Rudolf Augstein Dies

photo: typical editorial congerence in hamburg

A fairly typical editorial conference in Hamburg in
the early 1970s.

Founder of Der Spiegel

by Chris Irwin*

Paris:- Rudolf Augstein has died - the last great founding figure of German post-war journalism and, consequently, of the democracy of the second German Republic.

Gerd Bucerius, Countess Marion Dönhoff, Henri Nannen and Axel Caesar Springer - these were all giants of news publishing to whom money was far less important than the worth of their contribution to freedom of expression.

Rudolf Augstein was the youngest among them - although one who was a soldier in the war - but who was only 10 years old when Hitler came to power, and still a teenager when World War II began.

He was also the most modern of them. With his 'Der Spiegel' - 'The Mirror' - a highly modern media genre appeared that had not existed before in Germany - namely the US-style news magazine.

'Der Spiegel' had a strictly-observed policy of investigative journalism based on firm facts andphoto: spiegel title, heft 46, 11 11 02 research - although from time to time there were those who may well have said, "Oh really?" - and it was persistently skeptical in its tone of voice. In other words, anti-authoritarian but with an immense degree of authority.

Bucerius, Springer and Augstein stood somewhat above their elite but small circle - in that they were not just writers but also publishers. To use 'Der Spiegel's' jargon - "Not just publishers but also producers."

However, each of the three were distinct from the others.

Bucerius was passionately conservative by nature, but extraordinarily tolerant in his dealings with his own newspaper, Die Zeit. He was so liberal that he enjoyed seeing widely differing opinions being expressed within the paper.

Springer was conservative in every sense - by nature as well as being insistent on dominating his papers' editorial stances.

In contrast, Augstein was liberal in personal attitude, but highly allergic to differing opinions in his own paper, which actually made him authoritarian.

All three towered like taller trees, far above their immediate environment, and that continued even when age ruthlessly reminded them of their mortality.

Much will now be said about the importance of Rudolf Augstein's lifework. About the 'Der Spiegel' as the 'heavy artillery of democracy.'

About "The Spiegel Affair" - which took place in the thirteenth year of the second German Republic - on Thursday, 25. October 1962, Augstein was locked up and charged with treason against the state. Augstein barely had time to read the commemorative 40th anniversary article about it before his death.

And one must ever be reminded of Augstein's greatest antagonist - Franz Josef Strauß - who, as Minister of Defense, had Augstein arrested.

Both Strauß and Augstein - despite their complete antithesis - virtually bristled with self-confidencephoto: may day 1975 and ambition - but neither ever achieved their ultimate ambition of being able to shape politics without public opposition. It was their passion which finally consumed them. But it was nevertheless a passion.

May Day in 1975, as celebrated in the western sector.

It is particularly this contradictory parallel which leads to a dimension in which Augstein appeared to be a tragic figure and therefore human.

It is known that Augstein was also capable of self-criticism. In one of his leaders, he relentlessly mauled Robert Leicht for what he had written in one of his for Die Zeit.

At the end of the year, Leicht received the only letter in his life from Augstein. He admitted to a slight lack of manners in his treatment of Leicht during the year. He wanted to put it right.

That's fine - dear, dear, angry Rudolf Augstein. At the end of his life it is being said, all too often and too ritually, that he should 'rest in peace.' But is this what Rudolf Augstein would really have wanted for himself after his many campaigns?

Nevertheless, resting in peace is what he has more than well earned.


Press Life In Hamburg

Paris:- Friday, 22. November 2002:- Before coming to Paris 'Ed' worked in Hamburg for six years, for Germany's biggest circulation newspaper, 'Bild Zeitung.' This was Axel Caesar Springer's pride and joy, partly because it sold 5.5 million copies a day everywhere in West Germany, West Berlin and Mallorca.

Everybody I knew in Hamburg worked for 'the press.' If they weren't with Springer, they were with Gruner & Jahr, or Der Spiegel, or with dozens of other national titles - or with radio or television.photo: berlin kreuzberg, turkish resto Less adventurous souls had to make do with life in advertising, PR, marine insurance, engineering or banking, or hustling on the Reeperbahn.

In the early '70s the cold war was alive and frosty, the Berlin Wall was as solid as Gibraltar, and a half-million US troops were poised to stop an attack on the funky western world by a three-million strong Red Army, by putting a stopper of heavy tanks into the Fulda Gap.

Although a 'Gastarbeiter,' 'Ed' never worked in this Turkish restaurant in Kreuzberg.

Willy Brandt had just been elected as the Social-Democratic Chancellor of West Germany. He had been a journalist too. But the Nazis liked him as little as he liked them, so he had to emigrate. After the war, he returned to become mayor of West Berlin and see the Wall built.

The East German Republic, known informally as the 'DDR' or 'over there,' had leaders who believed a bit more in Communism than their military guarantors in Moscow did. So they helped out by having a lot of spies in West Germany, mainly to snoop on the NATO troops, but also to cause trouble by seducing hapless secretaries.

They successfully put a 'sleeper' into Willy Brandt's office, and when he was blown by counter-espionage, 'our' Willy resigned. He was succeeded by Helmut 'The Lip' Schmidt, a Hamburger - who later became publisher of Die Zeit.

