Image: Henrico Frank
Michael Probst  /  AP
Henrico Frank, seen after a hair cut in Wiesbaden, Germany on Thursday, got a makeover and a new life this week.
updated 12/17/2006 10:16:40 AM ET 2006-12-17T15:16:40

Henrico Frank went from being just another of Germany’s 4 million unemployed people to a media celebrity overnight. All it took was a haircut and a shave.

Now, Frank may even have landed himself a steady job, thanks to an unexpected run-in this week with a politician in central Germany.

Frank’s luck began to change on Tuesday, when he was cruising through a Christmas market in the city of Wiesbaden, wearing grubby clothes, a pair of nose rings and a thatch of partially bleached, punk-inspired hair.

The 37-year-old, who has been without work for six years, chanced upon Kurt Beck, chairman of the Social Democrats — the center-left half of Chancellor Angela Merkel’s federal coalition.

Beck was a perfect target for Frank’s frustration, and he harangued the politician for what he saw as the failure of economic reforms aimed at lifting people like himself — a construction worker — out of unemployment and into a better life.

Beck’s retort? “If you would just wash and shave, you’d find a job, too.”

Two days later, Frank lopped off his locks, shaved his dark beard and removed his nose rings. Then he organized a news conference.

'I’ll take any job'
“I am ready to change,” Frank told reporters, saying he was fed up with living off handouts from the unemployment office. “I’ll take any job.”

Frank instantly became the talk of German media, with one newspaper splashing his before-and-after photos on its front page Friday.

And his makeover seems to have worked. Beck plans to present Frank with several job offers next week from construction, house painting and cleaning companies.

Frank’s story has prompted serious debate and soul searching about whether German leaders are focusing enough on reining in chronic unemployment in Europe’s biggest economy. Last month, unemployment slipped to 9.6 percent in Germany, the first time in four years it was less than 10 percent. But nearly 4 million Germans remain without work.

Beck was accused by some of attempting to shift responsibility for the country’s jobless rate from the government to the unemployed. One Green Party member, Thea Dueckert, told the Die Welt newspaper that Beck was stigmatizing the jobless.

“With 4 million unemployed, you cannot seriously claim that the people themselves bear guilt for their destiny,” she said.

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