Rich people shop at Walmart

Self-help group for rich women : A visit to the club of inconspicuous heiresses

Few people know that Sophie Haupt is a millionaire. She worked in a down-to-earth profession for decades and is now retired, with most of her friends having little money. When her father, a man “with a knack for the stock market” and a great need for security, died in the early 1990s, she and her brother inherited stocks, real estate and cash. Her brother had no problem with it. She already.

The early 70-year-old sits in the dining room of her old Berlin apartment, where she has lived for almost 40 years. The grandchildren's toys are lying around in the room next door, no designer furniture, no trace of luxury, except for the large apartment itself.

Popular ideas about wealth are shaped by Hollywood, the gossip press and advertisements for ostentatious watches. It does not occur to many that it also appears in the old Gulf, in eighties brand pine furniture or in terraced houses, and that it is worked out and inherited by hardworking craftsmen.

Often not even that he can have a feminine face. There is a single woman on Forbes' April Ten Richest People List: Walmart heiress Alice Walton.

Never before has so much been inherited

More money is being passed on than ever. An estimated one-third of the billionaire's wealth is inherited, according to Oxfam's January report on social inequality. According to the Federal Statistical Office from 2018, an estimated 31.1 trillion assets - money, real estate, stocks, companies and whatever else there is in value - will be bequeathed by 2024. Germany is a rich country: the number of dollar millionaires rose to 1.46 million people in 2019.

In many families, however, there is nothing to pass on, at most debt. Which means that society continues to divide and that the gap between East and West is getting even deeper. In the GDR there was neither an economic miracle nor flourishing family businesses.

For centuries women inherited little to nothing. It was the sons, especially the first-born, who took over the house, farm, estate and title, while women were not allowed to open an account without the consent of the man who, in case of doubt, had the wife's assets at their disposal, even in the post-war period.

"Paris Hilton wouldn't come to us"

“Women inherit differently” is the title of a book by Marita Haibach, co-initiator of the “Pecunia” association, which Sophie Haupt joined in 2003: a network of heiresses in German-speaking countries. The only requirement for membership is to have inherited at least half a million euros. And there is a preliminary talk in which both sides quickly notice whether you are a good match. “Paris Hilton wouldn't come to us,” says Sophie Haupt and laughs. Those who come are those with questions, doubts, needs. Those for whom inherited wealth is a problem.

This may sound absurd to outsiders. What kind of problems! They're all free of financial worries! But money changes. Above all, the relationship with others.

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Sometimes those interested mistake Pecunia for financial advice. “But we are not,” explains Sophie Haupt, whose flow of speech is always Berlin-based. “We are a self-help group for heiresses.” As with every self-help group, it is the level of suffering that drives them there. The desire to finally talk about what was kept silent in many families: money.

Finding your own way is not easy

Pecunia women often feel overwhelmed by their legacy that they have not been prepared for, that they cannot talk to anyone about. Not with friends, not even with family, especially not with, not with your partner.

Elsewhere, in the USA, for example, you show what you have, do good and talk about it. The approximately 140 members of Pecunia are teachers, lawyers, artists, entrepreneurs, social workers and full-time philanthropists of different political stripes. Bourgeois, educated, is perhaps the closest to it. “Inconspicuous,” says one of them.

At the annual meetings in Pecunia very few drive up in Porsche. And if so, the message goes - that's okay too. “Pecunia is about self-empowerment,” said founding member Ise Bosch, granddaughter of the Bosch founder. “Finding your own way” is how Jessica Mutter, who currently sits on the club's regularly rotating board, describes the goal.

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According to Oxfam, men have 50 percent more wealth than women worldwide. According to the organization, they in turn do over twelve billion hours of unpaid domestic work every day. Women are still the carers, according to the role cliché. The image of a rich woman doesn’t fit in there, yes, there is almost something disreputable about it. For yourself and for others.

They often experience that they are not taken seriously

You can read in the newspaper every day how things are going with the quota on management levels and equality in pay. Many women still lack the opportunities to build up a fortune, how to deal with it. The success of a finance blogger like Miss Moneypenny shows how big the backlog is. Often, Pecunia heiresses have the experience of not being taken seriously in the male-dominated financial and economic world.

And as simple as in the picture of Sterntaler, who holds up his shirt and it rains in cash, it is seldom with heirs. Often it is about houses that may be in debt and in need of renovation, company shares that are tied and that are being disputed, about hidden assets. Inheriting is a lengthy, complicated, highly emotional and often controversial process. At the beginning there is the death of a person.

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The Swabian entrepreneur's daughter Sabine Ellwanger experienced this painfully. She was a young woman when her father, with whom she had a close relationship, was diagnosed with an aggressive tumor. A week passed between diagnosis and potentially fatal surgery, during which the family barely had time to deal with the shock because of so many decisions to be made. A few months later he was dead and the 29-year-old business economist was the majority shareholder. Now she had to run her father's company. "At first I didn't have the feeling that I had inherited a fortune, just responsibility," she says on the phone.

"It's not my place at all!"

Sabine Ellwanger was desperate. She felt that the millions were a burden. She grew up frugally, and all profits were put back into the company, which had also experienced difficult times. She quarreled with the idea that wealth had fallen into her lap, as she says. “I haven't done anything for that, I'm not entitled to do that!” And what should she do with it? If she had asked her husband, who is a farmer, he would have said: Let's buy a few more fields. But the business economist wanted to find her own way. She is convinced that the fact that she found him has a lot to do with Pecunia.

For her, especially in the early days of inheritance, the network was “the only space where I could openly discuss my questions about assets. The dramas, the personal hardship. I noticed: I'm not alone. ”She raves about the respect and empathy in the groups that meet regionally and once nationwide several times a year and are linked via a newsletter.

