he would have participated, and some he would have tolerated them.

In new elections in May 1988, Engholm was elected Prime Minister by an absolute SPD majority. In 1991 the Federal SPD elected him party chairman. But two years later it emerged that Engholm had already known about the manipulation attempts against him before the SPIEGEL disclosure. Engholm had been silent about this so far. It was also announced that SPD state politicians had given Pfeiffer a large amount of money. Engholm resigned both as prime minister and as SPD chairman.


Mood campaign against the SPD and the Greens

The Landtag election campaign in 1987 was led by the Schleswig-Holstein CDU - ruling Schleswig-Holstein without interruption since 1950 - with unusual severity in order to avert an election defeat. In the election campaign, the fear of the impending “red-green chaos” was primarily fueled. Among other things, she attacked the top candidate of the SPD Schleswig-Holstein for the office of Prime Minister , Björn Engholm , sharply and personally. In a CDU election campaign brochure, Engholm was described as an “all-terrain opportunist” with a “rubber backbone” who wanted to employ “ communists and neo-Nazis as teachers and police officers” and “ allow abortions until birth”. In no other case was “ sexual denunciation ” used as systematically as in this state election campaign. A CDU election campaign newspaper contained the claim that Social Democrats and Greens wanted “sex with children without punishment”.

Targeted actions against Engholm and UWSH

For the state election campaign, Prime Minister Uwe Barschel had the journalist Reiner Pfeiffer from Axel Springer Verlag put them in touch. He was hired as a media officer in the State Chancellery , where he was responsible for media monitoring.

In the period that followed, Pfeiffer developed a large number of activities against political opponents of the CDU:

  • He filed an anonymous complaint against Engholm for tax evasion in which he alleged, using detailed data, that Engholm had not properly taxed income. The complaint did not lead to criminal proceedings against Engholm.
  • He had Björn Engholm observed by detectives in the hope of finding out details of Engholm's privacy that could be used in the election campaign.
  • Pfeiffer also called Engholm's home and pretended to be Dr. Wagner, claiming that he had obtained confidential evidence that Engholm might have AIDS .
  • He forged a press release by the Schleswig-Holstein Greens , in which they apparently referred to Engholms re-entry into the church as a “peak of tactlessness” under the heading “Greens: Engholms baptism an embarrassing election campaign ploy”.
  • With false assertions he deliberately sowed discord among the leading representatives of the Independent Voting Association Schleswig-Holstein (UWSH), a bourgeois-conservative group whose strength in election polls saw the CDU particularly endanger its absolute majority. This action was the only one of Pfeiffer's activities to be successful: The UWSH split up.

Although Pfeiffer had repeatedly asserted that Prime Minister Barschel had been the client of these partly criminal machinations, the credibility of Pfeiffer was later questioned by various investigative institutions. Furthermore, Barschel's authorship could not be clarified.

Reports from the "Spiegel"

In its edition on September 7, 1987, six days before the election, the magazine Der Spiegel published an article entitled Waterkantgate about alleged “dirty tricks” that the CDU used in the fight against the SPD. Among other things, it was reported that Engholm had been shadowed by detectives during the election campaign and that an anonymous complaint had been filed against him at his Lübeck tax office for tax evasion of several hundred thousand DM. In the Spiegel article it was indicated that the spying against Engholm had come from the manager Karl Josef Ballhaus, a friend of Uwe Barschel. The SPD spokesman Klaus Nilius was quoted in the article with the assumption that, because of her intimate knowledge of Engholm's tax situation, the tax report must have come from the Kiel Ministry of Finance or the Bonn Ministry of Finance, which is subordinate to the CDU regional chairman, Gerhard Stoltenberg . Björn Engholm was also quoted as saying that the content of the tax report was incorrect and that he would file a criminal complaint against the person who was responsible for the tax report this week before the election.

In the election on September 13, the CDU lost about 6 percentage points and thus its absolute majority. With the newly drafted FDP, she received 37 seats in the state parliament. The SPD and SSW had just as many seats together. Since the SSW did not want to enter into a coalition with the CDU because of the manipulations by the CDU and its government, which the SPD also rejected as a victim of these manipulations, there was initially no new government formation. The old government remained in office until the new election on May 8, 1988.

On Wednesday, September 9, 1987, Pfeiffer presented a list of his actions against Engholm in an affidavit before a notary , which Der Spiegel learned.

He published the content of these statements one day after the election on September 14, 1987. The front page of the mirror featured Uwe Barschel and was entitled Waterkantgate - Uwe Barschel's dirty tricks . In the cover story were u. a. quotes Pfeiffer's statements, which u. a. said that Uwe Barschel was behind the illegal manipulations against the SPD opposition and that Barschel had commissioned him, Pfeiffer, to carry it out. In the week of the state elections, Barschel commissioned Pfeiffer to get a bug and have it built into Barschel's phone. This bug was supposed to be discovered in a spectacular way; their installation should then have been blamed on the SPD. This Spiegel article became known in parts on the day before the state election; the mirror was accused by members of the public and the CDU, he was trying to manipulate the outcome of the state election.

In the historical retrospect, the role of the mirror is critically questioned: The magazine had taken Pfeiffer's account of things without criticism and did not investigate its dubious reputation. Spiegel also paid Reiner Pfeiffer a six-figure fee and legal counsel. Der Spiegel continues to adhere to Pfeiffer's version, although his statements "turned out to be largely nonsensical". Frank Pergande expressed himself even more clearly in the FAZ :

“The political scandal in Kiel, which was a media scandal, began twenty years ago. Because actually one should speak of a "Spiegel" affair. [...] There was no “Barschel Affair”, at most a “Pfeiffer Affair”. Barschel has been framed for the affair and the media played a major role in it. However Barschel died, his death also showed where the media hunt can lead. "

Barschel's word of honor

In a sensational press conference on September 18, 1987, Barschel denied all allegations against him and stated:

“In addition to these affidavits, which are to be presented to you immediately, I give you my word of honor to the citizens of Schleswig-Holstein and the entire German public - I repeat: I give you my word of honor! - that the allegations against me are baseless. "

- Uwe Barschel : Press conference on September 18, 1987

Barschel's resignation and death

After doubts about Barschel's innocence arose and the mirror made further publications, Barschel declared on September 25, 1987 that he would step down from the office of Prime Minister on October 2, 1987. Nine days later he was found dead in the bathtub of his room at the Hotel Beau-Rivage in Geneva under circumstances that were not fully understood . He died of drug poisoning. The photo of the dead Uwe Barschel on the cover of the Illustrierte Stern became known nationwide.

Committees of inquiry

In the fall of 1987, the Schleswig-Holstein state parliament set up a committee of inquiry to clarify the events. He was chaired by the SPD MP Klaus Klingner . In this committee, Barschel was seriously incriminated by several witnesses. At the meeting on November 30, 1987, Barschel's driver and Barschel's secretary revoked earlier statements exonerating Barschel and stated that Barschel had urged them to make false statements . In the final report, with the votes of all committee members, including those of the CDU, it was established that in many of Pfeiffer's activities Barschel's involvement was established or at least likely.

On May 8, 1988 elections were for parliament held at which the SPD with the best result of their country's history won an absolute majority of seats. Björn Engholm was elected by the state parliament as the new Prime Minister of Schleswig-Holstein.

In 1993 it became known that the then SPD state chairman Günther Jansen and the then press spokesman for the SPD state parliamentary group Klaus Nilius had paid Pfeiffer around 50,000 DM in cash in 1988 and 1989 . Since Jansen claims to have collected the banknotes in his kitchen drawer , the events were called the drawer affair. In this context, it was also announced that Pfeiffer had already revealed himself to Jansen, Nilius and a lawyer personally commissioned by Engholm on September 7, 1987, i.e. six days before the state elections, and that the SPD state leadership admitted much earlier than previously by Pfeiffer's activities was instructed. By May 1993, Engholm had claimed to have been surprised by the publication in Der Spiegel (September 12, 1987). This proved that Engholm had lied to the Kiel investigative committee in 1988 when he claimed that he had not known anything about Pfeiffer's machinations before the 1987 election. Engholm had become implausible. He had to resign from the office of Prime Minister, resigned the chairmanship of the SPD and was no longer available as a candidate for Chancellor of the SPD.

On March 10, 1993, the state parliament set up a new parliamentary committee of inquiry, which mainly re-examined the payments to Pfeiffer, but also the Barschel affair itself. In 1995 the committee considered many issues to be unresolved or controversial. However, Barschel was politically responsible for the manipulation because he hired Pfeiffer so that Pfeiffer only had the opportunity to act in his actions from the State Chancellery. In fact, the investigative committee came to the conclusion that there was no evidence of Uwe Barschel's complicity in the machinations of his media advisor Reiner Pfeiffer. Since there was no evidence to the contrary, the final report summed up with the words that Pfeiffer “probably acted at least with Barschel's approval”.

