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Culture

Racy German Tabloid Celebrates 50 Years

In times of triumph, in times of sorrow, Germany's BILD has been there, doing its best to reflect the feelings of the German people. The four million-circulation tabloid celebrates 50 years next week.

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"The Battle for the Prettiest Olympic Breasts:" The Bild newspaper dishes up a slice of German life for millions everyday.

To read BILD is to have your finger firmly on the pulse of Germany, the saying goes.

For almost 50 years now, that pulse has included the trauma of division and reunification, the escapades of shady politicians, photographer-ducking celebrities and the triumphs and travails of Germany's football teams.

And BILD has been there to catch it all.

The paper, which has garnered a reputation for toppling politicians and proudly claims to represent the common man, celebrates 50 years on June 24. The celebration has drawn the attention of the country's most prominent past and present politicians, celebrities, footballers and newsmakers.

It's not hard to understand why.

Germany's mood barometer

From the ashes of World War II to the country's new reputation as a recognized player on the world stage, BILD has been there to record it all.

Perhaps more than any other publication, the newspaper, with its sensational headlines and large photographs has mirrored the happiness, sadness and uncertainty of the Germans as they evolved in their postwar division.

When the country despaired, BILD was there with black headlines and lip-biting commentary. When it rejoiced, the newspaper was the head cheerleader, punctuating its text with exclamation marks and color
photographs.

"Those who want to write a master's thesis on the Germans' idea of truth over the past five decades, can rely on BILD as a source," wrote the respected Süddeutsche Zeitung this week.
In the ruins of World War II, Hinrich Springer and his son Axel, 34, founded the Springer Verlag in Hamburg. In 1952, BILD was born with the help of Axel's wife, Rosemarie.

With Axel's fascination for a London tabloid called the Daily Mirror in mind, Rosemarie, the legend goes, cut out headlines and photographs from a variety of magazines and assembled them on a carpet in a imitation layout of the mirror. Axel came home and was overjoyed.

BILD was born the next day.

The publication delighted and annoyed with its yellow journalism. It was largely dismissed until people began to realize how much power Axel Springer's newspaper actually had.

Springerhochhaus

Axel-Springer's headquarters in Berlin

BILD became the bane of the student movement of the late 1960s for its rigid anti-Communist, anti-leftist commentary. Angry students stormed the headquarters of the Axel Springer Publishing House (photo) and temporarily occupied the BILD offices in the late 1960s. In 1971, the leftist terrorist group, the Red Army Faction, was suspected of planting a bomb that exploded in BILD's Hamburg offices and injured 17.

Covering a nascent Germany

During the period when a wall still cut Germany in two, BILD was the publication of West German superiority, of the country's wealth and freedom.

News from the "other" side of Germany was handled with a mixture of curiosity and fear by the BILD's editors.

"150 refugees every hour: When will the GDR (German Democratic Republic) be empty?" read one famous headline.

Fall der Berliner Mauer

Berliners celebrate on top of wall as East Germans cross through dismantled Berlin Wall, Germany.


Following the fall of the Berlin Wall in 1989, BILD magnified the concerns of West Germans not ready to welcome their Eastern brethren into the national fold:

"Fear: what's coming from the East?"

The Everyman's daily

The articles and headlines have always been short and to the point, meant to be read by the truck driver or saleswoman who don't have the time to page through other dailies, covered in black ink and small words.

BILD offers them a rainbow of colors on every page, naked photographs of celebrities and loud headlines that often promise more than the paper delivers. But the coverage isn't all superficial.

Politics for the masses

In recent decades, German politicians have realized the paper is the perfect organ to get their message out to the masses. Major statements sometimes make their first appearance in BILD, mostly from the conservative Christian Democratic Union. Most of the BILD editors have been CDU members, including Michael Spreng, the current advisor to Chancellor Gerhard Schröder's main challenger, Edmund Stoiber.

In a bid for votes, Schröder and Stoiber have promised to answer reader's questions in the 100 days left until this September's federal elections.

The scoops gotten by BILD's large staff make it the second-most quoted publication in German news media behind the venerable Der Spiegel magazine - even if it is usually up to other publications to flesh out the details.

BILD will never approach the journalistic elegance of prominent publications like Der Spiegel - and doesn't seem to want to.

After all, the newspaper still sells, and sells well. No publication in Europe has a higher circulation than that of BILD. And throughout, it has stuck to the credo of its original publisher: "Keep your eyes on the stars, but pay attention to the streets."

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