40 years ago, a police raid on the German news magazine "Der Spiegel" shook the nation. The affair turned out to be a boon for the magazine, and its legendary publisher, Rudolf Augstein, who died at age 79 on Thursday.
One of Germany's "greatest intellectuals" - Rudolf Augstein
He was referred to as a "brilliant, independent and incorruptible analyst": Rudolf Augstein, founder, editor, and publisher of Germany's most influential news magazine Der Spiegel, has died.
"Germany has lost one of its great intellectuals. I have great respect for his historic achievements," German Chancellor Gerhard Schröder said on Friday, calling Augstein an important "guardian of democracy."
On Thursday, Germany paid tribute to the man who was held in jail for 103 days in 1962 over charges of treason in a battle with German Defense Minister Franz Josef Strauss. The event, which shook the country, ended up changing the face of news journalism in Germany. Last week, German media honored the 40th anniversary of the so-called Spiegel-Affair. This week the man behind the magazine is mourned.
Augstein began his career just after World War II, writing for a publication set up and overseen by the British military occupation. In 1947, he took over the weekly, converting it from a no-name publication to a hard-hitting independent news magazine within weeks.
Called Der Spiegel (the mirror), the magazine soon became known for its outspoken, investigative style of journalism – something that was missing in the German news media at the time. With its hard-hitting thought-provoking topics, the magazine quickly grew into a must-read for both the broad population and the power elite.
First edition of Der Spiegel from Jan. 4, 1947
But it was in 1962 that Augstein and his publication attracted attention throughout the world, when Augstein himself was charged with treason after a Spiegel article sharply criticized the government's defense policy. Shortly after the disputed Spiegel issue on a NATO maneuver called "Fallex" was published, police burst into the magazine’s offices in Hamburg. Material was confiscated, and the offices were beleaguered for months, while numerous editors and the magazine's publisher were held in jail for 103 days.
Public outrage at the government's heavy-handed tactics and the raid on the magazine eventually forced Defense Minister Franz Josef Strauss to resign and proved a decisive stumbling block in the downfall of conservative Chancellor Konrad Adenauer one year
Ironically, the arrest turned out to be a blessing for the Spiegel and its publisher, Augstein, who resumed his post undeterred after his release. With the "Spiegel affair," as it was called after the dispute, Augstein's publication gained a reputation it never lost – a name as the most investigative, outspoken and unsparing news magazine in Germany's media landscape.
Strained relationship with government
From his sharp criticism of Chancellor Konrad Adenauer in the early years of the Spiegel, Augstein went on to take a tough stance on Helmut Kohl and his 16-year-long reign. Indeed, the relationship soon became so strained between the two that Kohl, enraged over an article which linked his relatives to the Nazis, refused to speak to the magazine.
It was under Kohl, too, that Spiegel uncovered its best known news scoop. In 1984 it unraveled a corruption scandal - the Flick Affair – accusing leading politicians of exchanging cash donations for favors from major industrialist Friedrich Flick.
But Augstein himself was not immune to criticism. His colleagues, although always admiring, called the publisher a "megalomaniac" and "control freak."
On Thursday, however, the tone was more moderate. "It feels as if a father has died," the Spiegel's deputy editor-in-chief, Joachim Preuss, said. German President Johannes Rau, obviously moved by the news of Augstein's death, said in a public statement "our nation is poorer without him.