Germany’s Social Democratic party has backed down after becoming locked in a blame game with a florist and a printer over who was responsible for misspelling “fascism” on a war memorial wreath so that it resembled the word “fuckup”.
The error was only spotted once the wreath had been laid on Memorial Sunday, 17 November, when Germany traditionally commemorates the victims of war and fascism.
Instead of the word “Faschismus” (fascism) the word “Verschissmuss” had been used.
Although the word doesn’t exist, it closely resembles the word “verschissen” – a vulgar term for seriously messing up, close to “fucking up” in English.
The SPD initially said it suspected an act of sabotage, either by the florist who took the order or by the printer who printed the slogan on a red ribbon in gold letters, and started legal action to find the culprit.
The fact that the “mus” ends in double S, or “SS”, the acronym of the Schutzstaffel, the paramilitary unit under the command of Nazi leader Adolf Hitler, deepened the party’s suspicions that someone with either far-right or far-left sympathies was involved.
But the party later backed down in a Facebook post headed: “Mistakes happen and are only human.”
“It has now emerged that the error on the ribbon of our wreath was not a sabotage attempt but down to human error,” the local party wrote. “There was an unfortunate chain of unlucky events where, despite several people handling it, nobody noticed the mistake …
“We deeply regret that the employee ... has handed in her notice ... we encourage her to go back to her job ... and would love to invite her for coffee and a chat.”
Jacobs, the florists in the Ruhr valley town of Mühlheim-Dümpten, which took the wreath order, called it an unfortunate transcribing error. Heinz Hartmann, the manager, said his colleague had received the order by telephone from the local SPD office, “as they have done for years”. She then sent her handwritten note to the printers via fax.
Heinz-Jürgen Jahnke, who specialises in ribbon printing, told the newspaper Bild: “We received the order by fax on 12 November. Everything was clearly written and perfectly legible. I print whatever the customer wants,” he said. As to why he didn’t notice the odd spelling and alert the customer, he said: “We sometimes print Arabic, Italian and Polish texts. How can I check if they are correct?” The only reason for calling back a customer, he said, would be “if something is illegible”.
Neither, apparently, did the florist notice anything when she picked up the wreath and delivered it, as requested by the SPD, to the memorial site. SPD members only noticed the highly embarrassing faux pas once the ceremony was under way.
Hartmann said his florist had been so distressed about the error, news of which spread quickly on social media across the German-speaking world, that she had resigned. He was trying to persuade her to return, he said.
Both Hartmann and Jahnke – who said he will take legal action to protect his reputation – have denied having any extreme political allegiances.
Jahnke said he thinks the SPD should take more responsibility for what went wrong. “They should have simply faxed the text through to the poor florist, and then this wouldn’t have got so out of hand,” he told Bild.
When the error was spotted, SPD member André Kasberger quickly stepped forward with a pair of nail scissors and cut off the offending word. The wreath ribbon was later replaced.
Next year, the SPD said, it would be ordering and picking up its wreath in person.