Controversial couple cause double trouble

25th March 2011 at 00:00
Germany Teacher keeps talk shows busy as her 'authoritarian' style married with her husband's provocative politics spark outrage

In recent weeks the name Thilo Sarrazin has seldom been out of the news in Germany. The erstwhile politician and banker is a publishing sensation whose controversial book Germany is Abolishing Itself has notched up sales of around 1.3 million copies and topped the bestseller lists for months.

The author's provocative claim that European society is being eroded by Muslim culture, making second-class citizens of Germans in their own country, has led to heated public debates. Talk shows have also been busy since Mr Sarrazin took the literary scene by storm late last year.

Now, however, his wife Ursula has hit the headlines in her own right. A teacher in a Berlin primary school with nearly 40 years of classroom experience, Mrs Sarrazin has been at the centre of a huge row in recent months as irate parents accused her of being too authoritarian and undermining pupils' self-confidence.

Yet while some parents criticise her for being too strict, others contend that she hits the right note with youngsters and that she is "the only teacher where the children really learn something".

In her own defence, Mrs Sarrazin has said rules and regulations are a necessary part of daily classroom life, so that children can concentrate on learning, and she denies being too heavy-handed.

Mrs Sarrazin also claims she is being targeted by hostile sections of society who are angry about her husband's book. However, the schoolteacher is understood to have been forced out of another job in a Montessori school nine years ago, long before her husband shot to fame; again, this was allegedly due to her rigid teaching methods.

British education secretary Michael Gove has outlined his plans to protect the anonymity of teachers accused of wrong-doing unless criminal charges are brought.

But Mrs Sarrazin has shown no such desire to keep out of the spotlight. The teacher spoke out in a recent talk show, saying no parent had ever approached her directly. She claimed the headmaster and local PTA chairman had mounted a smear campaign against her without giving her a chance to put forward her version of events.

The couple's critics say that Berlin's education authorities, and in particular the city's school minister Juergen Zoellner, have been reluctant to interfere because of party politics.

Mr Sarrazin was a state secretary under Mr Zoellner when the latter was state premier of the Rhineland-Palatinate in the 1990s and the two men worked alongside each other for many years in Berlin as finance and school ministers, respectively.

Now, in a situation that echoes that of her husband, Mrs Sarrazin has found her own solution to the problem by announcing she will take early retirement. Mr Sarrazin was forced to step down as a board member of the German Central Bank following the furore caused by his book.

And the primary school teacher seems to be keen to follow in her husband's footsteps in other ways, too. "I've been keeping a diary for many years," Mrs Sarrazin announced, "and I now have enough material for a very substantial book."

Log-in as an existing print or digital subscriber

Forgotten your subscriber ID?


To access this content and the full TES archive, subscribe now.

View subscriber offers


Get TES online and delivered to your door – for less than the price of a coffee

Save 33% off the cover price with this great subscription offer. Every copy delivered to your door by first-class post, plus full access to TES online and the TES app for just £1.90 per week.
Subscribers also enjoy a range of fantastic offers and benefits worth over £270:

  • Discounts off TES Institute courses
  • Access over 200,000 articles in the TES online archive
  • Free Tastecard membership worth £79.99
  • Discounts with Zipcar,, Virgin Wines and other partners
Order your low-cost subscription today