German Customs Confiscating Violins Needs to Stop

German customs officials at Frankfurt airport are doing a great job right now to damage the good will my country generally enjoys in Japan.

As for example this article at Yomiuri explains, they have recently started to confiscate precious violins that Japanese professional musicians carry when passing the border.

I have not studied the law applicable to this nor am I aware of all the factual details of these cases. But I think the following thoughts are only common sense.

Of course, if someone brings a precious instrument from Japan to Germany for the purpose of selling it there, then they would need to pay some kind of customs duty.

And these violins can be worth millions of euros. In principle, there is nothing wrong with customs wanting to make sure these valuable items are declared properly.

In contrast, if musicians are only carrying their instruments around as their property without any intent of selling them, there should be no customs duty.

As I understand the situation, until recently, German customs authorities did not mind musicians carrying their own instruments with them, without any formal declarations.

That seems to have changed. Japanese violinists have been caught by surprise by these changes and seen their instruments confiscated.

To have this stop, there are exactly two things that need to get done.

For one, the German customs authorities need to get the information out on their new practice of demanding all sorts of documentation in these cases. They need to tell the Japanese musicians exactly what forms they want to have filled out.

And the Japanese need to take note of these requirements, and carry proper documentation.

Right now I get the very unfortunate impression that the German custom authorities are trying to rely on errors in formalities to gain unjustified financial advantages from unsuspecting victims unaware of their sudden change in practice.

This has to stop, and it has to stop fast.

Published by kflenz

Professor at Aoyama Gakuin University, Tokyo. Author of Lenz Blog (since 2003,

3 thoughts on “German Customs Confiscating Violins Needs to Stop

  1. Mr. Lenz,

    Customs officials seized my violin last Tuesday, 3 June, 2014. They are asking for 1,700 euros before I can reclaim it. I’m basically an unemployed musician — I don’t have that kind of money lying around.

    Please, any advise or help would be appreciated.


    1. You could of course hire a lawyer to complain, but that may cost more than those 1.700 Euros.

      An alternative course of action may be to directly appeal to Wolfgang Schäuble. As I noted in this follow-up post, he ordered the violins returned in the case I blogged about here:


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: