If you see Fritz, tell him it's time for 'T'

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Europe's biggest ever flotation, the DM15bn (pounds 6.5bn) sale of shares in Deutsche Telekom, was launched yesterday with a campaign to tell Fritz, Sid's German counterpart, all about the joys of popular capitalism.

Up to 40 per cent of the shares are being set aside for the retail offer and, in the style of UK privatisations, small investors are being tempted to apply with a host of incentives.

In format and presentation, the Deutsche Telekom sell-off is barely distinguishable from those of British Gas and BT in the1980s. Priority will be given to investors who register with the equivalent of the share information office and retail investors will be eligible for a discount to the price paid by institutions in the international offer.

The marketing campaign accompanying the offer is also familiar, if a little less inventive than the British campaigns on which it is styled. The campaign began with posters and television commercials of people holding their arms aloft in the shape of a T to signify that this is the year of the T (or Telekom) share offer.

The tempo is about to step up with a series of advertisements fronted by Manfred Cook, a well-known German television actor whose most famous portrayal is of a Berlin lawyer - a sort of cross between Perry Mason and Inspector Morse.

Germany has seen nothing like it since the early 1960s when the public was invited to buy shares in Volkswagen. But Deutsche Telekom is in a different league.

When the shares start trading in late November, the company will be capitalised at pounds 32bn to pounds 39bn. The share sale will be the second biggest in the world after the flotation of the Japanese telecoms company NTT in the mid-1980s.

So far, 1.5 million individuals have registered with the share information office to be sure of their discount on the first 300 shares, expected to be priced at around DM33.

It is no coincidence that the similarities are so striking between the Deutsche Telekom flotation and the UK offers of the last decade. The company's financial adviser is Rothschilds, an old hand at privatisation, and the PR advisers are Dewe Rogerson, who have looked after more UK privatisations than anyone, most recently the Railtrack and British Energy sell-offs.

For them the timing could not be better. The UK privatisation programme may have reached an end, but, on current planning, it will take Germany's government until 2006 to dispose of Deutsche Telekom. That should ensure a healthy stream of fee income for the global co-ordinators, Dresdner bank, Goldman Sachs and Deutshe Morgan Grenfell, not to mention the 65 members of the German and international banking syndicates.