Obituary: Fritz Teufel / German radical in '60s, known for political stunts
Share with others:
Fritz Teufel, 67, a red-bearded prankster whose rabble-rousing stunts made him one of the most famous members of West Germany's leftist student movement in the 1960s, died July 6 in Berlin.
He had Parkinson's disease, according to a 2007 interview with the German daily paper Der Tagesspiegel.
Mr. Teufel, a political clown whose irreverence landed him in jail for much of the 1970s, called himself a "fun guerrilla." Among his targets were police tactics that he regarded as heavy-handed; older generations of Germans, who he thought had refused to confront the roles they had played during Adolf Hitler's Nazi regime; and capitalists.
He became widely known when he was among a group arrested in 1967 for planning an assassination attempt on U.S. Vice President Hubert Humphrey.
Newspapers said that a dangerous plot had been narrowly foiled. But when Mr. Teufel and his compatriots were freed after 34 hours in custody because of a lack of evidence, they said at a news conference that their intent had been to "bomb" Humphrey with projectiles made of flour, yogurt and pudding. Humphrey died in 1978.
The "pudding assassination" plot gave Mr. Teufel a reputation for theatrical dissidence that was cemented several months later, when he was arrested and charged with sedition after being accused of throwing a stone and inciting a riot during a visit to West Germany by the shah of Iran.
More than 1,000 students showed up at the courthouse to support Mr. Teufel on the opening day of his trial.
His nascent fame -- boosted by his surname, which means "devil" in German -- reached new heights when he refused several times to rise as judges entered the courtroom.
After six months in jail, Mr. Teufel was acquitted of sedition and freed.
Fritz Teufel was born June 17, 1943, in Ingelheim, on the Rhine River. He grew up in Ludwigsburg, the youngest of six children in a middle-class family. He made his way to Berlin in the early 1960s to study German literature at the Free University of Berlin.
There, Mr. Teufel co-founded Kommune 1, where members lived in protest against middle-class trappings such as personal property. They planned satirical demonstrations together, including the pudding assassination.
In the early 1970s, Mr. Teufel left the commune and moved to Munich, where he fell in with a radical leftist group that embraced violence as a political tactic. He was jailed for two years for trying to firebomb a court, and in 1975 he was one of six members of the militant June 2 Movement who were arrested for kidnapping Peter Lorenz, a leader in West Berlin of the Christian Democratic Union political party.
Mr. Teufel sat in jail for five years as he awaited trial, which was marked by clashes with court authorities. Mr. Teufel once called the judge a "sheep's head" and, to protest frisking, stripped his clothes off and threw them out a window into the street.
Eventually, Mr. Teufel presented his alibi: During the kidnapping, he said, he had been working at a toilet-seat factory in West Germany. He said he had withheld that information to highlight the injustice of Germany's justice system.
Mr. Teufel was acquitted of kidnapping charges but convicted of robbery and belonging to a criminal organization. He was also convicted of firearms offenses, as he had been carrying a pistol and a sawed-off shotgun when he was arrested. ("It did not matter," he said in a 2007 interview, "that my mother told the investigating judge that it was only a very small shotgun.")
He was sentenced to five years in prison, which he had already served.
Mr. Teufel had broken with the radical left by the early 1980s, when he moved to London and worked in a cooperative bakery. He later returned to Berlin, where he worked as a freelance writer and a bicycle courier. He occasionally gave interviews to journalists who agreed to play an hour-long game of table tennis.
First Published August 11, 2010 12:00 am