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Talking Germany

Blog with Peter Craven

Sweet and bitter, Alfred Ritter

Or: Swabia’s “radical” chocolate manufacturer!

Swabians on the offensive! Swabians swamping Berlin! Swabians buying up the German capital! It’s the kind of thing you hear a lot of in Berlin these days. Swabians? The thrifty, industrious and canny people of Swabia – the region around Stuttgart in Germany’s south-western state of Baden-Württemberg. One of them is Alfred Ritter. The son of Alfred Ritter. Who was in turn the son of … you’ve guessed, Alfred Ritter. Together, they make up the Ritter Sport chocolate manufacturing dynasty. And Alfred Ritter (the third) is my latest guest on Talking Germany. He’s a proud and fairly typical Swabian with, I sense, a wry sense of humour, a whiff of melancholy, and a good deal of political passion.

We talk about Berlin (which, he says, “has got better”) and he describes how as a teenager he visited East Berlin: “I wouldn’t have wanted to spend even a month there!” So what did he do during his youthful visits to the capital of the former communist state? “Well, for instance,” he says, “I visited food stores. I studied the packaging, if that’s what you’d call it. And I sensed that people were being carried along on a wave of sadness and depression.”

These days, the EU is one of Alfred Ritter’s big political bugbears. Not a problem in itself, he says: “We need a central European government!” But “out of control” when it comes to red tape. Packaging is once again the issue: “Unbelievably complex consumer declarations on our chocolate bars – in all the EU languages. It’s costing us a million euros.” And, he says, there’s no help from the politicians: “We get all the soapbox talk about battling bureaucracy. But it doesn’t amount to a thing.”

Alfred Ritter has a crop of wavy hair and “John Lennon glasses – or should I say Ghandi glasses?” A signal perhaps of his political temperament. After all, the chocolate manufacturer also runs companies in the fields of solar energy and alternative power generation. There are, he points out, “Green mayors in the Baden-Württemberg cities of Freiburg, Tübingen and Stuttgart. And the state as a whole is these days run by a Green minister president.” Which, he pronounces, “is good for Swabia!” And, he adds for good measure, “Bavaria will go the same way!” This is typically Swabian: conservative values, a sharp business sense, and – often – a fervent environmental streak.

Date

September 8, 2014

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