If there’s a news magazine anywhere in the world as thick, diverse and indepth as the German Der Spiegel, I’d like to know about it. Since 1947, the weekly with the red-rimmed cover has analyzed German and world events with its own flair, a spark of independence that must have sometimes irked the allied powers during the occupation of Germany.
Spiegel was modeled after American and British news magazines. When it first appeared in the British Zone in January 1947, it had a small but significant readership, limited at the time by the postwar paper shortages. In its first few years, it developed a reputation for precise, factual journalism that it largely still holds today. It tries to be what good journalism should be — a watchdog over the government. It took to heart the goal of the Allies, who wanted to encourage a free press in Germany after years of Goebbels’ propaganda machine.
The Spiegel archives are a goldmine. Digitized as text and scanned so you can see the actual pages. If you read German and have a lot of time on your hands, browse the early postwar issues — for free. Just click on the link and scroll down to the “Weitere Titelbildgalerien und Heftarchive” where the years are listed. The articles are opinionated, sometimes snarky, often humorous and always intelligent.
I’ve learned about odd things, like Graf Adalbert Keyserlingk’s orphan village on Lake Constance, largely empty in 1947 because of the bureaucratic difficulty in sending some of Germany’s 1 million orphans out of the allied zones. I learned that the Parisian fashion world started showing women with short hair again after a period when longer hair was mode. And I learned just how hard it was for German brides to get permission to marry their GI boyfriends and move to the US (I’ll be writing a post about this soon).
Oh, and the modern Spiegel is worth reading too. It has the largest circulation of any newsmagazine in Europe. And it’s outlived similar magazines like Newsweek (gone) and Time (dwindled now to almost nothing).