What we want

Silke and Holger Friedrich on reactive progression, prophetic rock lyrics and their vision for a reboot of the Berliner Zeitung.

Publisher Silke and Holger Friedrich
Publisher Silke and Holger Friedrich

Boredom is a song that was released by the rock group Pankow in 1988. When it came out, it was clear that the GDR was coming to an end. A swift ending, as the lyrics tell us:

'The same country seen too long, the same language heard too long, waited too long, hoped too long, honoured the old men too long. I've run around, run around too much, and nothing has happened.'

When Alexander Osang interviewed us for Spiegel immediately after our purchase of the Berliner Verlag, a conversation began around the realisation that our upbringing stemmed more from Pankow and their song heroine Inge Pawelczik, than from Heidegger. And that the influences from the time that the Berlin Wall fell and the years since, have had a lasting effect on us.

Anzeige | Zum Weiterlesen scrollen

Yes, the purchase of the Berliner Verlag was a personal response to what we perceived as structural, systemic boredom - especially regarding the discourse in Berlin, Germany and Europe.

Something fundamental was pushed to the side 30 years ago, something painfully missing today. Which is why this city, this country, and yes, even the entire continent, seems to be just as bored and only engaged with their own specific concerns, as was the GDR in the final days of its existence.

Intergenerational injustice, environmental-political ignorance, technological helplessness and fear of progress, opinion-hysteria, the polarisation of society into left and right, and the growing inability of the established parties to competently and confidently respond to such escalations. Such are the symptoms of this development.

Meanwhile, those brought up in East Germany understand that with the experience of the peaceful system change in 1989 we also regonise the opportunities for real, structural change, and have developed a sensibility for double standards and hypocrisy. If we were honest with ourselves and would act based on the needs of future challenges, this country would not have to be "boring" in the slightest; this was also part of the discussion with Spiegel.

And so, we got to work. After the first responses from the team and the public, we felt affirmed in our decision to remain in Berlin and not try out London or Par

The Berliner Zeitung is back in the hands of Berliners. As the new publishers, we want to extend a heartfelt thank you to the members of our team who have stepped up to the challenge and led with confidence and strength. We are of the opinion that the fourth estate, considering the developments of globalisation and digitalisation, must show that answers are possible. A newspaper for a capital city must prove that it can mediate in an environment of growing complexity, that it must create transparency in times of troubled waters, and when profit is achieved by unlawful means in ever-expanding grey areas. The fourth estate should not be limited to sending the elevator up and down and paving the way for those interested in vying for power. A fourth estate should never act with double standards. Inevitably, that leads to lost credibility.

Returning to music from the GDR, we both recalled a song stretching back 40 years, one that put into words what motivated us at the final stages of negotiations for the Verlag in August 2019 and to not let the negotiations break down. In the song How far is it to the end of this world by Ute Freudenberg, one finds a theme that embodies the Berliner Zeitung. With the lines “How far is it to the end of this world, how far is it, that you never ask the question differently?” in a smooth and gentle way, a great aspiration is expressed, one that still 30 years after the end of the GDR in a united Germany still appears to go unfilled. In the GDR it was not possible, due to many well-known reasons, to provide time and space for this aspiration, even shortly before it met its end. Yet why can't this aspiration be realised even in a united Europe, nor in a united Germany nor in the hastily reunited city of Berlin?

We ask ourselves as the new publishers, why local, as well as national and European politics do not adequately respond to a vastly accelerated world. What would help us more in the future: continue the discussion on overhang seats after parliamentary elections at summer parties and receptions, or, to question how the relevant challenges for parliamentary democracy can be met with confidence and strength. We ask ourselves, if our politicians can actually accept that we as citizens of Europe cannot accept the undemocratic appointment of posts in Brussels; that we do not take notice when the Mayor of Berlin travels the world and returns with the topic of rent control--where from again?

We ask ourselves, if we shouldn´t vote rather every two years--and maybe perhaps with our smartphones--in order to do justice to the speed and pace surrounding us. Or if we can consider it as an immediate need to address the exposed situation such as the European council presidency, the federal chancellery, or the mayor´s office, and that these posts should not be occupied by the same individuals for more than two legislative periods. The argument that time is needed, we already know from industry; from those who put themselves before the results. What decision needs more than two years to make and why are we not capable of structurally separating decisions from their implementation?

