Down here on the Elbe, not far from the jetties, with a view across the river towards the famous old shipyard of Blohm & Voss, looms a monster of modern architecture, a floating dock on dry land, cloaked expensively in stainless-steel plate. This is the new headquarters of publishers Gruner & Jahr. In this shipyard it’s news they pop-rivet together; stories are welded, sensations launched. The chimney belches smoke. There’s no recession here. This is a place where fairytales come true: it’s the headquarters of Stern magazine. Every week millions hand over their small change for a helping of the brightly coloured sweet-and-sour stew, concocted from the spittle of the murderer, from mothers’ tears, from the broth of catastrophe, the sweat of the holiday-maker, the blood of the asylum-seeker and enriched with the flesh of accident victims. It is a piquant stew, which may be thinned according to taste with canned extract of international tits and bums.
It was to this temple of the media that my wife Pamela and I had been invited for a reception in honour of the Czar-without-a-Country. Where the Hamburg City Council had tried and failed, Bertelsmann, Germany’s mightiest media concern, had succeeded: Mikhail Sergejevitch Gorbachev himself in the Free and Hanseatic City of Hamburg! No doubt the media gods had lured him there with a cheque to endow some perestroika foundation in Moscow, on whose behalf the unemployed ex-President is now moonlighting.
This was the first invitation of its kind I had ever received. To tell the truth, I hadn’t the slightest intention of going. But my wife saw through my foolish arrogance and defended the basic human right to indulge in a little vanity and the occasional piece of hype. What was more, it might be the only chance we would ever get to meet a Homo Historicus of Gorbachev’s calibre. He was, after all, more than a mere hiccup in the history of the world.