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A really, really bizarre story here.  Der Spiegel has an investigative story of McDonalds not only employing former Stasi informers, but of also using them for Stasi intimidation practices.

The story, for the article, begins with a McDonalds franchise owner Ulrich Enzinger in the area of Munich.  Enzinger goes to visit one of his restaurants that he owns and something pretty creepy happens

The restaurant is busy on this Monday morning, as Enzinger parks his car in one of the few empty spaces, locks the door and walks toward the entrance. Suddenly a dark sedan pulls up next to him, the passenger window opens and a voice says: "You are barred from the premises. Please leave."

Stasi: Ministerium für Staatssicherheit; Staatssicherheit, literally State Security.  The State Security Apparatus for the German Democratic Republic, GDR (Deutsche Demokratische Republik, DDR)

McDonald's Corporation: (NYSE: MCD) is one of the world's largest chain of hamburger fast food restaurants, serving nearly 47 million customers daily.

It seems McDonalds doesn't like how some of their franchises are run in Germany.  Since the number of restaurants are growing at a greater rate per capita than even in the United States, they are now focused not on growth but on corporate efficiency.  Therefore it seems that the McDonalds Corporation is trying to force people out of their 20 year contracts.

This may be a usual way of conducting business.  What is unusual are the people they are hiring and the methods they are employing.

The list of accusations is long and includes manipulation during restaurant inspections, harassment and targeted spying. The company even hired detectives to spy on a Frankfurt franchisee it didn't like, and one case is even under investigation by the public prosecutor's office in Munich.

McDonalds' new weapon: Stasi informers and thugs

Meet Bernd R., corporate hack and spy for McDonalds Germany (due to privacy laws, last names of suspects cannot be used in the press before a conviction in court).

R. had some unusual experiences under his belt. As a cook in the National People's Army of communist East Germany in 1980, he spied on fellow soldiers who had been stealing preserved fruit from the regiment inventories. Officials at the Ministry for State Security (Stasi), East Germany's secret police, were so impressed by the soldier that they recruited him as an informer. His code word for establishing contact with the Stasi was "Gulaschkanone," German for field kitchen). "Intellectually speaking," his managing officer commented, R. was qualified to "complete operational tasks."

"Roland," as he was also known, then started his career -- first as an employee in the central council of the Free German Youth (FDJ), East Germany's official youth organization, and later as a restaurant manager for one of the main organs of the East German regime. He had plenty to report during the latter assignment. "The candidate said, without hesitation, that he intended to continue supporting the MfS (Ministry of State Security)," one Stasi report stated. From then on, "Roland" reported internal information from the waiters working in the government restaurant. He met with his managing officer for the last time on Nov. 23, 1989, two weeks after the opening of the Berlin Wall.

"Roland" found new masters: the corporate capitalists at McDonalds Corporation.  Like corporations in the US (Blackwater/Xe) hiring former special operations personnel and ever increasingly former CIA personnel (not only as military mercenaries but also for corporate espionage, see CIA moonlights in corporate world) It seems McDonalds is also getting in on the US business game of hiring ex-spooks and operators to enforce corporate policy.

McDonald's had also been made aware of R.'s past as an informer after it received an anonymous letter. According to a McDonald's spokesman, the company then gained access to the official files, with R.'s permission, and had attorneys review them. They apparently concluded that his Stasi past didn't pose a problem.

It appears that R. attended to associates who had fallen out of favor at company headquarters in Germany. One of them was Ulrich Enzinger, who was operating five restaurants at the time. Business was booming, and he was sending millions in franchise fees to the Munich offices every year. Nevertheless, he was apparently a thorn in the side of the McDonald's family of restaurants.

The methods R. uses are text-book cloak and dagger stuff.  The stuff that made John Le Carre's books real and, for the reader, fun.  R. decides to infiltrate and gather intelligence on Enzinger through his long-time and self-professed most trusted manager: oh, and a woman, of course - no spy plot would be complete without the romantic element.