We ask ourselves if professional competency in politics should not be highly welcomed, even when the life plans and goals of competent individuals seem to be worlds apart and bear little to no resemblance to each other. What price do we pay today and do our children pay tomorrow when we don´t ask ourselves these questions? We also ask ourselves why public broadcasting services, with the large amount of money from our GEZ fees can´t count, measure and weigh. And drawing from that point, what topics in which tone of high morality should be commented on, based on facts. For this edition, we counted, measured and weighed the data ourselves. We came to the conclusion that the grand coalition of the current legislative period is the slowest, weakest, and results-poorest coalition since Helmut Kohl´s administration in 1990. Counted, measured, and (out)-weighed by individuals whose main profession is collecting gaming and game processing statistics using highly complex algorithms for the world of sports. The result is not an opinion, but rather the fact that Ms. Merkel is the fastest and most diligent head of government up until now. It remains then with high probability that even with the delays during the start of the legislative period, she will be able to return to her successful style in the later phase of the legislative period. Merkel has to go! - one can say it, shout it, or roar - but it should also be said, how post-truth this seems up against the hard facts.

With these results, we have to state that these loud, fact-poor opinions make us slower while all around us, so much is happening faster than ever before. The understanding of many politicians and the use of power mechanisms no longer fit the requirements of reality and how it is to be governed. Due to the lack of clear and plausible alternatives, many voters are doing just that, with at times, fatal consequences for the distribution of power in the country. Perhaps the opportunity will present itself with the increasingly empty schedule of the federal chancellery, to critically reflect on homeland security and if necessary, also in combination with policy-making power. It is clear that the course fees from the actions of the sleepwalkers of 1914 will soon be paid. As one thing is clear when observing the current world affairs: the wars of the last century and with them the death toll as well as the breaking of civilization from all sides, are fading more and more into oblivion, forgotten by society. New geostrategic talents are coming to be, equipped with the same, old, fatalistic imperial-oriented power patterns. How do we want to engage them, if not through learned strategy and with offers which are more interesting than an appeal to the rules of the game from a diplomacy outdated and dusty?

Why did we not accept Putin´s outstretched hand in 2001? He spoke in our land and in our language and was easy to understand. He too may have remembered the time before 1989 during his speech, may have wondered if the reaction from our political elite was one of boredom. The Russian arms build-up of the last ten years, Crimea and Donezk, are all the results of something, they simply did not fall from the sky. Do we talk about it? Openly, honestly and with a view on the opportunities for Russia and Europe, for Germany and Berlin? And do we not only talk with him about how irresponsible it is today to develop new atomic weapons, although Gödel´s Incompleteness Theorems are available for anyone to read on Wikipedia? New time, old pattern; seems like something from 1988.

Massive amounts of data are available, open to the public and legal. We both know from professional experience the power of data, its use in operations, for example with healthcare issues or with use in producing agile systems of organization for the work place. We see how some are on their way and that some still refuse. As a whole, we observe that in Germany it hasn´t been learned fast enough how to use this data for the wellbeing of all. The Berliner Zeitung will then, as an example, work with the representatives of social partners to discuss how we will handle in future the ban on behavioral control or the social scoring system, already banging on our door. Some use data, while others ban data collection, although we call the most advanced data privacy protection laws our very own; pitting engineer against Luddite, advancement against reaction, pragmatism against nostalgia. That too “bores” many people in this country, especially within the younger generation.

We also ask ourselves if the current, conventional codetermination is not a fundamentally unjust tool used to implement the interests of the ever-aging Best Ager over those of the younger generation and if this tool isn´t threatening to start its own extinction. What if the 140 countries in this world were to notice this correlation, were to persuade the highly educated minds of this young generation and offer to welcome them in their country? Why are on the contrary, are we still missing regulations for legal immigration that deserve to be called modern and effective? Could it be that we are already paying an enormously high price today? The truth is, if Sergey Brin´s parents would have found their way from Moscow to Germany instead of to the USA, a campaign against a brilliant technological firm such as Google, which is curtailing Europe´s profits, would not have had to happen. Something that irks people, we understand. But to react with lobbyism to limit competition, is reminiscent of the SED Chief Ideologist Kurt Hager. And how it ends, sings Wolf Giermann in the ballad of the stale, old man.

It is important for both of us to say at this point, that the only one still living, whose name is sung here next to others from the autumn of 1989, who had the courage and character to not give the order to use force. Knowing that he was jeopardizing his elevated social status and even possibly his own life, when meeting this decision of no violence. Egon Krenz enabled with this one personal decision, millions of people to have self-determined, positive life paths. A decision which amongst many others allowed us to publish this piece in this newspaper. We are grateful to him and would like to ask if it showed the same character to sentence him along with others to four years imprisonment. For sure, a system change without casualties is not the work of one individual. Nevertheless, or perhaps for this very reason: 30 years ago, something was accomplished, something we can continue to carry forward if we can agree on what is essential.

On the anniversary of the fall of the Berlin wall, perhaps it is also essential to remember that on one single day, April 18, 2015, 3 times as many people died off the coast of Sicily than did in all the 27 years of those who met their tragic end at the Berlin wall. We know how inhumane such a comparison appears. But isn´t time to ask, what ideology, religion, or which economic zone is justifiable with even a single death? We have left cannibalism behind us, the burning of women at the stake, as well as capital punishment and yet: how far have we really come after the death of three-year-old Alayn Kurdi in the Mediterranean Sea?

It is socially accepted to call the GDR due to its border regime a lawless, illegitimate state. Is Europe, with all of the casualties on its external borders, the expanding use of surveillance in the Mediterranean, an even greater illegitimate state; that will be the question our children ask us in the future. Can we answer this question with the same moral conviction? There are many walls today which are seen as in need of coming down. Maybe the German exhibition pavilion at the next architectural biennale in Venice will manage to expand upon our European egoism further, which is the message of Christoph Büchel´s installation of “Barca Nostra”, a shipwreck depicting the agonizing death of 800 passengers who drowned. And just as we are grateful to Mr. Krenz, we should be grateful to Ms. Merkel that we could prove in the “Welcome Summer” of 2015 that we were capable of something different. It will be evidence of civil courage to later generations and will serve as evidence that neither regional nor national egoism could not take over, at least not in Germany.

In this expanding context we should also ask how Halle could happen. Why a young man, who with growing probability had no personal contact with the Jewish religion and culture, could commit such an inexcusable act. Perhaps Ronald Lauder could read between the lines during his visit and hear that these are young people, and not older individuals acting with the same patterns, who are developing new images of the enemy and who are calling for action. It most likely made him angry, even more so likely is that it made him sad to visit a German city in the 3rd generation after the holocaust where a murder has been committed. And perhaps, there was a moment of reflection on the previous patterns of engagement in this ever-changing world, and whether they carry the same weight as those who are in positions of responsibility would wish they would.

In order to coexist in peace and to avoid mutual suspicion, the situation requires an expanded method of resolution, perhaps even a different manner of acting. The call for even higher walls, more police and money, even the reactionary reinforcement of these cries through the same important people, in the same media. We hear these demands through ever-increasing commands, calling out for the lawful, legitimate state—where will that lead us to exactly?

Evidently this reactionary conflict was exemplified through the song “Germany” from the band, Rammstein. A lyric with the lines „....Germany, my heart in flames, want to love you and damn you, Germany, your breath is cold, so young and yet so old, Germany!...”, presented with the aspiration to be successful in the eyes of the world: that is the work of inspiring, poetic and well-versed artists. This should be recognized and a discreditation should be dismissed, unless you want to turn away simply bored to tears. We carried the shame in us for the acts committed by our Grandparents and Great Grandparents and we can be proud of our determination to stand up to that shame and remove our guilt. Only very few nations are capable of recognizing collectively that they committed an injustice against another nation or ethnicity, and even fewer are capable of commemorating their victims. And how many nations do we know who even went so far as to build memorials to the victims? Perhaps we as Germans have shown with the peaceful system change of 1989, with the 2005 dedication of the memorial for the Murdered Jews of Europe in Berlin Mitte, and with the opening of the border in 2015, that we can also be an interesting partner for dialogue, even when it seems that there is no other option for discussion.

