Hitler wine leaves a bitter taste in Germans' mouths

THE GUARDIAN , ROME

Wed, Sep 10, 2003 - Page 6

An Italian wine merchant is doing a thriving trade in wines labelled with pictures of Hitler, threatening another Italian-German rift.

The bottles, some of which bear the logo Ein Volk, ein Reich, ein Fuhrer (one people, one nation, one leader), have been selling fast, mainly to German tourists who spot them in petrol stations in northern Italy and at the beach resort of Rimini.

They are part of a "historical series" of labels, featuring leaders such as Mussolini, Stalin and Che Guevara. A Stalin or Hitler bottle, with Cabernet or Merlot wine, sells for 3.3 euros.

Germany's justice minister, Brigitte Zypries, has protested to her Italian counterpart, Roberto Castelli. But Italy has so far not taken any action.

"People like these characters. They make good table conversation. So I'm not about to stop selling," said wine merchant Alessandro Lunardelli, who says the Hitler wine is the most popular, selling 30,000 bottles a year. "I am sorry if there are some people -- German politicians, Jewish groups or that type of thing -- who get upset.

"But it's just history. I see no reason for such a fuss."

The use of racist or Nazi symbols is banned in Germany, but in Italy Nazi nostalgia is alive and well, with Mussolini calendars and tapes of his speeches selling alongside Pokemon toys.

A German prosecutor has warned that Germany could prosecute Lunardelli if he has sold his wines directly to Germans over the Internet.

"I could make a fortune if I responded to all the e-mail orders I get from Germany," he said. "But I know that would be against German law."

There were reports of the wine being sold on the German black market for 18 euros a bottle.

The debate adds to strain on Italo-German relations after Italian Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi compared a German member of the European parliament to a concentration camp guard and a junior tourism minister called German tourists "supernationalistic blonds."

Although Berlin wants a European ban on racist or anti-foreigner imagery and literature, Castelli said only the Italian judiciary could decide to ban the wine.

"I did not know these bottles were being produced," he said. "It seems bad taste to me."