1998

The non-conformism that had caused me so much trouble in the political arena became a sound basis for getting rich through real estate. This is exactly the title of a book I published in 1999 (“Reich werden mit Immobilien”). Having bought my first piece of property and having studied the subject of property taxes long and hard, I began to write articles about either in DIE WELT. As time went on, I became increasingly intrigued by the subject of real estate. At the time, however, DIE WELT paid scant attention to real estate. Once a week, this daily carried half a page of real estate news, and this only to supplement the property ads in the back. Those were the days of the stock market frenzy in Germany. Day after day, the press kept reiterating that equities alone would satisfy you as an investment. DIE WELT was no exception, covering the stock market on many pages each day, while granting real estate half a page, and this only once a week. As so often, it was time for me to take exception to the dominant opinion. So I went to Dr. Matthias Döpfner, at the time the Editor in Chief (and now the CEO of Axel-Springer AG), and said: “We cover equities on five pages every day, and real estate only on half a page once a week. This is out of proportion.” “What would you suggest?” asked Döpfner. “Why don’t we run a whole page on real estate every day? The number of people owning real estate is much higher in Germany than the number of those owning stocks.” While warming to the idea, Döpfner cautioned: “Are you sure we have enough news to fill an entire page every day?” There was no doubt in my mind: “I could fill three pages every day if you assign enough staff to my desk.” Döpfner shot back: “Well, certainly not three pages. But if you demonstrate for two weeks that we can do one page, we will give it a go.” And so the daily real state page in DIE WELT was born, with me in charge as head of the real estate desk. Even after I had left the paper, DIE WELT continued the page for another ten years and more. Apparently, it had not been such a bad idea. It made DIE WELT the first and only daily in Europe that accorded the subject of real estate this much significance.

I was now in a position to cover real estate issues every day in DIE WELT. My excellent contacts to the Federal Ministry of Finance date back to that time. Back then, the Ministry of Finance was preparing an amendment to the German Income Tax Act to include new sections that would put an end to tax saving schemes. Article 2b and Article 2 Section 3, German Income Tax Act, were extremely complex. Even many tax consultants and tax officers were unsure how to apply the articles. Through my informers in the Ministry of Finance, I obtained the first so-called “wording guides” for the draft bill that they were to prepare upon the order of the Federal Finance Minister at the time, Oskar Lafontaine. Not all of the civil servants thought the draft bill a good idea – and as it so happens, it would be declared unconstitutional by the Constitutional Court of Justice many years later. I published the draft bills on the homepage of DIE WELT, which I used much more intensely than other editors at the paper. I believed that print media and online editions should be synchronised in the Internet age: I used the paper to cover the articles, which I summarily stereotyped as “tax trap article” because it did just that, luring taxpayers into a tax trap. The catchy term stuck, and soon the article was only referred to under that name, including in specialist tax literature. The Federal Ministry of Finance was not at all pleased to see confidential draft bills published in the media and reprinted verbatim on the Internet. A mole inside the Ministry slipped us an internal memo that expressly forbade all staff of the Ministry to make information available to the editor Zitelmann of DIE WELT.

During the time when I headed the real estate desk of DIE WELT, I got acquainted with the leading companies in Germany’s real estate industry, with their business models, and the people heading these companies.

Copyright 2018

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