Rich people can live without being robbed

Billionaires: How Rich People Really Are

“I think he likes you,” his press secretary whispers to me, and it sounds like we're talking about a snow tiger, leatherback turtle, or some other rare species. I have never met such a creature, the billionaire species. There are maybe fifteen hundred specimens worldwide, but their species is far from threatened. Especially in times of crisis, it multiplies very magnificently.

When the rich man reveals the dimensions of his fortune to me, we both have to laugh. “Seven, eight billion, or so,” he winks, it couldn't be more smug. It is an “or so” that resonates for a long time and reveals a lot about a man who has long lost his wealth. How should he? How does a person want to understand such an absurd number? Seven thousand, eight thousand million? Or the equivalent of nine million Chihuahua puppies, ten years of service in Afghanistan by the German armed forces or sixteen thousand Rolls-Royce Phantom with alloy wheels and 459 hp.

We sit at a round inlaid table, and the evening sun, which is reflected in the panoramic windows of the office, bathes the sky in the colors of five hundred. Behind him are models of his five private jets. The originals take off and land at his own airport. His group has a turnover of ten billion euros and is located on a street that bears his name. Do you see money and power in the eyes of the creature?

Lentils with home-made pasta

I find something else in it: charm. The industrial mogul, lord of the castle and super yacht captain is a small Swabian with laugh lines and a sparse gray, whom I want to poke in the cheek when he tells me that he prefers his lentils with spaetzle and strings. "But not this three-star pipifax and this frippery cooking where everything shines in seven colors and it tastes horrific." However, when I start a question about justice, he just sighs and answers in short sentences with Darwin. Selection, cleaning processes, survival of the fittest. That's his cold side. I'm dealing with a changeless blood.

What does wealth do to the mind and to the heart? What role does money play when money doesn't matter? What are they really like, the self-made and the heirs, the nobility and the money nobility, the parvenus and the playboys? Almost half of the world's wealth is in the hands of a clique of millionaires and billionaires. Should we love them or hate them? These questions drive me on an expedition into the high society, a year criss-cross the jet set calendar. From Marbella to Monaco, from Cannes to Sylt, from London to St. Moritz, from the oligarchic palaces in Kiev to Qatar, to the richest country on earth. My research turns into one of the most adventurous, surprising and absurd journeys of my life.

It starts with depression. I have to wait six months for the interview with the billionaire. Until then, I'll get over a hundred rejections from the so-called upper class. I get the most honest one from Deutsche Bank, of all places: Anshu Jain only gives professional interviews, and I would, with all due respect, never understand their content. Boris Becker? No Answer. Steffi Graf? No time. Dirk Nowitzki? No chance. The Geissen family? I have my pride too.

Thanks I am not interested

Dietmar Hopp and Hasso Plattner, the SAP founders? Are not available. Dietrich Mateschitz from Red Bull? I prefer to stay in the background. Karl Lagerfeld? Locked out. Carsten Maschmeyer? Has concerns. Princess Gloria von Thurn und Taxis? Playing dead. Gabriele Inaara Begum Aga Khan, the charity princess? Fully booked all year round. Ute Ohoven? Is just reorienting itself. The emir of Dubai? Be silent. Mark Zuckerberg? Basically doesn't talk about money, they say. Steve Jobs' widow? Wish me good luck. Bill Gates? No reaction.