You have to have “profile” – Friday

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On the VI. The course is set at the SED party congress in January 1963. A “New Economic System of Planning and Management” (NÖSPL) should equip the economy with more efficiency. It offers companies and individuals more personal responsibility and incentives to perform. Party leader Walter Ulbricht is aware of the fact that for such a change one needs responsible citizens, which cannot be achieved with a sometimes dogmatic and schematic cultural policy. A clear signal for a change of course is the decision to vote out of the Politburo, who had previously been the most influential cultural politician, Alfred Kurella. Not only in film and in the theaters began a thaw – admittedly brief – that included two serious attempts to reform the press landscape. Hans Otten, editor-in-chief of New Berliner Illustrierte (NBI), was commissioned in early 1963 by the Central Committee’s department for agitation and propaganda, which was responsible for the media, to give the paper a different layout. What is thought of is a kind of socialist one Stern. The magazine should not only be expanded to 40 pages and come with more color photos, but should also be authentic, in other words: take up conflicts, from production as well as from the social life of the republic.

Otten, inspired by the feeling that de-Stalinization is finally reaching the GDR, believes that the human resources for the mission assigned to him are hardly available. A new generation of journalists who can deal with disputes in socialism should first be trained. This is how Otten got the idea, his friend, who has been a correspondent for the Swiss KP-Blatt since 1961 Forward to ask accredited Jean Villain to lead a course for gifted young people. That’s what she writes for NBI Scholarships, which should be amortized with the printing of work products of the course participants for half the fee. Villain, who has been reporting from all over the world since 1949 for the GDR weekly World stage writes, agrees immediately. He is excited to change the journalistic culture of the GDR – following the example of Egon Erwin Kisch – from the ideological to the factual and to publicly discuss what had been considered a socialist taboo until then.

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How top-class the course was can be seen from the fact that almost all of the participants later became well-known authors, such as Klaus Schlesinger, Landolf Scherzer, Anne Dessau, Gert Prokop or Waltraud Hannig. Not without resistance in the editorial team, but through Otten, texts by Schlesinger about the inadequate equipment of a laundry are published, about the East Berlin pawnshop and the last homeless asylum, which still has two dozen permanent residents. Schlesinger’s sketch about the Jewish cemetery in Weißensee and the report researched with Waltraud Hannig about a village that is about to give way to lignite are also remarkable.

The renewal of the NBI raises sales to one million, but causes irritation in parts of the SED leadership and apparently also in Moscow. In an informal way, Otten received a “private” letter from a Soviet “friend” of the dated June 29, 1963, allegedly addressed to Albert Norden, a member of the Politburo NBI leaked, which seems like a Hollywood fantasy about Stalinist intrigues. Konstantin Golinjak criticizes that the NBI recently no longer in the tradition of Arbeiter-Illustrierte-Zeitung (A-I-Z) of the Weimar Republic, but rather present “charming young girls, flowers and animals in color print on the envelope” instead of concentrating on the fight against fascism, which behind the facade of the West German “economic miracle” is again “its bloody claws after the People “drive out. Golinjak expressly wants Alfred Kurella’s influence on journalism to be increased again.

A little later, Otten also received criticism from the SED agitation commission, a ZK instance. Then inform them NBI recently not enthusiastic enough, but too sober about the economic events of the GDR, “the word and the politics of the party” would be neglected, as well as the polemics with the class enemy. However, these warning shots, which are worrying for Otten and Villain, do not mean the end of the project. Parts of the Politburo are sticking to the reform course. In the spring of 1964, Otten even received a second, even more ambitious order – directly from the high house. He’s supposed to be the West German Spiegel Conceive a news magazine that will stand up to you and not only fuel the socialist interaction between citizens and business, but also have an international appeal. Otten is also working with Jean Villain on this secretly prepared project.

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That Profile baptized magazine is to appear from September 1964. In order to give the dispute with the Federal Republic a factual basis, Villain was given a small foreign exchange budget beforehand in order to deal with a few topics for the NBI and Profile to research. As he writes in his memoir, it was not possible “to report on mass movements or major strikes in a period of hectic, all-corrupting boom (…)”. Subjects such as the tourist hype around Hitler’s Obersalzberg residence, the decision to build a “central brothel” in Stuttgart, interviews with neurologists about the consequences of work stress, the increasing number of “guest workers” since the building of the Wall, colliery closures or housing shortages come into consideration. after the NBI has printed the first of these reports, the publication of all others is forbidden by the SED agitation commission.

Nevertheless, the projects survive “new ones NBI” and Profile the overthrow of Nikita Khrushchev as CPSU general secretary in October 1964, the seizure of power by Leonid Brezhnev and the end of the thaw period by a few more weeks. But Otten was nervous and neglected his health. An operation for gastric cancer prevents him from final editing Profile in August 1964. Two months later, 1,800 copies of the pilot number will be printed and sent to a selected group for assessment. Then there is an eloquent silence, not even an acknowledgment of receipt is given until Ottens wife succeeds in addressing the former party secretary of the Berlin publishing house who has been promoted to the SED central committee. The risk of the information that about Profile there was a lot of discussion, “a half-half mood” prevailed and some comrades were “actually very happy”. The makers of the zero number officially learn none of this.

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The end for a reformed one NBI and the secret plan Profile seals the 11th ZK plenum of the SED in December 1965. At Erich Honecker’s instigation, it does not deal with the NÖSPL as planned, but with cultural policy. Ottens role in the NBI takes over a comrade loyal to the line. He sees himself deported to a harmless editor-in-chief at the Wissenschaftsverlag and dies in 1971. It is also over for Villain’s reporter course, which resolves the contracts concluded for some of the participants NBI on. Almost all 1,800 copies of the Profile– Zero numbers are collected and destroyed. One of the few traces that remained in Jean Villain’s archive was an advertising graphic for the reverse with the text: “Do you have a profile ??? Profil is the illustrated news magazine. Profile reports from Germany and abroad on 68 pages. Profile provides factual, real and up-to-date information. Profil readers can judge. You have to have a profile! “

For further reading: Jean Villain Please don’t fall! How the GDR “profile” got lost and other newspaper maker stories from the German Far East MV Taschenbuch 2004, 123 pp.


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