Uwe Barschel

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Uwe Barschel
A 1987 political campaign poster featuring Barschel.
Barschel featured on a 1987 campaign poster
Minister-President of Schleswig-Holstein
In office
14 October 1982 – 2 October 1987
DeputyHenning Schwarz
Preceded byGerhard Stoltenberg
Succeeded byHenning Schwarz (interim)
Minister of the Interior of Schleswig-Holstein
In office
1 July 1979 – 4 October 1982
Minister-PresidentGerhard Stoltenberg
Preceded byRudolf Titzck
Succeeded byKarl Eduard Claussen
Minister of Finance of Schleswig-Holstein
In office
1 January 1979 – 30 June 1979
Minister-PresidentGerhard Stoltenberg
Preceded byGerd Lausen
Succeeded byRudolf Titzck
Member of the Landtag of Schleswig-Holstein
for Lauenburg-Süd
In office
24 May 1971 – 11 October 1987
Preceded byPaul Rohloff
Succeeded byFrank Millack
Personal details
Born(1944-05-13)13 May 1944
Glienicke/Nordbahn, Nazi Germany (now Germany)
Died11 October 1987(1987-10-11) (aged 43)
Beau-Rivage, Geneva, Switzerland
Cause of deathDrug overdose
Resting placeMölln
Political partyChristian Democratic Union (1962–1987)
Freya Barschel
(m. 1973; his death 1987)
Alma materUniversity of Kiel
  • Politician
  • Lawyer
  • Notary

Uwe Barschel (13 May 1944 – 11 October 1987) was a West German politician of the Christian Democratic Union (CDU) who served as Minister-President in the state of Schleswig-Holstein. He was found dead under mysterious circumstances on 11 October 1987 when his clothed body was discovered in a full bathtub at the Hotel Beau-Rivage in Geneva, Switzerland, shortly after he became embroiled in scandal during the 1987 state election. While a police investigation concluded that Barschel had committed suicide, the circumstances of his death remain controversial.

Early life[edit]

Uwe Barschel and his siblings were raised by his grandparents in Börnsen, near Geesthacht. His mother worked as a seamstress and preferred to leave her children's upbringing to her parents. Barschel's father Heinrich, a mathematician, was believed to have been killed during the Battle of Berlin in April 1945. Barschel was described by his teachers and classmates in Geesthacht as calm, serious, ambitious, and career-conscious.

In 1963, Barschel was among a group of Geesthacht students who attended a school assembly which featured former admiral and convicted war criminal Karl Dönitz, speaking at the invitation of a pro-Nazi history teacher. The event, during which Dönitz gave an apologia for Nazi ideology with no rebuttal from students and staff, caused a furore when it was reported by the West German and international press.[1] Seventeen years later, as Schleswig-Holstein's minister of the interior, Barschel attended Dönitz's funeral.

Barschel studied public law, economics, political science and education at the University of Kiel. Upon graduating in 1971, he was admitted to the bar and began working as a lawyer and notary. In addition to his legal and political activities, Barschel also developed an interest in science. He was reportedly preparing to withdraw from politics in the middle of the 1987 legislative session, and had almost completed his habilitation thesis at the time of his death.[2]

Barschel was married to Freya Barschel (née von Bismarck; born 1947), a distant relative of Chancellor Otto von Bismarck. The couple raised their four children in the town of Mölln, where Barschel is buried. Barschel's headstone gives his date of death as 10 October at the request of his widow.

Political career[edit]

Barschel joined the Junge Union, the joint youth organisation of the Christian Democratic Union (CDU) and the Christian Social Union (CSU), in 1960. He became a member of the CDU two years later. In Schleswig-Holstein, Barschel was chairman of the Junge Union from 1967 to 1971 and deputy chairman of the CDU in 1969. Between 1970 and 1982, he served as chairman of the CDU's district association in, and sat on the district council of, the Duchy of Lauenburg. He was a member of the Landtag in Schleswig-Holstein from 1971 until his death.

On 1 January 1979, Barschel was appointed Minister of Finance by then-minister-president Gerhard Stoltenberg. On 1 July of the same year he took over the Ministry of the Interior and became one of the delegates from Schleswig-Holstein in the Bundesrat. As minister of the interior, Barschel faced what was at the time the largest demonstration of the anti-nuclear movement in West Germany, protesting the Brokdorf Nuclear Power Plant. Barschel chaired the Interior Ministers' Conference in 1981 and 1982, and chaired the Ministerial Conference in 1982 and 1983.

