'Penthouse' tests limits of Kohl's sense of humour

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Helmut Kohl is not averse to a bit of fun. After all, he can even laugh at pictures depicting him as Europe's puppet-master. Clearly, however, there is a limit to his keen sense of humour. That boundary appears to have been crossed by Penthouse magazine, which is being sued for its portrayal of the Chancellor's wife, Hannelore.

In a writ peppered with words such as "insult", "disparagement" and "invasion of privacy", Mr Kohl is demanding DM100,000 from Penthouse's German publishers. The case is yet to reach court, but the First Couple (right) have already slammed an injunction on the company, preventing resale of the offending image.

The object of their displeasure is a cartoon showing Mr Kohl at the wheel of his official limo - so far so good - and his wife rising above the bonnet. This being a men's magazine, it is Hannelore's ample beauty which catches the reader's eye. The First Lady turns out to be the emblem protruding from the radiator grille. She is wearing nothing more than a pair of blue leather gloves, a string of pearls and a tassel across her shoulder.

One can understand that Mrs Kohl, a traditional mother who likes to be photographed feeding her husband or cute animals, would prefer not to appear as a Penthouse pin-up at her mature age. But when the couple took their complaint to Germany's Press Council, they were laughed out of court. The august body ruled that the cartoon was an example of "satire", a genre the Chancellor has found hard to appreciate in the past.

So unless a settlement is reached, the courts must now decide whether this is indeed a laughing matter.