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Germany

Times May Change, But "taz" Here to Stay

When Germany's leftist daily newspaper "tageszeitung" was founded in April 1979, skeptics said it wouldn't last a year. Now, 25 years on, the taz's own brand of critical, sarcasm-laced journalism is still going strong.

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Humble beginnings.

There's no sign of any quarter-life crisis for the taz. Confident that this birthday will be just the first of many milestones, the paper has published its 25th anniversary edition with the date Apr.17, 2029 -- the year when the taz would turn 50. Instead of indulging in nostalgic reflection on the highs and lows of the past 25 years, the paper is keen to show it's firmly focused on the future.

And how does it imagine the world will look in 2029? For one thing, Prague will be the capital of Europe. And an 81-year old Joschka Fischer will have long traded in his post as German foreign minister to become the EU's president.

It's perhaps typical of a paper that has built its reputation on the ability to provoke to look ahead to its 50th anniversary. What better way to throw mud in the eyes of those who predicted a lifespan of less than a year when the taz set up shop in 1979?

Different beginnings

Founded as a collective -- a structure that still exists today -- the taz was born in a very different Germany. The Berlin Wall still cut the city in half, the Red Army Faction terrorist organization was still active, and the leftist scene was hotbed of political and ideological debate.

"The biggest miracle was the beginning phase," said founding member Hans-Christian Ströbele, now a member of parliament from the Green party. It was an "adventure," putting out a daily paper with a dozen people who had no experience in the newspaper business and no idea about finances. They astounded themselves when they managed to scrape together an edition each day, "often in the last minute," Ströbele said.

TAZ Zeitung Domenic Johnson

An editor on the taz's foreign desk, buried in paper.

Those were the "wild years," when the paper was beset by countless strikes and sit-ins, when there was regular turn-over in the post of editor-in-chief, and when the taz established its irreverent style, with front pages designed for maximum shock value, and sarcastic comments surreptitiously inserted by its typesetters.

Unique voice

Author Joseph von Westfalen in the Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung described the taz's voice as follows: "Here prevails a dry tone, like in the good old crime novels that were always full of detectives who were chronically short on cash, but always had a good turn of phrase, who knew the score, knew when something stank, and would never let the wool be pulled over their eyes. It doesn't necessarily have to do with being socialist, or green, or leftist. It's about attitude, a lapidary style, and a perspective that hasn't been clouded by too much contact with the powerful."

The taz has changed with the times, though. Some observers say it's no longer the radical paper of yesteryear, that it's gone mainstream in an effort to compete with Germany's other liberal dailies. "Too much so for my tastes," said Michael Sontheimer, a former editor-in-chief. But he acknowledged that the paper is "much more professionally produced today."

Die Tageszeitung vom 1.10.2003

The front page of the "taz" on Oct.1, 2003, reporting on Chancellor Gerhard Schröder's reforms.

The taz prints over 60,000 copies a day six days a week. Of those, 50,000 copies go to subscribers, who can choose from among three rates, according to how much they earn (no proof required) or how much they feel the paper is worth.

To celebrate its 25th birthday, the taz is throwing a party in a top Berlin venue. And, true to form, it's also holding a congress to discuss the paper's future, inviting journalists, writers, politicians and researchers to get to the bottom of the most pertinent issues for taz readers over the next 10 years.

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