In 1982, after Stoltenberg had been appointed Federal Finance Minister by Chancellor Helmut Kohl, Barschel was elected the new minister-president in October 1982. Aged only 38, he was the youngest minister-president in Germany's postwar history. Under his leadership, the CDU defended their absolute majority at the state elections in 1983, winning the election with 49% of the vote to the Social Democratic Party's (SPD) 43.7%.

Barschel was one of the founding members of the Schleswig-Holstein Musik Festival, appearing at the inaugural event in 1986 to narrate a performance from Camille Saint-Saëns' Carnival of the Animals.

On 31 May 1987, shortly before the start of the 1987 state election campaign, a plane carrying Barschel and his bodyguard crashed on approach at Lübeck Airport. Both of the pilots were killed in the crash, and Barschel's bodyguard succumbed to his injuries at hospital a few days later.[3][4] Barschel himself survived the crash and was able to participate in the campaign.


On 13 September 1987, the day before the election, the magazine Der Spiegel reported an account by Reiner Pfeiffer, Barschel's media adviser, that Barschel had ordered him to spy on the SPD's top candidate, Björn Engholm, with the aim of embarking on a smear campaign implicating Engholm in tax evasion. Pfeiffer further claimed to have been ordered to install a bugging device in Barschel's phone and accuse the SPD of being the perpetrators. The subsequent scandal became known as the "Barschel affair" or "Waterkant-Gate" (an allusion to the Watergate scandal, with Waterkant (from Low German "waterside").[5][6]

As a result of the unfolding scandal, the CDU saw its absolute majority in Schleswig-Holstein reduced to 42.6% while the SPD's vote rose to 45.2%. The CDU managed to start coalition talks with the Free Democratic Party (FDP), which refused to negotiate with Barschel. On 18 September, five days after the election, Barschel denied all accusations and made the following statement to the press: "I give you my word of honour – I repeat, my word of honour – that the charges brought against me are unfounded." Under increasing pressure, Barschel resigned as minister-president on 2 October.

In 1993, it emerged that Engholm had been aware of Pfeiffer's activities and that an SPD official had paid Pfeiffer DM50,000 to delay bringing his story to Der Spiegel for several weeks, thus presenting Engholm as a victim while negatively impacting the CDU's performance in the 1987 election. Engholm was convicted of lying to the first investigative committee into the Barschel affair and was forced to resign as minister-president the same year. Neither that first inquiry nor the second, convened in 1995, found Pfeiffer to be a credible witness or was able to determine Barschel's guilt.


On 8 October 1987, Barschel visited a travel agency in Gran Canaria to inquire about taking a flight to Zürich, Switzerland, where he was purportedly planning to meet someone. Finding that the flight was fully booked, Barschel took different connecting flights to Geneva, Frankfurt and Hamburg. Freya Barschel later told an interviewer from the newspaper Die Welt that her husband had been in contact with an informant who had promised to give him exculpatory evidence ahead of a parliamentary inquiry in Schleswig-Holstein into the Waterkant scandal. Freya reported that Barschel contacted her from the Hotel Beau-Rivage in Geneva, telling her that he had met this informant at the airport.

On 11 October, the day before his scheduled testimony in Schleswig-Holstein, Barschel was found dead by journalist Sebastian Knauer and photographer Hanns-Jörg Anders, of the German magazine Stern, in the bathroom of Room 317 at the Beau-Rivage. His body was fully dressed and lying in a bathtub filled with water.

Barschel's autopsy uncovered a total of eight drugs in his system, including the sedatives lorazepam, diazepam, diphenhydramine, and perazine, along with the barbiturate cyclobarbitone and the sleep aid pyrithyldione. The Geneva prosecutor determined that Barschel's death was self-inflicted, and that he overdosed on these medications before stepping into the bath. This method of suicide corresponded with a guide published by a German right to die advocacy group. However, Barschel's widow and four children did not agree with this interpretation of the facts and were convinced that he was actually murdered.[7]

Alternative theories around Barschel's death[edit]

In his book By Way of Deception, former Mossad agent Victor Ostrovsky nourishes suspicions that Barschel was killed by Israeli assassins, claiming Barschel had too much inside knowledge about an Israeli-Iranian arms deal. In the 1994 book, The Other Side of Deception: A Rogue Agent Exposes the Mossad's Secret Agenda, Ostrovsky claimed that a team of Israeli assassins had murdered Barschel through poisoning and that the Federal Intelligence Service (BND) provided Barschel's telephone number for the Mossad agent to lure him to Geneva.

