A Salutary Tale of the Knave of Hearts

The Queen of Hearts

She made some tarts

All on a summer’s day;

The Knave of Hearts

He stole the tarts

And took them clean away.

The King of Hearts

Called for the tarts

And beat the Knave full sore

The Knave of Hearts
Brought back the tarts

And vowed he’d steal no more.1


It has been claimed that the Queen of Hearts was based on Elizabeth of Bohemia. But who was Elizabeth of Bohemia? She was the daughter of Elisabeth Stuart and Frederick V, who were appointed Queen and King of Bohemia. This appointment has been cited as the cause of the Thirty Years War. Elisabeth was also a multi-talented woman who enjoyed the classics and art as well as philosophy. She corresponded actively with Descartes and critiqued his work. She even authored a work on on the Mind-Body problem that helped Descartes understand the way a ball bounced on the tennis court. Some lady, who really knew how to attract a man’s attention! Well, let’s say, a philosopher’s attention. She was a deeply religious woman and offered shelter to a number of people who were being persecuted for their faith. She was taught court etiquette, scripture, mathematics, history, the sciences, jurisprudence, French, English, German, Dutch, Latin and Greek. She excelled in Greek and had a liking for philosophy. I know just the fellow she should meet!2

Now you don’t need to have studied children’s nursery rhymes to know that Bohemia, in Southern Germany, is the heartland of the CDU. But what is the CDU and who is the new Queen of Hearts?

The origins of the CDU/CSU3

The CDU was founded in Germany in 1945 by a group comprising former Weimar Republic politicians, activists in the old Roman Catholic Centre Party, liberal and conservative Protestants, workers, intellectuals, and segments of the middle class who wished to prevent any rebirth of fascism in Germany. They were held together by three strongly-held principles.

First, they believed that the historic conflicts and divisions between Roman Catholics and Protestants were partly responsible for the rise of Hitler and should be ended. This job was made easier by the fact that the division of Germany into West and East Germany had roughly equalised the numbers between the Catholics and Protestants in the Federal Republic, because most of the Protestant churches operated in East Germany.

Second, most Christian Democrats by the end of the 1940s believed that a “social market economy”—a mix of free-market capitalism with strong government regulation and a comprehensive welfare state—was the best option for Germany.

Third, the party’s foreign policy was strongly anti-Communist, pro-American, and supported European integration; indeed. West Germany played a vital role in the creation of the European Coal and Steel Community (1952), which was one of the precursors of the European Union.

After more than 20 years in power following their foundation in 1945, the CDU was in need of reform and renewal. In 1973, Helmut Kohl was elected leader, and set about that job. The CDU developed a strong organization, and new policies. They returned to power in 1982. Helmut Kohl subsequently won four successive national elections and held the chancellorship for a record 16 years. During his tenure in office, Kohl engineered the reunification of Germany and was critical to the creation of the Euro which was finally introduced in the EU after he left office.

In 1998 the CDU-CSU suffered one of the worst defeats in their history. Over the next year, the party was embroiled in a major finance scandal, which involved illegal fund-raising by Kohl and his deputies. As a result, Kohl’s successor as party leader, Wolfgang Schäuble, was forced to resign, and the party subsequently elected as its leader someone who was untainted by the scandal—Angela Merkel. Lo! The Queen of Hearts entered the stage. And the Tarts? Well, let’s say that they represent the wealth of the resurgent Germany.

Wolfgang Schäuble4

Wolfgang Schäuble was born in Freiburg-im-Breisgau, the son of a tax finance advisor. He studied law and economics at the University of Freiburg and the University of Hamburg, which he completed in 1966 and 1970 by passing the First and Second State Examinations respectively, becoming a fully qualified lawyer. In 1971 Schäuble obtained his doctorate in law, with a dissertation called “The public accountant’s professional legal situation within accountancy firms”. He entered the tax administration of the state of Baden-Württemberg, and eventually became a senior administration officer in the Freiburg tax office. Subsequently he became a practising registered lawyer at the district court of Offenburg, from 1978 to 1984. So we see here that his early training was in the rigorous disciplines of law and accountancy.

Schäuble’s political career began in 1961 when he joined the Junge Union (“Young Union”), the youth division of the CDU. During his studies he had served as chairman of the Ring Christlich-Demokratischer Studenten (Association of Christian-Democrat Students, RCDS), in Hamburg and Freiburg. In 1965 Schäuble also became a member of the CDU.

