German customs strikes again

October 4, 2012 at 10:27 PM ·

This time the instrument is owned by a Japanese foundation and the paperwork appears to be all in order, but they want $1.5 million anyway.

Replies (29)

October 5, 2012 at 01:49 AM · You know how it is about greedy rich people.

October 5, 2012 at 04:12 AM · They should be charged with extortion.

October 5, 2012 at 04:17 AM · I wonder if they are having conversations with the Hannover officials? There are probably quite a few expensive instruments in town right now.

October 5, 2012 at 04:36 AM · She's even German (well, born in Munich anyway, German father/Japanese mother -- I don't know how their citizenship laws work) and a concertmaster of the Staatskapelle Dresden:

October 5, 2012 at 11:13 AM · You know, what makes me shake my head when reading all these headlines and rants is the primitive simplification. What do "we germans" have to do with it? These are customs affairs! We all have to act according to the laws, everywhere, and you all can be sure these cases are handled in perfect order.

But what I see here is crummy germans bashing.

Btw, this is a moderated and civilized forum. Is it really ok that members from a certain nation are offended, Laurie?

October 5, 2012 at 12:50 PM · Tobias, on this thread at least I don't see any German-bashing, just the fact that it is German officials doing the handling of what may be a questionable case. Could be anybody and the response would be the same, I think--the sentiment is more toward the customs officials than towards the Germans as a people.

October 5, 2012 at 01:48 PM · Aren't government officials elected by the people in Germany?

October 5, 2012 at 04:28 PM · C'mon Marty, that's too simplistic. That's like saying that every American is responsible for the war in Iraq. I only get one vote. But I have to agree with Kathryn that there wasn't a lot of German bashing prior to Tobias's post.

October 5, 2012 at 04:50 PM · " Aren't government officials elected by the people in Germany?"

Funny idea. No, germany is not that exotic. We have a parliamentary democracy. And customs officials aren't elected by the people, either.

And german bashing is going on. See the comments and headlines on Norman Lebrecht's forum

where he even talks about racism (!), or maestronet, for example.

You see, I am not responsible for Merkel. Merkel is not responsible for Frankfurt customs. Frankfurt customs are not responsible for people ignoring customs regulations.

If some customs employees are doing something wrong, this will be fixed. Like someone said, blockheads are everywhere.

Let's check the facts before judging.

October 5, 2012 at 05:01 PM · It's just that the previous case of customs seizing a valuable violin & demanding a huge payment for its release also happened in Germany. If they had both happened in some other country, everyone would be happily bashing that country's customs officials.

Probably it is just a question of having your papers in order to a degree that most of us have not had to imagine before. For example, I had never heard of a "carnet" before the previous case. (I don't have an instrument worth a huge amount of money, and I will probably never be able to afford a trip to Europe in any case; so I have not placed any importance on knowing about the laws regarding transporting instruments across borders.)

I wonder if Perlman, Midori, Shaham, Chang etc. have ever had their violins confiscated by customs, in Germany or any other country.

*EDIT* Tobias's post went up while I was writing mine. I see -- he's not referring to German-bashing on in particular.

October 5, 2012 at 05:17 PM · "*EDIT* Tobias's post went up while I was writing mine. I see -- he's not referring to German-bashing on in particular."

Yes, Bruce. is a mighty fine place to be, compared to other forums, and I hope it will remain that way.

October 5, 2012 at 07:54 PM · This is not regular it happen twice in that short time on the same Airport with the same incoming flight with high value violins. I heard never about the trouble with 1k fiddles. We should roll up this storys from a other point.

We have some Rumors this has a connection with it.

@Bruce Bodden

"I wonder if Perlman, Midori, Shaham, Chang etc. have ever had their violins confiscated by customs, in Germany or any other country."

Yes it was happen with Elmar Oliveira at JFK with his "Lady-Stretton" del Gesu so far i know.

October 5, 2012 at 11:45 PM · My opinion on it is this:

Until these issues with the Frankfurt airport and its improper handling of these delicate instruments and their care takers are resolved, all musicians should avoid flying into Germany because it is simply to high risk.

