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Germany

A Man to Dye For

German chancellor Gerhard Schröder has taken a news agency to court over the color of his hair. Is it naturally dark or is it dyed?

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What color is it?

You'd think German chancellor Gerhard Schröder would have his hands full these days: unemployment is rising, the economy is slacking and his party is falling behind in the opinion polls.

You'd think the chancellor would be working day and night just trying to gain ground.

And he probably is.

But even if he's facing problems that would give anyone gray hairs, Schröder still finds time to settle a truly fundamental issue: The color of his hair.

Is it naturally dark or is it dyed?

Should anyone care but Schröder?

Bundeskanzler Gerhard Schröder

German Chancellor Gerhard Schröder

Germany's tabloids have repeatedly debated the question of the chancellor's hair color. But the question unexpectedly gained national attention through a story Germany's ddp news agency ran recently.

DDP quoted an image consultant as saying 'The Chancellor would be much more persuasive if he did not color his graying temples.' And even though ddp merely presented this quote without commenting it, Schröder's lawyer immediately issued an angry denial and demanded a retraction from the agency.

DDP promptly issued a statement saying "Chancellor Gerhard Schröder attaches great importance to the fact that his hair is not dyed." But that only further enraged Schröder's legal advisors.

Splitting hairs

On Friday, Schröder's lawyer Michael Nesselhauf and ddp lawyer Klaus Sedelmeier aimed to settle this hair-raising issue once and for all.

The two sides met in a regional court in Hamburg. Outside the courtroom, members of the conservative opposition's youth organization handed out free samples of hair dye.

The chancellor's lawyer Michael Nesselhauf claimed that ddp's retraction was written in a flippant tone of voice, making it sound "like a joke".

The news agency, on the other hand, saw no wrongdoing on its part. It said it had merely quoted someone else's opinion. DDP argued press freedom was at stake and that it would not accept defeat in court.

The agency announced it was prepared to take this case to the highest court in the land if need be.

Faced with this prospect and in light of the political dimension of the case, the judges in Hamburg asked for time to deliberate the issue. They'll present their verdict on May 17th.

Until then the chancellor's true hair color remains a dark secret.

Ballooning out of proportion

In this election year, the German media have jumped on this story. Journalists are going to town on it and writing countless sarcastic articles.

They're quoting the "experts" on this issue: the hairdressers. They're digging for old photographs of Gerhard Schröder in their archives to see whether he's ever shown a trace of gray. And they're even trying to get in touch with Schröder's ex-wives to hear their two cents' worth.

Gerhard Schröder's sister, Ilse Brücke, can't understand the fuss her brother is making about the affair. "I wish he would lighten up a bit," the 47-year-old told Reuters news agency.

Meanwhile, the question has even gained political dimensions. Germany's conservative opposition uses the affair to cast doubt on Schröder's credibility. "A chancellor who dyes his hair will also dress up statistics," said Karl-Josef Laumann, a member of parliament for the Christian Democrats.

Memories of "Hairforce One"

Clinton bei Benefizkonzert in New York

Former President Bill Clinton

The only "scandal" that was similarly bizarre was probably Bill Clinton's "Hairforce One". In 1993, Clinton got a $ 200 haircut from Christophe, a Beverly Hills hairdresser of the stars. That fact alone would have been enough to outrage quite a few people who have barely enough to get by.

But the added twist to Clinton's hair affair was that it all happened aboard the presidential airplane Airforce One, which was sitting on the tarmac at Los Angeles International Airport – and holding up air traffic.

Final word from one who knows

As far as Gerhard Schröder's hair story is concerned, the one person who has to know the truth is the chancellor's barber Udo Walz.

And Udo Walz swears "His hair is not dyed."

"If you had the opportunity to get as close to his head as me, then you would see that he too has gray hairs," he told Reuters at Friday's hearing in Hamburg.

"If our biggest problem in Germany is whether our chancellor dyes his hair, then things seem to be going well for us here," Walz added.

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