It was the early hours and a young woman student had forgotten to shut her front door after returning to her West London flat.Her clumsiness was su
It was the early hours and a young woman student had forgotten to shut her front door after returning to her West London flat.
Her clumsiness was such a regular occurrence that her landlady had attached a string of cowbells to the door as a reminder to close it.
What was much more noteworthy about this young German was that, back then in 1978, she was studying in London under an alias because of a kidnap threat from the Red Army Faction, also known as the Baader-Meinhof Gang.
As the daughter of a wealthy German politician, she was a target of the notorious far-Left guerrilla group. Today, four decades on, the world is familiar with her clumsiness in a very different guise.
For the girl who loved the British punk band the Buzzcocks is none other than Ursula von der Leyen, President of the European Commission and today the face of a bid to sabotage Britain’s vaccine supply.
Ursula von der Leyen, President of the European Commission, studied in London under an alias because of a kidnap threat from the Red Army Faction
In her London student days, according to a friend, she wore scruffy jeans and sweaters.
Now, the 62-year-old mother-of-seven has been described as having hair ‘regally coiffed into a style reminiscent of Margaret Thatcher with a hint of Princess Diana’.
Considering her youthful enjoyment of the London scene, her aggressive tactics in the face of Britain’s vaccine rollout success seem strange.
London was Ursula’s sanctuary as the Red Army Faction, which had killed more than 30 people, made her and her aristocratic family a target.
The young Ursula was sent to England to lie low, with the alias Rose Ladson (a combination of her nickname as a child, ‘Röschen’, or ‘Little rose’, and her American great-grandmother’s surname, Ladson).
While studying at the London School of Economics, she mixed in the capital’s punk scene and frequented Camden record shops and Soho bars.
‘I lived more than I studied,’ she once said. She was also ‘a little bit lovesick’, say friends, having left her boyfriend behind in Germany.
Considering her youthful enjoyment of the London scene, her aggressive tactics in the face of Britain’s vaccine rollout success seem strange
On a visit to the LSE last year, she said her time there had ‘opened her eyes’, adding: ‘I got to know a warm, vibrant, colourful, multi-cultural society – the likes of which I’d never experienced before.’
In comparison, she said, Germany was ‘rather monotonous’.
Ursula’s ancestors made their fortune in the cotton trade.
Born in Belgium – where she attended the same school as Boris Johnson (although the pair never met), whose father was working in Brussels – her family moved to Germany when she was 13.
She and her five siblings performed songs written by their mother, Heidi, and were likened to a German von Trapp family. They released a single, Welcome To God’s Beautiful World, in the year she took refuge in London.
Her father, the governor of the German state of Lower Saxony, was among the politicians targeted by the terrorists.
Ursula enrolled at the LSE when she was 20 with life in London being in stark contrast to the strict, Lutheran atmosphere of her childhood.
Britain, too, was undergoing political turmoil. Right-wing extremists from the National Front clashed with the Anti-Nazi League and the Winter of Discontent resulted in industrial unrest.
For her part, Ursula was able to live freely, despite the threat of kidnap. She stayed on the second floor of a house in Earl’s Court with her maternal uncle, Erich Stromeyer.
The property was owned by a Polish woman whose son, Jacek Rostowski, went on to become the deputy prime minister of Poland.
‘She would come back around 1am and 2am quite often. But she had the exasperating habit of leaving the door open,’ Mr Rostowski told The Mail on Sunday.
‘It seemed slightly incautious behaviour for someone being chased by the Baader-Meinhof Gang. The Greek cowbells were to remind her to close the door.’
Another contemporary said she often went to punk concerts and was ‘fond of the Buzzcocks’.
At the time, the LSE was a hotbed of revolutionary Marxism. Just a few months before she enrolled, the student newspaper carried an editorial praising the actions of Baader-Meinhof.
Born in Belgium – where she attended the same school as Boris Johnson (although the pair never met), whose father was working in Brussels – her family moved to Germany when she was 13
BBC broadcaster Robert Elms, who wrote of LSE life in the late 1970s in The Way We Wore, recalled running a gauntlet of Maoists,
Trots and ‘various far-Left lunatics proffering tracts and prophesying the imminent collapse of capitalism’.
Elms said he has no recollection of meeting the young Ursula. Another contemporary, the actor Ralph Brown who played drug-dealer Danny in the film Withnail And I, said he could not be certain if they had met, but joked: ‘I’m fairly sure we didn’t have sex.’
He added: ‘Back then, LSE was full of unreformed hippies, beatniks, groovers and fresh new student punks.’
It was in this heady atmosphere that Ursula spent a year discarding the shackles of her youth.
Last year, delivering a lecture entitled Old Friends, New Beginnings: Building Another Future For The EU-UK Partnership, she said her time in London had turned her into a lifelong Anglophile.
That seems hard to believe after she ramped up the rhetoric over blocking supplies of the AstraZeneca jab for Britain.
But amid irritation in Downing Street, she may soon have cause to think about London Calling by The Clash.