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Germany

Richest Germans: The Publisher's Wife

German publishing mogul Axel Springer's fifth wife and widow, Friede Springer started her career in the publisher's house as a nanny. Now she owns the company and is among Germany's richest people.

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Friede Springer: "I'm a product of Axel Springer"

"Nanny wanted for wealthy family," read the job ad that brought Friede Springer, then only 23 and still named Riewerts, to the Axel Springer Verlag from her native North Sea island of Föhr in 1965.

Fascinated by Axel Cäsar Springer, who built a publishing empire from the ground up after World War Two, Friede became his girlfriend two years after taking the position to look after the publisher's son Nicolaus.

A product of Axel Springer

Friede Springer

While alive Friede's husband dominated much of her life

She stayed at Axel's side for 13 years, becoming his fifth wife in 1978. A self-made billionaire, Axel Springer was also incredibly possessive and elitist.

Friede's family was not invited to their wedding and he did not permit her to maintain contact with her old friends and forced her to phone her parents from the cellar.

"I am a product of Axel Springer," she said during an interview for Springer's Welt am Sonntag newspaper. "It's quite true: he created me, he made me what I am, and I say this quite openly."

Strengthening the bond between them was Friede's staunch support of her husband, 30 years her senior, even when he was arguable Germany's most-hated man and the target of student protests in the late 1960s.

Until her husband's death in 1985, Friede lived in a private world, secluded from the media and that dominates her life today as the head of Germany's largest publishing house, home to Die Welt and the Bild tabloid, which has the highest circulation of any European newspaper.

Widow underestimated by media magnates

ProsiebenSat.1

The company was in a difficult stage when Axel Springer died, and the last thing Friede needed after losing her husband was a series of battles over the inheritance. But that's what Friede got.

As the chief heir and executor of Axel's will, she was at the center of maneuvering from stockholders, members of the board and heirs. They all of wanted to take over control of the publishing empire and set off a series of inheritance difficulties that would sporadically flare up over the next 20 years.

Underestimated by media moguls who didn't expect much of a fight from the 43-year-old widow who had dedicated herself to her husband, Friede gradually bought back the company's stock and became the majority shareholder.

She and Matthias Döpfner, her choice for CEO, turned the company around and defended it from hostile takeover attacks by Leo Kirch, founder of the Munich-based media company that tried to acquire a majority stake in Springer AG, by attempting to stay true to Axel's vision.

Springer Verlagsgebäude

The Springer publishing house

"I have not changed anything in his office, he is still present," she said. "When I have to make a decision I think of him and ask how he would decide."

In August 2005, Springer created a stir from her office on the 19th floor of the building on Berlin's Kochstrasse by announcing her intention to take over the ProSieben/Sat.1 broadcasting group, one of Germany's largest private free-to-air broadcasters. Anti-cartel officials have, however, hinted they would not allow the acquisition to be approved.

In recognition of her social work, Friede has received a number of honors including the Leo Baeck Prize from the Central Council of Jews in Germany.

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