Wolfgang Schäuble was Minister of the Interior in the Federal Republic of Germany from 1989, the year the Berlin Wall came down. He led the negotiations on behalf of the Federal Republic (i.e., West Germany) for unification with the GDR in 1990. In 1994, he was among those pushing for Germany, France, Belgium, the Netherlands and Luxembourg to proceed quickly toward monetary union, joint defence policies and further economic and political integration. This group also proposed the establishment of a European budget commissioner with powers to reject national budgets if they did not correspond to the jointly-agreed rules and a “eurozone parliament” comprising the MEPs of eurozone countries to strengthen the democratic legitimacy of decisions affecting the single currency bloc. Obviously he was now applying his strict views on money management to a broader, European canvas.

Wolfgang Schäuble succeeded Helmut Kohl as chairman of the CDU in 1998. He resigned, however, from this post in 2000 after a party financing scandal where a large cash donation was accepted from a German arms dealer (in 1994). This led to Angela Merkel taking over as CDU leader. I wonder what her opinion of him was, and what his views were about her and her background in the former Communist State.

In 2004, some people in the CDU and CSU wanted to nominate Schäuble for German President. He did not get that nomination because Angela Merkel and other CDU politicians spoke out against him, largely because the election contribution scandal had not been entirely resolved. This suggests that her confidence in Wolfgang Schäuble was less than whole-hearted. When in 2014, the Wall Street Journal called Schäuble “Germany’s second most powerful person after Chancellor Angela Merkel”, one wonders about the dynamic that had now developed between them.

In 2012, following the resignation of Jean-Claude Juncker as president of the 17 eurozone finance ministers, known as the Eurogroup, suggestions were soon growing that Chancellor Angela Merkel was pressing for Schäuble to take up the position. Given the recent history between them, I feel that there is a hint here that she would have liked him out of her way but was not in a position to “give him the heave” even if she wanted to. Interestingly for us now, we note that the job of president of the eurozone finance group later went to Jeroen Dijsselbloem who appeared, early in the Greek crisis, to be putting a lot of pressure on Messrs. Tsipras and Varoufakis of Greece!

And what about Herr Schäuble? Well, for the purposes of this fairy tale, let’s say that he was less of a bean counter and more of a tart accountant.

Angela Merkel5

Angela Merkel is unique, not only in being the first female German Chancellor, but also in being the first one to have grown up in East Germany. She is also fluent in German, Russian and English.

Her background is quite different from previous German Chancellors, and leaves more room for interpretation and conjecture about her motivation. Shortly after she was born in Hamburg in 1954, her father, a Lutheran pastor, and her mother, an English teacher, moved the family to the village of Quitzow in the German Democratic Republic. This was a rural area north of Berlin in the then German Democratic Republic. She studied physics at the University of Leipzig, earning a doctorate in 1978, and later worked as a chemist at the Central Institute for Physical Chemistry, Academy of Sciences (1978–90). At that stage the Berlin Wall was still standing. Her official biographer, Stefan Kornelius, wrote that “the Merkel mystery is rooted in the failed East German Republic”.

It is not clear why the family had moved to the East. Was it for evangelical reasons or were there other factors that attracted them. I was working as a freelance consultant in East Germany in the early months and years just after the Berlin Wall came down. I spoke with several people who had lived under the old GDR regime, Stasi and all. One former citizen of the old regime confided to me that “wir waren kommunisten, aber wir waren immer deutsch” (trans: We were Communists, but we were always Germans). I took this to mean that their German identity was stronger than their temporary Soviet identity. This was said at a time when East Germans looked forward to “coming home” to a shared Germany. Many were severely disillusioned within the space of a few years, when the former West Germany took charge and, in their eyes, the “Wessies” (West Germans) virtually looted the “Ossies” (East Germans), treating them as second class situations.

In Kornelius’ biography of Merkel she is revealed as more culturally eastern European than many might expect. Her Stasi file noted that while she viewed the Soviet Union as a dictatorship, she was also “enthusiastic about the Russian language and culture”. In her early teens, she was selected as third-best Russian student in the GDR. One story about her was that she learned English, not by secretly reading George Orwell under the bed covers, but with the help of the British communist newspaper, the Morning Star. In a desire to portray how much she was East German in her upbringing, they had forgotten apparently that her mother was an English teacher!

Her critics have claimed that her cultural yearning is for Russia but her ideological admiration is directed on America, leaving her less passionate than she might be about European Unity. Her biographer denies that, emphasising that she has a clear sense of the worth of European culture, but is less than convinced about its survival. She is quoted as saying: “I know what living in a collapsed system feels like, and I don’t want to go through that again”.

