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Subject: Rudolf Augstein, Publisher of Der Spiegel

died two days after turning 79
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Date Posted: November 08, 2002 5:26:57 EDT

Rudolf Augstein, the founder and publisher of Der Spiegel, who regarded his weekly news magazine as the "assault artillery" of his country's fledgling postwar democracy, died today of pneumonia, his publishing company said. He was 79.

With few parallels in European publishing, Mr. Augstein exerted broad influence on his country's press, politicians and policies in a career that began modestly enough when, at the age of 23, he took over a weekly news magazine from British occupiers and began publishing Der Spiegel, which means The Mirror, in January 1947. He was still its publisher when he died, two days after his 79th birthday.

His death today inspired a cascade of tributes from politicians including Chancellor Gerhard Schrder, who said Mr. Augstein had "stamped and formed German public opinion like almost no other journalist." Arnulf Baring, a German historian, said Mr. Augstein had "contributed to the establishment of the media as the Fourth Estate" after press freedom had been destroyed by Nazism.

Mr. Augstein once spent 103 days in prison to defend the Hamburg-based Der Spiegel against charges of treason in what became the celebrated "Spiegel affair" of the early 1960's.

Mr. Augstein's career spanned Germany's postwar history from the division of a defeated nation to reunificiation after the fall of the Berlin Wall in 1989. It was a time when Germany straddled a politically divided continent, with the Soviet Army in East Germany and hundreds of thousands of American troops based in West Germany.

In West Germany, slowly emerging from Nazism's shadow, the superpowers fought the shadowy espionage battles of the cold war. And on that stage, Mr. Augstein positioned Der Spiegel as a major player. He was regarded as a powerful supporter of Willy Brandt's overtures to Communist East Europe known as Ostpolitik and of the reunification policies of Helmut Kohl.

But, like many of his generation, his roots lay in the same between-the-wars Germany that propelled Adolf Hitler to power.

Mr. Augstein was born in Hanover, northern Germany, in 1923, the son of a photo equipment dealer. He joined a local newspaper in 1941 but was drafted into the German Army as a telegraph operator and, later, artillery observer in World War II before he was wounded on the eastern front. He spent a brief period as prisoner of the victorious United States forces in 1945 before resuming his career as a journalist.

Under his editorship, the liberal Der Spiegel grew as an acerbic critic of Konrad Adenauer's postwar government and as champion of investigative journalism into many domestic scandals. Its circulation went from 65,000 in 1948 to more than five million in recent times.

But it was in late 1962 that Mr. Augstein's most celebrated clash with the authorities made headlines with the magazine's publication of an article that raised questions over the military preparedness of NATO.

Der Spiegel's offices were searched, journalists were arrested and Mr. Augstein turned himself in to the police. The unfolding drama drew widespread criticism, within Germany and abroad, and finally led to the downfall of Franz Josef Strauss, the then powerful West German defense minister.

The affair was seen as a test of whether West Germany's democracy could survive the collision between press and politicians.

The treason allegations were dropped for lack of evidence. Mr. Strauss' career, which could arguably have led him later to the chancellorship he lost a bid for the top office in 1980 was dogged from then on by intimations that he acted to restrain press freedom.

Mr. Augstein meanwhile had cemented Der Spiegel's credentials as an emblem of West German democracy and the freedom of its press, and its stark contrast with the Soviet Union's grip on the Communist regime in East Germany.

Apart from a brief and unimpressive foray as a legislator for the Free Democrats in 1972, Mr. Augstein remained publisher and chief editorial writer a position that gave him great influence until his death.

The combative style of Der Spieel gained Mr. Augstein some enemies during his long career, but politicians and journalistic colleagues joined in tributes to him today.

"Without him and Der Spiegel, there is a lot that would never have been said or written in Germany," said Angela Merkel, head of the Christian Democrats. Michael Naumann, publisher of the weekly Die Zeit, said, "Augstein achieved power by criticizing the powerful to the good of the republic."

In the 1990's, with Germany unified and the cold war over, the big issues became less obvious and Mr. Augstein's dominance in German journalism was suddenly challenged by an upstart news weekly called Focus that began publishing in 1993 and competed with Der Spiegel for readers and advertisers.

Mr. Augstein was divorced four times, and is survived by his fifth wife, Anna Maria Hrtgen, whom he married in October 2000, and by four children from his earlier marriages.

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