The Night They Served E. Coli For Dinner

In May, 17 people were infected with E. Coli while dining at the Kartoffelkeller restaurant in the the German city of Lübeck. Fresh salad is no longer served there, as owners and diners try to stay calm – and maintain their appetites.

Lübeck, Germany (Britta Heise)
Lübeck, Germany (Britta Heise)
Ulrich Exner and Miriam Hollstein

LUBECK - Joachim Berger is a postcard-perfect host: sturdy, down-to-earth, a great storyteller, and a man with his heart always in the right place. For 34 years, Berger has been serving hearty German fare – food that is good, rustic and rich – in "Kartoffelkeller," one of the many traditional pubs in the old town of Lübeck.

In his lifelong career as an innkeeper and restaurant owner, never could Berger have imagined this experience. One week ago, several representatives of the German factory inspectorate paid a visit to his restaurant.

When the officials arrived, they informed Berger that 17 members of a 37-strong party that dined in the restaurant on May 13th had been infected with the E-coli bacterium. One of the women who had fallen ill has since died.

The officers took samples of cucumber, lettuce and tomato from the restaurant's kitchen with them when they left. The results of their tests are not yet available – neither are the results of the many tests that Joachim Berger has since commissioned on his own.

All of his employees have submitted stool samples. "We need to be able to rule out the possibility that the bacteria came from within our kitchen," Berger told Die Welt. He has chosen to speak openly about the subject. "We have nothing to hide here," he says.

Salads have not been served in the restaurant since the relevant warnings were issued by the Robert Koch Institute. Instead, patrons can choose from pickled cabbage, beetroot, pickled cucumbers.

"There's not a fresh vegetable in sight, just as in the former East Germany," jokes Berger, who has not lost his sense of humor since the crisis began. Nor has he lost his clients. The business, says an employee, is doing "super."

Could it be bean sprouts?

Throughout Germany, the search for the source of the deadly bacteria is still in full swing. In Lower Saxony this weekend, scientists believed to have found a new lead in the hunt for the origin of the pathogen: the bacteria may have spread on bean sprouts grown in northern Germany. However, German officials said Tuesday it may not have been the bean sprouts after all. The search continues.

On Friday, the Consumer Protection Department established an "E. coli Task Force," in which federal and state representatives are working together with food experts to try to trace the course of the epidemic. Wednesday's crisis summit aims to address the progress of the many crisis groups.

Many hospitals have been pushed to their limits as they respond to the recent surge in patients being treated for E. coli, said Health Minister Daniel Bahr. "Over the weekend, Bahr visited the University Hospital Hamburg-Eppendorf, in order to get a better idea of the current situation. He called on citizens to take special care in the coming weeks. "We cannot exclude the possibility that the infection source is still active," he said.

The majority of Germans are still calm in response to the epidemic. Thus far, the Consumer Protection Department's hotline has still heard far more from concerned citizens regarding the disaster in Fukushima. Even during a recent dioxin scandal in Germany, the Ministry registered more calls. Experts say this could be because the authorities have issued more information regarding the E-coli infection than they have about other crises in the past.

Read the original article in German.

Photo - Photo © year Britta Heise

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Iran-Saudi Arabia Rivalry May Be Set To Ease, Or Get Much Worse

The Saudis may be awaiting the outcome of Iran's nuclear talks with the West, to see whether Tehran will moderate its regional policies, or lash out like never before.

Military parade in Tehran, Iran, on Oct. 3


LONDON — The Iranian Foreign Ministry spokesman Saeed Khatibzadeh said earlier this month that Iranian and Saudi negotiators had so far had four rounds of "continuous" talks, though both sides had agreed to keep them private. The talks are to ease fraught relations between Iran's radical Shia regime and the Saudi kingdom, a key Western ally in the Middle East.

Iran's Foreign Minister Hossein Amirabdollahian has said that the talks were going in the right direction, while an Iranian trade official was recently hopeful these might even allow trade opportunities for Iranian businessmen in Saudi Arabia. As the broadcaster France 24 observed separately, it will take more than positive signals to heal a five-year-rift and decades of mutual suspicions.

Agence France-Presse news agency, meanwhile, has cited an unnamed French diplomat as saying that Saudi Arabia wants to end its costly discord with Tehran. The sides may already have agreed to reopen consular offices. For Saudi Arabia, the costs include its war on Iran-backed Houthis rebels fighting an UN-recognized government in next-door Yemen.

The role of the nuclear pact

Bilateral relations were severed in January 2016, after regime militiamen stormed the Saudi embassy in Tehran. Amirabdollahian was then the deputy foreign minister for Arab affairs. In 2019, he told the website Iranian Diplomacy that Saudi Arabia had taken measures vis-a-vis Iran's nuclear pact with the world powers.

It's unlikely Ali Khamenei will tolerate the Saudi kingdom's rising power in the region.

He said "the Saudis' insane conduct toward [the pact] led them to conclude that they must prevent [its implementation] in a peaceful environment ... I think the Saudis are quite deluded, and their delusion consists in thinking that Trump is an opportunity for them to place themselves on the path of conflict with the Islamic Republic while relying on Trump." He meant the administration led by the U.S. President Donald J.Trump, which was hostile to Iran's regime. This, he said, "is not how we view Saudi Arabia. I think Yemen should have been a big lesson for the Saudis."

The minister was effectively admitting the Houthis were the Islamic Republic's tool for getting back at Saudi Arabia.

Yet in the past two years, both sides have taken steps to improve relations, without firm results as yet. Nor is the situation likely to change this time.

Photo of Iranian Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei in 2020

Iranian Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei in 2020


Riyadh's warming relations with Israel

Iran's former ambassador in Lebanon, Ahmad Dastmalchian, told the ILNA news agency in Tehran that Saudi Arabia is doing Israel's bidding in the region, and has "entrusted its national security, and life and death to Tel Aviv." Riyadh, he said, had been financing a good many "security and political projects in the region," or acting as a "logistical supplier."

The United States, said Dastmalchian, has "in turn tried to provide intelligence and security backing, while Israel has simply followed its own interests in all this."

Furthermore, it seems unlikely Iran's Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei will tolerate, even in this weak period of his leadership, the kingdom's rising power in the region and beyond, and especially its financial clout. He is usually disparaging when he speaks of Riyadh's princely rulers. In 2017, he compared them to "dairy cows," saying, "the idiots think that by giving money and aid, they can attract the goodwill of Islam's enemies."

Iranian regime officials are hopeful of moving toward better diplomatic ties and a reopening of embassies. Yet the balance of power between the sides began to change in Riyadh's favor years ago. For the kingdom's power has shifted from relying mostly on arms, to economic and political clout. The countries might have had peaceful relations before in considerably quieter, and more equitable, conditions than today's acute clash of interests.

If nuclear talks break down, Iran's regime may become more aggressive.

Beyond this, the Abraham Accord or reconciliation of Arab states and Israel has been possible thanks to the green light that the Saudis gave their regional partners, and it is a considerable political and ideological defeat for the Islamic Republic.

Assuming all Houthis follow Tehran's instructions — and they may not — improved ties may curb attacks on Saudi interests and aid its economy. Tehran will also benefit from no longer having to support them. Unlike Iran's regime, the Saudis are not pressed for cash or resources and could even offer the Houthis a better deal. Presently, they may consider it more convenient to keep the softer approach toward Tehran.

For if nuclear talks with the West break down, Iran's regime may become more aggressive, and as experience has shown, tensions often prompt a renewal of missile or drone attacks on the Saudis, on tankers and on foreign shipping. Riyadh must have a way of keeping the Tehran regime quiet, in a distinctly unquiet time.

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