Helmut Kohl had recognised her talent when she was a press officer at the GDR Democratic Awakening Party and seemed to take her on as his protegé. She was given her first ministerial post under Kohl in 1990. Nine years later in a newspaper comment, Merkel called for the party to let Kohl go after 25 years at the helm of the CDU. I wonder did she learn that cold-blooded skill somewhere along the line or did it come naturally!

At the Christian Democrats’ party conference in October 2003, she is quoted as voicing the opinion that: “Without freedom there is nothing! Freedom is the joy of achievement, the flourishing of the individual, the celebration of difference, the rejection of mediocrity, personal responsibility.” Her official biographer interpreted that as meaning that “freedom lies in the release of the individual from the collective, but also the solidarity individuals feel towards the collective.” Very reminiscent of the vocabulary of Eastern Europe during the Soviet era.

In 2007, when she was asked “what is the cultural glue that holds Europe together”, she suggested: “Freedom in all its forms: freedom to express opinions, freedom to believe or not believe, freedom to trade and do business, the artist’s freedom to shape his work according to his own ideas.” It’s hard to know from that what freedom actually means to Merkel. It sounds to me a bit like “Mütti und Apfelstrüdel”! It was also time for the Queen of Hearts to meet the Knave of Hearts (to a pantomime chorus of boos and whistles and “Look out behind you!”)


Alexis Tsipras and Yanis Varoufakis are, respectively, Prime Minister and Finance Minister of Greece. In this story they are like brothers, almost like Tweedledum and Tweedledee, except that these two are far from dumb! In today’s copy of the German newspaper, “Die Zeit”, there is an in interview with Yanis Varoukis6.

[IMPORTANT: I first accessed this list of questions in German on the “Die Zeit”, web site, at approximately 07:00h today (21 May, 2015. When I returned about 2 hours later to download it for translation, I could not find it! I have since searched every section of today’s edition, but it is no longer there. Fortunately, I was able to go back to the <yanisvaroufakis.eu> site and download the author’s own version in English.]

These are his answers to the three questions he was asked:


1. If you would explain to a teenager, maybe your own daughter, what your relationship to the German Finance Minister Wolfgang Schäuble looks like – what would you tell her?

I would tell my daughter that it is, from my perspective, a multi-layered relationship. There is a sense of awe that I feel from meeting with a legendary figure whose work I have been following critically for decades. Then there is a strong urge to counter his overarching approach to common problems regarding Europe. Additionally, there is some frustration at not having the opportunity to discuss in a different setting; to stage these meetings in a proper federal, democratic context in which arguments, rather than relative power, would play a more prominent role.

2. What are the European topics you probably could agree on with Mr Schäuble?

That Europe needs a political union and that, without it, our monetary union is problematic.

3. Do you think Mr Schäuble makes mistakes in his analysis of the Greek situation? If yes, which ones?

Yes I do (as I am sure he thinks that I err in my analysis). Primarily, he associates past Greek governments with the Greek people; as if the former reflect the character of the latter. And he does not appreciate how helpful it would be for mainstream Northern Europe to find a modus vivendi with a movement (like SYRIZA in Greece) which may be very critical of European institutions but which is profoundly pro-European and eager to help bring Europe closer together.


This is a fairly direct accusation that Wolfgang and his EuroGang are ganging up on the Greeks and not playing the game by Mount Olympus rules or even by some form of compromise rules. In fairness, Varoufakis has stated negotiation parameters clearly time and time again, but the EuroGroup is sticking to its version (“Austerity or Bust”) and has hardly wavered – as a group, but I thought I detected some blinking going on within their group. And this is where the children’s rhyme comes in.

Denoument in the Drawing Room

As Agatha Christie showed in her Poirot stories, there should be a long preamble and a ramble with false trails, dodgy characters, and the possibility that Poirot will finally turn to you, the reader, and charge you with the crime whilst all the guilty characters who rampaged through your fevered brain get off scot free and back to the library. Not so here. I will, as usual, stick my neck out and try to decipher the likely outcome. Let’s do it, with a precision that would appeal to Poirot:

The Queen of Hearts

Angela Merkel appeared earlier on in the drama and spoke with Tsipras and Varoufakis. Then, quick exit, and no further appearance on the stage. Meanwhile, in the background, the Ukrainian crisis rumbled, the Americans tossed some GMO farmyard manure over the fence and accused the Russians of interfering. On their turn, the Russian got all hurt. Angela Merkel made a quick trip to Moscow, probably for a bit of shopping. Then a rumour went around that the Greeks were looking to join the BRICS and maybe, just maybe, would get some Russian loans, but that died down. Silence.

