PETER FROST has been to Trier in Germany to discover a little known side of the world’s greatest thinker. His vineyard.

Perhaps the saddest fact about politics in Britain today is that more people voted in the BBC’s Strictly Come Dancing than in the General Election. On consideration though, in a straight fight between Cameron and his foxtrot partner Clegg and some B-list personality drummer and a fit girl in half a glittery costume my vote would have to go to the sequins.

Not all these phone poll programmes are quite as disappointing.  When Radio Four looked for a programme with the same prize winning formula a year or so ago someone pointed out that perhaps ballroom dancing wouldn’t make good radio.

Instead Radio Four invented Strictly Come Philosophising. Actually it was a phone ballot for The World’s Greatest Philosopher. Despite a lot of erudite waffle and reactionary canvassing for some other supposedly great thinkers I wasn’t at all surprised that Karl Marx won the contest by a mile.

It isn’t hard to understand why. In today’s world in deep recession with Capitalism in its death throes and modern economic theories going down the drain more and more people are turning back to Marx for the answers.

Marx’s famous statement “Philosophers have tried to interpret the world – the point however is to change it” has never been more true.

All over the world few worthwhile campaigns need much more of a slogan than “Workers of all lands unite. You have nothing to lose but your chains” ask the Greeks or the Spaniards.

In Trier – Germany’s oldest town and most beautiful Roman settlement – this summer, I discovered another far less well known Karl Marx quote and the interesting story behind it.

“Never trust anyone who doesn’t drink wine” said Karl, and he said it in the town of his birth Trier, capital of the Mosel wine region.

They are very proud of their favourite son in Trier. They have a wonderful museum in his honour and his well known image is all over the town. The city has no problem making the claim that their Karl is Germany’s and indeed the world’s number one thinker.

Next year marks the 130th anniversary of Marx’s death and Trier is planning big celebrations and a major exhibition. There is even a campaign to rename Trier University after the Great Man. The powerful Catholic Church in the city is fighting the proposal. Opium anybody?

The Trier Marx Museum is in the house where Karl was born in 1818. It wasn’t until more than a century later that the Social Democratic Party of Germany decided it was an important part of German, and indeed world history. They bought it in 1928, out bidding the German Communist Party.

As you would expect the Nazis confiscated the house and tried to expurgate all trace of Marx – his spectre was still haunting their Europe. They printed a Nazi newspaper here. Today the house is a place of pilgrimage for Marxists and communists from all over the world.

A second Trier house where Marx lived later wasn’t so lucky, today it’s a One Euro Shop. I think that would have caused the old boy a wry smile.

In the little museum shop (Sorry – Even a Marx Museum is going to have a shop.) among the busts, the badges, the posters, the fridge-magnets and the Collected Works I found a wine bottle with Karl’s face and the tantalising title ‘Karl Marx Wine’.

Crass capitalist exploitation? no, actually it is an interesting little quirk of history and a fascinating story. Karl Marx’s bourgeois family owned vineyards in the Mosel valley. Like many well off German families at the time a vineyard was their pension plan.

It was the suffering and exploitation of the wine producers of the Mosel that first interested the young Karl in economics and political thought.

The wine lands of the Mosel were under the control of the Kingdom of Prussia; ceded by the 1815 Congress of Vienna. The young Marx wrote critical newspaper articles on the condition of the wine growers of the Mosel. These so upset the establishment he was exiled to Brussels, Paris, and eventually to London, and the rest, as they say is history.

They still make ‘Karl Marx Wine’ in this corner of the Mosel region from the same vines in the same vineyards that were owned by the Marx family and indeed inherited in turn by the oldest surviving son, Karl himself.

You won’t be the slightest bit surprised to discover that despite the fact that 99 out of every hundred bottles of Mosel wine are white Karl’s vintage is very proudly red! Cheers!

This article first appeared in the Morning Star in May 2012


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