Germans play spot-the-Kohl on great man's birthday

At the inn where Margaret Thatcher had her first encounter with stuffed pig's stomach, a few regulars came together last night to toast their illustrious absent friend.

Helmut Kohl had been due to celebrate his 70th birthday at the Deidesheimer Hof, but the feast was cancelled at short notice. Early in the morning Mr and Mrs Kohl were driven out of town in a black Mercedes, destination unknown.

It was a rather cloak-and-dagger affair for a man more used to entertaining the crÿme de la crÿme of world leaders, a man regarded as one of the chief architects of Europe's single currency, a man who was at the centre of the international stage for the best part of two decades.

The television crews sought the ex-chancellor everywhere, but failed to sight him. He was not in Bonn, where his 60th birthday had been held at a concert hall. Bonn is where prosecutors are trying to put together a case against Mr Kohl for breach of trust, so their quarry understandably gave the former capital a wide berth.

He might have stayed in his home town, but Oggersheim snubbed its honorary citizen by scrapping an official banquet planned in his honour. So Mr Kohl rode out in disgust. He might have gone to Berlin, whose mayor Eberhard Diepgen is the only German official prepared to honour the longest-serving chancellor since Bismarck. But even Mr Diepgen, a Christian Democrat politician, felt it unwise under the circumstances to invite the Kohls for dinner on his birthday.

Mikhail Gorbachev and George Bush could not make it either, though Henry Kissinger, another old friend, did fly into Berlin last week for a quick photo-op with Germany's fallen hero. Fellow Christian Democrats sent their well wishes from afar, some laced with biting criticism.