Germany's Accepting Native Son

The irony of the dinner at the German ambassador's house was not lost on Andre Previn. In 1938, when he was 9, the Jewish-born musical powerhouse fled Hitler's Berlin, where father Jack Priwin had been a successful criminal lawyer, and landed penniless with his family in Hollywood. Tuesday night, Ambassador Juergen Chrobog pinned the Federal Republic of Germany's Commander's Cross of the Order of Merit on Previn for his "extraordinary achievements" in music and culture.

"You can either look at it as unbelievable," Previn told us about the Nazis' mass murder of the Jews, "or do what most of us do in this instance--view this as extreme a case as Germany has ever gone through." Previn, who returned to Germany in the mid-1960s to conduct the Berlin Philharmonic, long ago made his peace with fellow musicians who thrived under the Nazis. "Richard Strauss didn't leave. Furtwaengler stayed and Gieseking stayed, though I think Gieseking stood up to them. The Vienna Philharmonic didn't behave too well. But when you're a musician you're in a cocoon. They were musicians playing music, and I really can't blame them."

Chrobog toasted the maestro, saying: "Despite your painful memories . . . you have maintained artistic ties with your family's native country and still speak its language." Attending the cozy gathering were New York City cultural commissioner Schuyler Chapin and Washington lawyer Matthew Previn, 29, the oldest of Previn's six children with Mia Farrow. "We're good, close friends, and very supportive," Previn said of his ex-wife. As for Woody Allen--whose custody battle with Farrow he calls "that mess"--Previn was dismissive. "I never run into him. We travel in different circles."

Gloria in Excelsis

Her Majesty Gloria Estefan, the Queen of Latin Pop, says she's thrilled about the appearance of new pretenders to the throne, especially crossover chart-toppers Ricky Martin and Jennifer Lopez. "It's a good moment," Estefan told us yesterday. "It shows that everything, every kind of music, can be mainstream. It's just music that you like."

The 41-year-old Cuban-born singer--who was en route to the Miami airport when she called--performs tonight at the Kennedy Center in "The Americanos Concert," a 90-minute salsa-to-samba show to be aired Sept. 29 on WETA. She admitted to being loco about Ricky Martin: "He's so sweet, so sexy. He's really honest. He loves what he does, and you can tell. . . . Who wouldn't want to look at a magazine cover of Ricky?"

But Estefan is too busy these days to be mooning over fanzines. The mother of two is working on an album, hits the gym five days a week and recently finished filming her first movie, "The Music of My Heart" (with Meryl Streep), opening in October. Estefan plays a second- grade teacher. "I enjoyed it thoroughly. . . . It was a small role, so I was able to pop back and forth and keep my sche- dule."

Marianne and Newt: Kaput?

Describing her marriage to Newt as beset by periodic separations, Marianne Gingrich once told The Post: "Frankly, it's been off and on for some time." And Newt Gingrich once gave 53-47 odds that the union would survive. Now it seems that the odds have grown considerably longer.

Sources tell us that the former speaker of the House--who was forced out by fellow Republicans after the 1998 election--has been confiding to friends that a divorce is highly likely, adding that he's offered settlement terms to his wife of nearly 18 years. At 56, Gingrich is ready to reap millions from the lecture circuit and a new radio gig.

Close associates told us he's been keenly aware of our inquiries, but Gingrich did not return numerous phone calls from The Source over the past week. One friend quoted him as saying that he did not want anything to appear in print while his 84-year-old mother-in-law, Virginia Ginther, was preparing to undergo cancer surgery last Friday and 47-year-old Marianne was helping her recover at home in Leetonia, Ohio.

THIS JUST IN . . .

Something in the water? Paula Jones's nose surgeon, Thomas Loeb, is being sued for sexual harassment by receptionist Christine Sabia, who claims he made her "perform perverted sex to keep her job," Reuters reports. And Kathleen Willey, who claimed President Clinton groped her, plans to marry Bill Schwicker "to put all this behind me," she told the Associated Press.

CAPTION: Quite a turnaround: On Germany's behalf, Chrobog lauds Previn, left.

CAPTION: Estefan, performing tonight.

CAPTION: Gingrich, wife Marianne and mother Kathleen in church in 1995.