She made some tarts

and told Wolfgang S. that she left them outside the Greek’s hall door, in case people got hungry. Wolfgang got upset then because he thought his jumped-up Ossie “freundin”, was getting above herself, and needed to be brought back in line. She confirmed that the shopping trip had gone well in Moscow and that she might have a contact for his arms dealer friend. (Nudge, nudge, wink, wink)

All on a summer’s day;

Relative calm returned to the situation, the tarts cooled down a bit, the EuroGroup huffed and puffed (sorry about that intrusion from another nursery rhyme but they have free movement within stories that are part of the EU). The EuroGroup tin soldiers marched up and down, singing the Horst Wessel chorus, which upset Wolfgang considerably because he doesn’t like being reminded of his likeness to Dr. Strangelove.

The Knave of Hearts

The Tweedle Brothers travel around Europe, appearing at news conferences, giving information briefings to foreign journalists, fulfilling speaking engagements at Important Conferences in different EU capitals, and explaining to unbelieving EU Taoisigh (Leaders) how they were going to reconstruct the EU in a more democratic way and, by the way, were going to sort out that little debt spat en route.

He stole the tarts

Well, the Tweedle Brothers did not, in fact, steal the tarts. As they explained, these were tarts that had been stolen in the bad old Hitler days and consumed by the soldiers of the Reich when they were beatng up, sorry, visiting some Greeks for a cultural exchange. Mr. Putin put his head around the door and said that he might have some tarts left over in BRICS if they were stuck.

And took them clean away.
This throwaway remark really took the Tweedle Brothers right out of their cleverly concealed angst-driven misery. They continued to explain to whatever EU leaders would listen, how they could sort out all the Euro $$hite, if the EuroGroup could see their way to meet them and discuss the details.

The King of Hearts

The King, a.k.a., Jeroen Dijsselbloem, (do you not remember his name? He’s the guy who jumped Wolfgang S. for the the job as president of the euro finance group. Nowadays he sits like a ventriloquist’s dummy on Wolfgang’s knee and thinks it’s eerie to have his voice coming out of Wolfgang’s mouth.

Called for the tarts

Jeroboam Disselblob, (HTF do you spell these Dutch names? It’s all jaysusses and essesses, looks like double-Dutch, oops, maybe that’s why… oh, gotye now. Anyway, JD, sounding remarkably like WS, insisted that the Greeks give back the tarts as they did not belong to them. And as well as that, there were other European countries, with their begging bowls out for tarts. Needless to say, those Irish were there first with a friggin’ suitcase.

And beat the Knave full sore
At this stage, Wolfgang beat the $$hite out of Jarryboom Dilliplop, and told him that he – Wolfgang – was now effectively in charge because of the incompetence of said JD. At this point the Queen of Hearts jumped out from the fridge and gave WS a one -way ticket to Brussels, substantial severance package for good luck, and told him to get going a.s.a.p. Oh yes, and he could keep the friggin’ tarts, as well. She added that Vlad the PuckPusher had got a part-time job in the Aegean area and was now working undercover in the Eastern Mediterranean area as an ice-hockey coach. He said he was keen to work with the Tweedle Twins on a destabilisation project he had in mind in the Black Sea area.

The Knave of Hearts
The Tweedle Twins got further lessons from Sheherazade on telling long stories with endings carried over to the next episode. She assured them that it had worked perfectly for her and even saved her life on several occasions when her husband got a bit edgy. Tsipras said he would finish the job he had started, but when it was all over, and Greece had had its turn at being top-dog in the EU, he planned to retire to a little-known Greek island, and breed minotaurs for export.

Brought back the tarts

Varoufakis took the Queen of Tarts to a little taverna that he knew in downtown Athens where he told her that he never intended keeping the tarts anyway. She surprised him by saying that it didn’t matter, as the whole escapade was set up to get that $hite $chäuble out of her hair. At that, Varoufakis stole away to a quiet corner and began to write his next economic textbook – “How to have fun, make a bit of mon’, and kill no one”, a book that, of course, he dedicated to his daughter.

And as the Sun went down over the Western Mediterranean, he smiled, for the first time in many, too many months, …

And vowed he’d steal no more




1Traditional rhyme

2Informaton about Elizabeth of Bohemia based upon a dissertation by Dr, Deborah Tollefsen and biographical details on her web site page <https://muse.jhu.edu/journals/hypatia/v014/14.3tollefsen.html&gt;