Shareholder Faces Erklärungsnot for Extra Saitenwürschtle

Mmmm ... saitenwurst (image: AP)

There was good news and bad news at Daimler’s yearly shareholder meeting in Berlin on April 7. The good news: the German auto manufacturer declared its highest dividend ever. The bad news: there weren’t enough sausages to go around.

Ironically, though business is obviously good the company ordered only 12,500 sausages for the roughly 5,500 shareholders it invited, according to this report by Foreign Policy magazine. (I realize this item has limited relevance to the law—although there is slander involved, see below—but it doesn’t have to do with foreign policy either so I don’t feel bad.) That’s less than 2.3 sausages per shareholder, which might seem like plenty here in the U.S., but we’re talking about a predominantly German meeting in Berlin. It was only a matter of time before unpleasantness began.

That happened during lunch, when the Sitzkrieg turned real after one shareholder spotted another wrapping up some extra sausages, either to snarf down there or take home, it’s not clear. (They were reportedly saitenwürst or stringed sausage, so maybe he just had trouble separating them?) The first one called him out, and the two got into a screaming match serious enough for Daimler staff to call the police—or as the Stuttgarter-Zeitung put it, “initiate a small police operation” (einen kleinen Polizeieinsatz ausgelöst).

I try to find local reports as often as possible, because they tend to have more useful details (useful to me, anyway). This is more challenging when the event happened someplace where the locals are rude enough not to use English as their first language (i.e., most of the planet). But I still usually try, even if I have to rely on Google to translate most of the time. I’m also not always sure which foreign sources are reliable—I mean, I’ve heard of the major ones but who do you trust in Zimbabwe, for example? (Not the Zimbabwe Herald, I know that much.)

There are English sources of foreign news, of course, but again of varying reliability and coverage. I tried The, for example. Found nothing about the sausage-fest, but I did learn the Bundestag has decided to cancel a proposed monument to the country’s reunification partly because they found out the site was infested with bats. That seemed like something I should pass on.

All that is to explain why I’m citing a source from Stuttgart and not Berlin, in case anyone cares.

Foreign Policy did provide an excellent tidbit, though, saying that the man caught hiding the sausage(s) “found himself in a uniquely German situation: Erklärungsnot, or ‘the exact moment you are caught with your hand in the cookie jar and forced to explain yourself with only a split second to think.'” Erklärungsnot! Literally it translates to something like “explanation-emergency” or “explanation-distress,” which are both pretty great. Der Spiegel used it here, for example, in this article about German Interior Minister Wolfgang Schäuble suggesting that “targeted killings” of suspected terrorists might be okay. “He’s been in what German pundits call Erklärungsnot ever since,” Der Spiegel said, “a crisis of having to explain himself.” It’d be nice if this concept applied in the U.S. to anything other than sex scandals.

In this case, of course, the man suffering from Erklärungsnot didn’t respond well at all. In fact, the reports say that the woman who inflicted it on him has either filed or is in the process of filing a complaint for slander against him, presumably for something he screamed at her. It seems unlikely that anything he might have screamed in that situation would have been taken as fact, which is usually required for a defamation claim (at least in the U.S.). More likely he was just expressing his opinion, even if he was doing it at high volume. Rude, but not defamation.

Daimler’s chairman Manfred Bischoff seemed to admit that the company bore some responsibility for the incident because it had ordered too few sausages. “We either need more sausages or we get rid of them altogether,” he said (Entweder wir brauchen mehr Würstchen oder wir schaffen die Würstchen ganz ab), with a wink (mit einem Augenzwinkern).

Given his admissions and the obvious liability risk posed by undersupplying Germans with sausage, he might want to take this more seriously.