R. apparently paid personal attention to one of Enzinger's restaurant managers. The former Stasi informer used a McDonald's cruise in the western Mediterranean to get to know the woman. The company had booked a cruise with AIDA, a German cruise line, to reward deserving restaurant and district managers for their performance. For R., it was apparently a good opportunity to develop a closer relationship with Enzinger's restaurant manager.

R. apparently met with the woman several times after the cruise. Enzinger suspected nothing at first and continued to rely heavily on the woman, who was his most important employee. "I trusted her implicitly," he says today. "We had no secrets when it came to business matters."

Oct. 27, 2006, Enzinger is called to corporate HQ and has a meeting.  Lo and Behold, there is R. with a whole bunch of dirt (trumped up from manipulated inspections and "other sources").  He is now going to lose his business: i.e. forced to sell them.

The man sitting on the other side of the desk was R., who, as Enzinger recalls, wasted no time in getting to the point. The results of the inspections, R. said, were clear enough, and they constituted violations of the franchise agreement...

...Enzinger was perplexed. He had in fact referred to R. as management's watchdog, but it was in a private conversation with the female restaurant manager. "These are Stasi methods, I thought to myself at the time,"

Not just Enzinger, but also entrepreneur  Matthias Koerber

Andrea Kappel, who worked as a manager in the Bad Kissingen restaurant, had apparently been approached on Dec. 16, 2008 to help provide McDonald's information it needed to get rid of her boss. A field consultant from R.'s team had invited Kappel to a meeting in a café, supposedly to discuss her career opportunities at McDonald's. According to Kappel, however, the inspector was only interested in discussing invoices, work schedules and Koerber's legal troubles. "They wanted me to spy on my boss," she says. But she refused, grabbed her purse and abruptly left the café.

Koerber was not to take it lying down, he in turn video-taped inspections.  But Kappel was also feeling the heat developed in Cold War spy doctrine.

On Jan. 15, 2009, the field consultant and a coworker spent an entire day in the Bad Kissingen restaurant. During the course of the day, the inspectors objected to one employee's tattoos and another worker's shoes, and complained that one worker was too well dressed while another looked too unkempt. As they were leaving, they told Kappel, the restaurant manager, that she ought to be demoted to shift manager, because she was "apparently not up to the requirements."

McDonalds took Koeber to court, trying to instigate injunctions against whatever evidence he may have taped in his defense by exploiting German privacy law.

McDonald's responded by seeking a court order to prohibit him from videotaping, because it was allegedly an "infringement of personal rights." Koerber's contract with McDonald's has since been terminated without notice.

As for the Stasi Informer Bernd R.?  Well, it looks like he is making out pretty well in the corporation

While Koerber continues to fight for his restaurants, Bernd R., the manager of the McDonald's southern German market, no longer works in inspections. He now operates three thriving restaurants in Bavaria that the company had offered to him.

There are a few companies that are the quintessential face of America and americana.  Among those are Walt Disney, Coca Cola, Pepsi, and ... McDonalds.  Meteor Blades' recent diary on Kissinger and the latest piece of evidence of his involvement in Operation Condor is relevant.  Because it is thought that the CEO of Pepsi Cola called his old corporate attorney Richard Milhous Nixon, concerned about copper in South America.  A month later was American support for Operation Condor.

This is only one of the companies that is the face of America.

Most of us can add Walt Disney to the list of evil corporations and well as WalMart.  But I am not sure if WalMart has achieved American icon status yet.

I think we can all agree that McDonalds does promote the face of American culture, whether you hate it or not.

Now, that face of American culture and capitalism is hiring former totalitarian communist Stasi thugs to force out entrepreneurs that they don't like.  This is what the rest of the world sees as an image of America.  I would think it would give US citizens a cause for alarm.  No it is not as big an event like an aggressive US war in the middle east, but it is the slow trickle of what is "American" and what is the face of the US to the world that solidifies a deeper impression of the US.  That impression is not very good.

It gives a whole new perception of loading up the car with the kids to go get Happy Meals

"We're all living in America: Coca Cola ... sometimes war!"

Originally posted to Jeffersonian Democrat on Tue Apr 13, 2010 at 06:24 AM PDT.

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