A lot of people read 'Bild' every day because it was entertaining. To find out what was really going on, somewhat fewer people read each Monday's edition of Der Spiegel, which was so nosy that its publisher got busted for treason. This was the "Spiegel-Affair," which has never been forgotten.

Rudolf Augstein got busted for other journalistic offenses too. Plus he got sued regularly for slander, but so did my boss, Axel Caesar. Everybody sued everybody. The lawyers who weren't in the shipping business would have starved without it.

The United States has always had high-anxiety fits over the 'Red Menace.' Twenty years before I was inphoto: geheimes treff im luneburger heide Hamburg, phantom 'Reds' nearly took over the USA, according to Senator Joe McCarthy and Richard Nixon, who based their cases on 'testimony' of well-paid turncoat 'Reds,' who were guaranteed anti-commie jobs for life.

Two agents having a secret 'treff' in the Harburger Berge, near Harburg.

Imagine then, what it was like to live just a short drive from the very real and very 'Red' East Germany with the real 'death-strips' along the western borders - and occasionally drive through the barbed-wire and the DDR to West Berlin - with both countries armed to the teeth, with the US and Red armies as backups, real spies crawling all over the place, and 'sleepers' for next-door neighbors.

To describe this scene, it took Der Spiegel a weekly average of 200 pages full of small, dense text and tiny black and white photos. After I came to Paris, I met Klaus-Peter Schmid, who was Die Zeit's correspondent here - he was this influential paper's whole bureau. Der Spiegel wooed him away, but then he complained that he had to fight to get his reports in the newsmagazine.

From what he said, I gathered that Der Spiegel's editors threw out 400 pages of reports every week. Before too much time passed, Klaus-Peter returned to Die Zeit and was running their Berlin bureau when the Wall came down in '89.

In case you haven't read it elsewhere, after some training with the Hannoverschen Anzeiger paper in 1941, Ruldolfphoto: typical berlin billboard Augstein went into the army in 1942 when he was 19. He was quoted as saying his retreat from the Ukraine was the most remarkable military feat he knew of. For this he got the Iron Cross, 2nd Class, 'without earning it,' he said.

A billboard, fairly typical for Berlin in the 1970s.

A year after the end of the war and after working for two Hannover papers, Augstein, Gerhard Barsch and photographer Roman Stempka took over the magazine 'Diese Woche' which the British were putting out on rationed paper - modelled on the UK's 'News Review' or 'Time' magazine.

After getting a license from the British, 'Diese Woche' became 'Der Spiegel' on Saturday, 4. January 1947, with Augstein as publisher. From the following year onwards Augstein saw Der Spiegel as the 'assault gun of democracy' - aimed at - 'the pride of deconstruction-crazed occupying powers, against corrupt politicians, and against the arrogance of the bureaucracy.'

Just like many other 24 year-olds. But like few of any age in Germany in 1947. He died on Thursday, 7. November, aged 79 years and two days.

The Photos

I worked in the promotion department of the daily Bild Zeitung and its companion Sunday edition, Bild-am-Sonntag - without ever having a job description.

Besides being one the house's rare 'gastarbeiters' without having a Turkish restaurant on the side, I was allowed to do anything except write in German. I did cartoons for contests, unbagged millions of postcards from the 'winners,' and then photographed the house's photographers photographing the mountain of postcards.

One rotten winter in March of 1972, Peter Sättler and I were sent to Berlin to get photos for use for yet another contest. Thephoto: translator and frau irwin low fog over Berlin made landing at Templehof exciting, but made lousy photos. The boss, 'Wilhelm B aus R,' thought they were terrific and sent us to Munich to do the same thing the next weekend. It was just as foggy in Munich.

Frau and Herr Irwin in the Schwarzwald, also in the 1970s.

After much discussion, 'Wilhelm B aus R' and some good friends of his up on the 12th floor threw out the photos and told me to draw cartoons instead. I had was on sick-leave on account of worn-out feet, and I broke the law by going to the office because the 'toons had to be done because of the time we had wasted traipsing around Berlin in the fog, looking for historic places like the Zillestüben.

What was supposed to be the opening photo, was shot on May Day in 1975, also in a semi-fog near Hamburg. It shows a small group of Hamburgers who I know personally, doing a dance 'around a Maypole.' Somebody brought some toiletpaper and we put it to good use.

The actual opening photo shows H-G Schwardt, a younger version of 'Ed,' and Peter Sättler, looking at the editorial floor in Hamburg's Springer Haus to see who lost the 'heads-up' beer-cap toss.

Until the Olympic Games in 1972 and the 'oil-shocko,' it was a good life. Our budget wasn't cut but it didn't get any bigger. We had to learn to drink, not less, but slower.


* On reading 'Zum Tod von Rudolf Augstein' by Robert Leicht in a recent issue of Die Zeit, Chris Irwin translated the text into English and 'donated' it to Die Zeit who said thanks, but didn't use it. He then offered it to Metropole after seeing Augstein's death mentioned in the last club report, thanks to member Marion Nowak. You can find Die Zeit's original text in German here.

Should you require translations, be sure to contact Chris Irwin. For this plug he has promised me free correction suggestions for this page, plus all the plain white-bread cheese sandwiches I can eat, if pubs in Britain ever serve them around 15:00, UK-time.

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