According to Ostrovsky, Barschel was lured to the Beau-Rivage Hotel by a telephone call received in October 1987 in the Canary Islands from a Mossad agent called Robert Oleff. Barschel met a Mossad agent in the hotel restaurant and was unwittingly provided a glass of wine which contained a sedative. Barschel left for his room and fell unconscious, at which time Mossad assassins broke into the room and used a feeding tube to forcibly feed him barbiturates and poisons, as well as inserted a fever-inducing toxin suppository into his rectum. Once the fever developed, Barschel was placed in the ice-cold water, causing him to die from shock.

Various mysteries around Barschel's death are discussed in a January 1995 Washington Post article[8] based on German, Spanish and Swiss police investigations of the murder, and the possible motives for it. The article reported that the Barschel case had been reopened as a murder investigation because of evidence of third-party involvement.[8] "Just who the third party who went to such lengths to make a murder look like a suicide might be, is unclear," Andrew I. Killgore, publisher of the Washington Report on Middle East Affairs, wrote in 1995. Although the Israeli government issued a "formal denial" that it was involved, such a denial, according to Killgore, especially if it was "formal", was widely accepted in the region as confirmation that the opposite was true.[citation needed]

Ostrovsky states that the BND was cooperating with the Mossad to provide arms and military training to Iran in order to weaken both Iran and Iraq, which at the time were engaged in war, and force both countries to slash oil prices. Ostrovsky claims that Barschel was murdered because he refused to allow Israeli arms for Iran to be shipped from Schleswig-Holstein ports. During the Iran-Iraq war, Israel and the United States secretly armed Iran; the US had an interest in doing so to obtain bargaining chips with Iran regarding US hostages in Lebanon, while Israel had an interest in arming Iran in opposition to Saddam Hussein. Iran inherited a vast arsenal of US weapons from its Shah Mohammad Reza Pahlavi. Israel, with its large collection of US weapons, was in a prime position to sell HAWK SAMs, M-60 tank spare parts, F-4 Phantom parts and air-to-air missiles to Iran.

In addition, the police investigation found indications that another person had been in Barschel's room at the time of his death. The official autopsy found some traces of force having been applied.[citation needed]

2011 Barschel case review[edit]

On 12 June 2011, the Public Prosecution Department of Lübeck announced that the Barschel case would be re-opened and re-examined, with more sophisticated techniques such as DNA profiling being employed to find out the actual circumstances of the politician's demise.[9][10]

See also[edit]


  1. ^ Die Dönitz-Affäre, Beitrag zum Geschichtswettbewerb des Bundespräsidenten 2010/2011 (pdf; 2,2 MB), sowie Flensburger Tageblatt, 7 December 2013
  2. ^ Bis heute ein Staatsgeheimnis: Der Barschel-Mord. at the Wayback Machine (archive index) In: Netzeitung. 2 October 2006.
  3. ^ Lūbecker Nachrichten: Flugzeugbrand auf dem Flugplatz Lübeck-Blankensee, 2 June 1987
  4. ^ 31 Mai 1987 - Uwe Barschel überlebt einen Flugzeugabsturz: Unfall oder Attentat? Stichtag, WDR, 31 May 2012
  5. ^ "Today in History – DW.COM". Today in History. 11 October 1987. Retrieved 23 July 2012.
  6. ^ Tuohy, William (2 November 1987). "Soul-Searching Over Barschel Case : West German Scandal Tests Faith in Politics". Los Angeles Times. Retrieved 14 October 2016.
  7. ^ "L'affaire Barschel" [The Barschel Affair]. Télévision Suisse Romande (in French). 27 October 2010. Archived from the original on 17 February 2011. Retrieved 31 October 2010.
  8. ^ a b Atkinson, Rick (6 January 1995). "'87 DEATH OF POLITICIAN STILL INTRIGUES GERMANS". The Washington Post. Retrieved 27 May 2013.
  9. ^ "Tod von Uwe Barschel in Badewanne wird neu aufgerollt" [Death of Uwe Barschel in Bathtub Being Reviewed]. Augsburger Allgemeine (in German). 12 June 2011. Retrieved 19 June 2011.
  10. ^ "Barschel-Kleidung soll in Labor untersucht werden" [Barschel Clothing is to be examined in the Laboratory]. Spiegel Online (in German). 12 June 2011. Retrieved 21 June 2011.
Additional sources