Many times, the only thing these bureaucrats understand is the damaging of their income and/or reputation. When they see that people are purposely avoiding visiting or traveling through their airports, then something will be done. This should go for all areas that behave in such an awful manner and treat people who are gifted with owning or being the caretaker for these instruments with such disrespect, even after the proper paperwork is shown.

Also, they need to be receiving letters by the thousands "encouraging" them to resolve it appropriately and with respect to the talented musicians they have negatively affected by their behavior. I suggest we all write something to that effect and send it to their public relations will be a nightmare for them.

October 6, 2012 at 02:21 AM · "The instrument was taken away even after Janke showed her loan contract with the foundation, proof of insurance on the instrument, the violin's photograph, and proof that the foundation had legally imported the instrument to Japan."

October 6, 2012 at 02:29 AM · This seems to be the latest:

Dear friends,

So happy to report you that Yuzuko-san was notified through her lawyers from the Frankfurt Airport Custom to release the violin without any payment .

Yuzuko-san is sending her extremely happy message to you, saying things worked out “just like we asked for in your petition!! Thank you to everyone who supported the petition. My husband will be picking up the violin from Frankfurt next week and I hope to put even more effort into my work moving forward.” We hope from now on Yuzuko-san will concentrate on playing her excellent violin music for our happiness and to console us in the future.

To celebrate the resolution, I am listening to Beethoven’s ninth symphony ("All the people become brothers/sisters!!").

Thank you again for your heartfelt participation in the campaign.

Sincerely yours,

Takeshi KADOTA

October 6, 2012 at 03:38 AM · Perhaps the NMF should recall all of their instruments on loan in Europe, just to be safe? Just until German customs provides "sufficient information" of course.

Naturally I think that would be a little bit excessive; however, I do feel that this is a major problem if it is true that the performer presented all the paperwork listed in the article.

October 6, 2012 at 06:37 AM · I have to say Lyndon is right.

Every traveling musicians should seek before departure to the right documentation. The customs offices of all countries (here in Germany too) give kindly the information and provide these documents also. ONLY THIS HAVE VALIDITY! All customs offices have their websites which supplied this information, and also keep the documents for download.

But I must also admit that "event" happen twice is very unusual and has a different background as I mentioned allready above.

October 6, 2012 at 06:59 AM · Thobias,

"You see, I am not responsible for Merkel." Very true!

"Merkel is not responsible for Frankfurt customs." True again!

"Frankfurt customs are not responsible for people ignoring customs regulations." Not so sure! Customs officials have enormous power, (more than the "normal" police) and are not averse to making up their own rules as they go along

October 6, 2012 at 08:29 AM · Adrian is correct. Customs officials in most countries have enormous power and also the power of discretion which can be used as they see fit.

October 7, 2012 at 05:15 AM · Tobias you seem awfully sensitive on this. I didn't see anyone in this entire thread "bashing" Germans or the German people. Good grief, just be glad you weren't born American, we somehow manage to get blamed for things that happened even before 1492.

October 7, 2012 at 07:29 AM · Benedict, please read the thread. I was indicating examples. The compliments range from "robbers" to "nazis" to "racists". Not here on, like I said.

October 7, 2012 at 08:26 AM · I know that a few less nice words on another forums as well on FB were spoken over Germany. But at least let's leave the political banter away from here. It would be more useful to introduce the correct and factual information to assist in the future traveling musicians to keep them out of such troubles.

October 7, 2012 at 10:51 AM · this nonsense that innocent people have to put up with. to resolve this, only one document should be issued to the bearer/owner of important/expensive instruments as suggested by the foundation in the cited article, a passport. that would be a solution. why must innocent people put up with this phobia on the part of the officials? it seems that the problem is not the implementation of law but rather an unstudied murky law.

Maybe with the passport would come a universal application of instrument carry-on-board policy...say, you pay a certain not-too-large a fee to have it on-board. i would rather live with that than with the whimsy of individuals.