It is rare that Pecunia members talk to journalists at all. All women who have their say in this text are actually called differently. In the early days of the association, a reporter snuck in at an annual meeting and afterwards, as the women say, wrote sensationally, yes, maliciously about it.

The poor have to put their pants down everywhere

Since then, all new members have had to sign a confidentiality clause. Internally, people only address each other by their first name. Trust and discretion are the most important pillars of the association. Ise Bosch, the best-known Pecunia member, is one of the few who gives regular interviews because she sees it as an obligation. “The poor have to put their pants down everywhere, in front of the office for example,” she explained to “Die Zeit”. "The rich usually keep their pants up."

But that's difficult. A Pecunia member once said that it was easier for her to come out as a lesbian than to come out as a rich woman. There are leftists in the club who struggle with suddenly being their own class enemy when they move in left circles - and nobody knows that they are wealthy. Silence, concealment, believes Sabine Ellwanger, “is fatal. Because you are not seen in your entirety. "

But how can you still live normally when everyone knows that you have so much more in your account than you actually need to live? The stories of unhappy lottery millionaires who may end up dying lonely and impoverished have been read many times. Two years ago, an American woman waived her lottery winnings of $ 560 million because she did not want to disclose her name, place of residence and amount. That was the legal condition against which she sued unsuccessfully. She knew that public happiness was the license to be unhappy.

When the son does not come home, she fears that he has been kidnapped

Behind the silence of the Pecunia heirs, there is not only shame but also fear: fear of envy, of being exploited and begged, of friendships becoming unbalanced. Also fear of threat. When Sabine Ellwanger's son did not come home from school at the expected time, she feared that he would have been kidnapped. In the "Bild" newspaper, she says, who has inherited a single-digit million amount, had just admitted that she was worth 500 million.

The protected space of Pecunia is about very intimate things, such as divorces, "which are often terrible," as Sophie Haupt says. Partnerships are a constant topic at the meetings. Once, Haupt says, only one woman could talk about a positive relationship. “Her husband was a scientist and found his fulfillment in his work.” Many of his co-workers apparently have difficulties with the fact that their partner is richer than they are. Others, also a constant issue, approach women to get their money. Sophie Haupt experienced that too.

The financial damage of the affair was limited, "I noticed it soon enough". The mental one was far greater. “A terrible experience,” says Haupt, who doesn't like to go into the details. The experience not only made her sick, it made her suspicious.

"The money I have exceeds what I consider healthy"

The Ellwangers had to sell their company because, in view of globalization and concentration in the market, it no longer had a chance. A terrible decision, as Sabine Ellwanger says. Her father's life's work! For many years she felt guilty for not having represented the legacy worthily, even if she says today: "In retrospect, that was the only right decision."

For a long time her wealth was abstract for her. Even after the company was sold, because the buyers complained, the money was kept in a trustee account for three years. “When it got concrete, I didn't even know what to do with it.” Definitely not hoarding. “The money I have exceeds what I think is healthy,” she says. She also realized that she didn't want to leave the money with Deutsche Bank. "I couldn't put that into the economic system that had ruined the company!"

In her children's Waldorf kindergarten, she came across a flyer from GLS, the community bank for lending and giving, which works according to social and ecological criteria. "Against the advice of all male advisors and know-it-alls, I invested my money there."

She is now booking business class

Responsibility, says Jessica Mutter from the board of directors, is a central issue at Pecunia. “The question: What is my job in this world? How do I want to leave it? ”Often it is about the realization that the undeserved wealth is seen as an opportunity: to be able to move and shape something according to one's own ideas.

Some have given up their jobs in order to devote themselves entirely to the work of the foundation, like Ise Bosch. Sabine Ellwanger also founded an - anonymous - foundation with which she promotes what she likes. "I want to support people whose hearts burn for one thing."

Sophie Haupt, in turn, regularly donates to three organizations that care for women and victims of violence. The proximity and a clear number of recipients are important to her. "I can still read what they are sending me and react." Right now, in times of Corona.

Instead of a villa, Sophie Haupt bought freedom with her legacy: to work part-time and volunteer, to buy an age-appropriate apartment - and to book business class for herself and her partner on the flight to South America.

The Berlin group has grown significantly

Haupt is one of those who hold preliminary talks with those who are interested in Pecunia. The Berlin group, which meets five or six times a year, has grown from four to 30 members. In the meantime there are also younger ones among them. Some of them have already received large sums of money from their parents during their lifetime. But when the father then says, I'll put this on for you, they often say: No! "I think that's good," says Haupt.

One participant talked about her climate foundation at a meeting, and a lawyer talked about gender issues internationally. The next generation, says Haupt, is more self-confident when it comes to money and also applies other criteria to the investments. These should be ecological and social. No guns, no child labor.

Something else is changing, says the pensioner: “The young people want more structure.” In the past, at the beginning of a meeting, everyone would tell them what concerns them, and this often led to a topic. “That is different now.” The newcomers want a more streamlined organization, and less expense in catering. In order to maintain confidentiality, the encounters have always taken place in turn at home.

"But you are generous"

Not only inheritance, inheritance is also a big issue at Pecunia. The members want to do it differently than their parents, to better prepare the next generation. Sophie Haupt, who has always supported friends, is currently in the process of making her will. She can bequeath 20,000 euros tax-free to non-relatives, so she has put together a list of people to help her. "A couple of people are happy, that's nice."

"But you are generous," the lawyer said to her. "Yes," replied Sophie Haupt. "I'm also a wealthy woman."

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