Unexplained death of Barschel and murder theories

The circumstances that led to Uwe Barschel's death have not yet been clarified. The official investigations in Switzerland and Germany for a long time considered a suicide to be likely, but the results of the investigation by the Geneva authorities also revealed the possibility of third-party debt. Extensive speculations and conspiracy theories have therefore been put forward since the death . These mainly concern the circumstances of death, in some cases statements were also made about the activities during the election campaign.

Barschel's relatives assumed a murder rather than a suicide. The results of the chemist Hans Brandenberger commissioned by them support the murder theory. According to his own statement, former Mossad agent Victor Ostrovsky assumes that Barschel was murdered because of his opposition to Operation Hannibal .

At the end of the 1980s, there was speculation that the Ministry for State Security of the GDR was involved in the affair surrounding the anti-communist Barschel and his death. Even after the reunification, no evidence was found for this ( Markus Wolf in an interview: “I'm not saying anything - but I wanted to know something about the circumstances of his death and so I used agents who found nothing”). The alleged Barschel letter to Stoltenberg actually turned out to be a forgery of Department X of the GDR's foreign intelligence service in 1991 .

In 2007, a legal dispute broke out in Kiel between the Chief Public Prosecutor Heinrich Wille, who was entrusted with the case in the 1990s, and the Schleswig Public Prosecutor Erhard Rex. Wille was of the opinion that the available evidence pointed in the direction of murder, while Rex was of the opinion that the evidence spoke more in favor of suicide; Since Wille's research so far had not brought anything, in his opinion the proceedings should be terminated. Prompted by Willes ’statements, the relatives of Barschel applied to the Federal Prosecutor General to reopen the investigation.

Film adaptations

Heinrich Breloer took up the topic in his documentary drama Die Staatskanzlei from 1989. In 1994 the second part followed, once power and back - Engholms case , which dealt mainly with the events surrounding Engholm's resignation. In this context, the first part was revised in such a way that the newer findings that had emerged since 1989 were also incorporated.

The German director Uwe Boll made the film Barschel - Murder in Geneva? (1993).

The 846th Tatort episode Borowski and the Free Fall (first broadcast: October 14, 2012; book: Fred Breinersdorfer and Eoin Moore , director: Eoin Moore) deals with the death of Uwe Barschel on a fictional level.

In his three-hour political thriller The Barschel Case , director and Grimme Prize winner Kilian Riedhof examines the various theories about Barschel's death.


Until 1993

The Kiel investigation committee. The plenary debates. Schmidt & Klaunig, Kiel 1988., ISBN 3-88312-139-8 . (Kiel investigation committee 1988 part two)

After Engholm's resignation in 1993

Web links


  1. Schleswig Holsteinischer Landtag, 11th electoral period: The Kiel committee of inquiry - questions and answers. Schmidt & Klaunig, Kiel 1988, ISBN 3-88312-140-1 . (Kiel Committee of Inquiry I) Online version from the NRW state parliament server as a pdf. P. 1.
  2. Schleswig Holsteinischer Landtag, 11th electoral period: The Kiel committee of inquiry - questions and answers. Kiel 1988, (Kiel Committee of Inquiry I) Online version from the NRW state parliament server as a pdf. Pp. 236/242.
  3. Mist und Saat , article from February 12, 1988 by Robert Leicht on Zeit Online
  4. Jochen Bölsche (Ed.): Waterkantgate - the Kiel affair. A SPIEGEL documentary. Göttingen 1987, ISBN 3-88243-086-9 , p. 124.
  5. Waterkantgate - Spy against the top man in Der Spiegel No. 37, September 7, 1987. Retrieved October 28, 2018.
  6. Waterkantgate - Get me a bug in Der Spiegel No. 38, September 14, 1987. Retrieved October 28, 2018.
  7. A bizarre media affair. In: Die Zeit , May 5, 1995.
  8. Barschel, Pfeiffer, Engholm and "Der Spiegel". Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung , September 7, 2007
  9. Thomas Ramge: Waterkantgate - The death of Uwe Barschel in the bathtub. In Thomas Ramge: The Great Political Scandals - Another History of the Federal Republic. Campus Verlag, Frankfurt 2003, ISBN 3-593-37069-7 , page 220.
  10. The Barschel Affair - The Most Mysterious Death in the Federal Republic
  11. ^ Committees of inquiry into the Kiel affairs background from May 8, 2013 (last accessed on February 8, 2016)
  12. Der Spiegel reported ... In: Der Spiegel . No. 42 , 1991, pp. 354 ( Online - Oct. 14, 1991 ).