October 7, 2012 at 11:16 AM · I agree with Tammuz. It shouldn't have to be so complicated. In the USA at least, carry-on regulations have finally become more simplified and unified - although I'm not sure if they've gone into effect yet. Maybe this can spill over to this issue. The former didn't come about w.o. a lot of work, and neither will this. And while a certain amount of leeway needs to be up to individual customs agents to use their judgement, there ought to be more "innocent until proven guilty".

In the current Strad magazine there is an article on this exact subject (p.23) Among other things they say "Customs officials are looking to expose tax avoidance on goods imported for commercial purposes. Examples of musicians having their instruments seized make headlines because they're so rare. Thousands of hugely valuable instruments are carried across national borders every day without any problem."

Maybe that's true, but we have enough to worry about re capricious carry-on regulations without having to wonder if the other shoe will fall from another Russian roulette game. (OK, mixed metaphor. Very little sleep last night.)

I'm not bashing any country. Someone pointed out that this sort of thing happened to Elmar Oliveira at New York's JFK airport. Last year, coming back to JFK myself from Cremona with my new Vittorio Villa, the customs agent didn't even ask me to open the case. In fact he asked me if I had a good time! But again, I nervously worried about the Sword of Damocles dropping - as long as I'm mixing my metaphors!

October 7, 2012 at 12:31 PM · Look here!

This paper is the ONLY ONE to fill out before depature with valuable items as a european citizen, and you have no problems! Other countrys offer this as well, just a bid different. This can be done by an inland custom-office, and also on every international Airport.

This form is kept valid as long as you are the owner of the item.

In other areas, such as photographers, traveling craftsmen and medical practitioners is this a matter of course and well known. I wonder why some traveling musicians want to see an exemption. The international custom- and tax regulations make no difference between people and objects. Also a high social prestige of individuals and items give nobody the right of a special treatment. A person is a person, and a violin has a custom HTS-code of 92021010 doesn`t care what the label reads as long it is a utensil of using and not ONLY for a museum. Custom and duty regulations are sometimes hard to understand, but we all have to accept and handle with it as it is.

October 8, 2012 at 05:02 PM · Now it turns to a political scandal inside Germany.


An article in the German Bildzeitung, also copied and/or paraphrased in other german papers

My translation of this article;



By Max Schneider

Frankfurt – The confiscated Million-violins from Frankfurt Airport are turning into a political scandal. The customs strife has escalated, since several customs officers have sued there top boss, German finance minister Wolfgang Schäuble

Case 1: Customs officers confiscated a “Guarneri” (worth 1million) at imigration from violinist Yuzuko Horigome (55)

Case 2: At the begining of October, officers confiscated a stradivari (6 Million) from star violinist Yuki Manuela Janke(26)

In both cases import papers were missing and both ladies were investigated for attempted tax evasion. At this point, politics got involved. The federal finance ministy gave a direction to release the confiscated instruments.

In the direction (which the Bildzeitung has), it says:

“in the assesment....of the behaviour of Frau Horigome.... the same treatment should not be used as for other travelers from any third country who buys wares”

From Berlin, we hear that the Japanese government lodged massive complaints, and that there was “international displeasure”.

That annoyed customs and finance officials throughout the republic. They say “It is outrageous, that simple tourists have to submit to strick regulation, while others, who travel with goods worth millions can walk around unhindered”. Furious civil servants sued Finance minister Schäuble with the public prossecutor in Berlin, for obstuction of the prossecution of an offence.

In the writ it says; Tax of 1,5 million Euros was not collected, although no legal reason for this behavior existed. The offence of tax evasion was apparent in both cases.

October 9, 2012 at 05:18 AM · I don't understand how there is any apparent tax evasion in the latter case as the instrument was not imported into Germany. It is not a commercial good, it is not being brought in for another, and it is not going to remain in the country.

March 16, 2013 at 06:10 PM · Do I dare to travel with my cheap factory instrument from 2007 tomorrow to Munich? Or do I need some papers not to get it confiscated?

March 18, 2013 at 02:22 PM · So 3 publicized instances of German Customs confiscating an expensive violin, with all 3 of them related to being owned by someone of Japanese descent, or a Japanese organization. Are Japanese the only people that are transporting expensive violins thru Germany without the mandated paperwork?

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