GERMANY PEOPLE
Wolfgang Kumm  /  EPA via Sipa Press file
A young woman blows her nose with the “tissue newspaper” in Berlin earlier this month.
By Producer
NBC News
updated 11/19/2004 1:01:58 PM ET 2004-11-19T18:01:58

Germans who catch a case of the sniffles can now sneeze at Chancellor Gerhard Schroeder.

This month, Germany’s newsstands are cleaning up with sales of excerpts from a book entitled “The Chancellor, unfortunately my brother, and I,” written by Schroeder’s half-brother and printed on pages of disposable paper handkerchiefs.

The story by 57-year-old Lothar Vosseler is billed as “an honest account of the life of two unequal brothers.”

The third edition of the special magazine called Buergertrichter — or citizen's funnel — went on sale Friday for $1.20 at more than 50,000 street kiosks and airport and train station newsstands.

In the first week, the initial circulation of half a million copies was quickly sold out — either because of the new revelations about the chancellor's private life, or widespread sniffles among the German public.

The idea for a satire magazine on disposable handkerchiefs was born in a hospital bed long before Vosseler's biography became the main "draft horse" for the tissue publication.

Yet, Ernest Buck, the father of the project and co-author of Vosseler's book — which will be available in stores across Germany on Dec. 6 — decided to use his original idea for promotional purposes.

"After this first edition, we will need to find other authors, artists or celebrities as a peg for our innovation, in order to be successful," marketing manager Petra Kilian told NBC.

Childhood with Schroeder
Vosseler's biography reflects a period of 12 years in which he shared a bedroom with Schroeder in a rural northern German town of only 800 inhabitants.

"Life was rough after the war. Our mother had to raise five children by herself. Both of our fathers were dead," Vosseler told NBC News.

In the book, Vosseler, who shares the same mother with Schroeder, describes his older brother as a self-confident, charming young man, who "secured the biggest hamburgers for himself at the dinner table."

"We were good buddies and because I was three years younger, I always looked up to him," Vosseler said.

"We used to steal trees in the forest at Christmas time, and mother always wondered where we got the wonderful fir trees from. We never told her the truth," Vosseler wrote in his book.

With his account of their childhood and episodes such as Schroeder’s steering his car into the neighbor’s fence after a few too many beers, Vosseler's book hardly reveals any scandals.

But, while Vosseler believes that it is time for a few anecdotes from the childhood of Germany's political leader, he also admited that he is hoping to earn some money with his book.

Victim of publicity
Vosseler had been unemployed for years and just recently found a job in a large bakery, marketing bread products.

"The toughest time in my life was after 1998. I was unemployed for the first time, my brother was elected as chancellor and a leading German newspaper found out that we are half-brothers," said Vosseler.

Every time Vosseler applied for a job he was turned down because of his family ties, companies fearing that a media frenzy could evolve around the famous employee.

"I had hoped for some support and advice from Gerhard during those times, but he never called," Vosseler explained.

The last time the two brothers met was one year ago, on their mother's birthday, according to Vosseler, who would like to be in more regular contact with his famous sibling.

Vosseler did not officially inform Schroeder about his book project. But, despite the provocative sounding title of his book, Vosseler says he still has a lot of affection and admiration for his brother.

"I wish Gerhard would at least call once in a while," Vosseler said. "I am still very proud of him and so is our family," he added.

Andy Eckardt is an NBC News producer based in Mainz, Germany.

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