So I’m waiting for a doctor’s appointment this morning paging through Spiegel and see this article (G) about chimney sweeps in Germany. Germany still has Schornsteinfeger, those quaint figures in black tophats (good-luck symbols!) who make sure your coal-burning stoves and tile-ovens are in order and clean your chimneys of all the dust, dead pigeons, urchin residue, and unexploded bombs.
But wait, nobody has basement boilers or coal-burning stoves anymore; and the number of apartments with actual working chimneys is pretty tiny. So the chimney sweep must be a thing of the past, right? Wrong! There are most definitely still chimney sweeps in Germany. They not only offer their services to you, they force their services upon you. When they come by to inspect your building, you must let them in (they can even call the police and force entry), and you must pay them a fee determined by the local board.
The article profiles Joachim Datko, a 55-year-old engineer from Regensburg who tried to reject the chimney-sweeper’s services, pointing out that he had installed an ultra-modern gas heating system that didn’t produce a single particle of dust or smoke. He lost, and the chimney sweeper was permitted to barge his way into Datko’s house to conduct pointless measurements.
Who gave them these secure, life-long jobs? The Nazis, of course. In a job-creation boondoogle that’s more reminiscent of 1435 than 1935, they they divided all of Germany up into small "sweep districts," and created a tiny chimney-sweep monopoly in each one. Chimney-sweeps in training have to wait 12 years to be assigned a district. When they get one, they have to live there and volunteer for the fire department. In return, though, they have a monopoly on inspecting and cleaning chimneys and heating devices in that district. In their defense, they point out that they’re much more than chimney sweeps and are, like, totally modern now, and know how to check your home for all sorts of harmful vapors and gases. But however useful their services may be, they still have a monopoly.
Who will save us? The EU, of course. Monopolies violate EU guidelines, so Brussels is soon going to force the chimney sweepers to compete for their services. Yes, that’s right — Brussels will be intervening to reduce bureaucracy. The battle-lines are drawn. On the one side, chimney-sweeps, with their official website glorifying themselves as "experts on security, energy, and the environment" The website’s mascot is the charming young thing picture above, who can sweep my chimney anytime. [was that really necessary? — ed.]. In the other corner, Joachim Datko — yes, that Datko — who’s got his own anti-chinmey-sweep website (G)!
I don’t know where I stand on this issue. On the one hand, it does seem awfully old-fashioned to preserve a monopoly, especially a Nazi monopoly (Nazopoly?). On the other hand, they wear tophats!