With the experiences gained from school development as well as parents to three children, the question put to us is how far our understanding of a modern education goes in this country. Educational policies which rob children of their chances and opportunities and forces a system of conformity, policies which cultivate neither their own personal character nor their cognitive abilities. Educational policies which are not student-centered, but rather focus on the interest of parties, which is why the German school system cannot provide any cohesive Abitur exams, let alone the fact that the education system offers no compatibility to the main world languages. We do not understand, why it can´t be openly discussed in public, whether the current system of education further divides this country, or if it is far less transparent as we all wish to believe. Only strong children or parents, who recognize this constraint and respond to it, can rid themselves of it while other children or parents are robbed of the opportunity to find a suitable pathway of education in these current times. As a result, we produce losers who sometimes violently tell the world that they do not want to be losers. Yet, they haven´t learned how you can win later in life, professionally or personally, because no one gave them the necessary tools to do so.

With this pattern our politicians responsible for education are blocking, either through ignorance or purposefully, far too many opportunities to build future perspectives, self-discovery and the ensuing personal success that accompanies such a process. The question then presents itself as to why in a globalized world the federally appointed assembly of educational ministers is not seen as one of the organizations implicitly supporting extreme reactions. Is this such an absurd question? We asked the world´s leading politician for education, Dr. Andreas Schleicher and creator of the PISA-Test to sit down with the Berlin politician for education, Jörg Rackles at the OECD in Paris. An act of civil disobedience and an attempt to show why in today´s world, out of all the possibilities available to us, why the German method of appointing permanent civil status posts to teachers represents a short-term, expensive and high-risk move for our children´s future. Acting in the 21st century with the tools used in the 18th Century for Prussian state interests—does that make sense? The idea to achieve security through civil service status followed the idea to replace the partially corrupted and even more so incompetent rural nobility, with experts. We are not accusing those in charge, they don´t know any better. Our question touches more on why they don´t want to learn, with statistics and other measurable results, even with the data that has been available in Berlin for over twenty years. And why they assume, with so much unwillingness to learn, that they are able manage education.

You would have noticed already: With acquiring the Berliner Verlag, we hope to make a contribution to civil society engagement, a contribution outside of parliamentary opposition, in a new format and with the intention of civil society empowerment. It comes as a surprise to both of us that we have been widely supported from the start. Many people have offered their help and assistance, which is why as an example, we were even able to modernize the IT system at the Berliner Verlag not in decades, years or even months, but rather in weeks. With this, we were able to integrate a highly secure, digital infrastructure for the Berliner Zeitung, where individuals can contact us anonymously from all over the world. The same technology and the same security measures that The Guardian uses to communicate with Wikileaks. Said another way, it´s between us if needs be. We are also capable to hide articles from search engines, and if necessary, the entire newspaper. In the event of a dispute with tech platforms, we could use solid technical expertise and not simply throw around catchy phrases. We have created new columns for the newspaper, which more closely match our new, everyday reality and with this, invite you to discover these engaging and timely topics. The straight and crooked stories, the loud and silent ones, from “good” and “bad” people. And because we accept that the “good guys” are never totally good and that the “bad guys” are never totally bad on this planet (and moreover in Berlin), we want to strengthen the editors and authors of the Berliner Zeitung, in order to give this spectrum, the time and space it deserves.

We invite you to demonstrate the plurality of this society and its resiliency. Allow us to be grateful that we can write this piece without punishment and that you can read this piece without punishment. This freedom is to be defended in all its possible dimensions and interpretations. Yes, we also see this step as entry into a competition for systems; a competition for the better ideas, and not in any way a competition between systems which have been discredited long ago or those which are currently widely inefficient. Because this competition is nowhere near the finish line. The last quarter lasted 30 years, the results are sobering and now the next quarter has started. The football team Union Berlin made it into the National League, we again have class warfare in the city, and when we succeed on or off the field, it’s with fairness and strength! Amazon, Google, and Siemens are coming to Berlin and our politicians are afforded the opportunity to learn about globalization on their own home turf. Berlin currently shows the largest economic growth out of all the federal states, dethroned with this latest development is Bayern, Hessen or Baden-Württemberg—and with that, we are the ones who have also mastered High German.

And certainly, after the next election, we will be able to build a city for the 21st century. For anyone and everyone, as we now have rent control, and we can measure, count and weigh just how much new living space it will create. Not so boring after all, as now we can hold accountable how much new construction the city will dedicate to the surrounding areas of Berlin, instead of modernizing our city and ensuring its stability for the future, also with the assistance of ethical and responsible investors.

Now you have it also in writing: With the purchase of the Berliner Verlag we want to try and provide an answer to the expanding systemic, structural boredom in this city, this country, with a new media platform. And yes, maybe we are not highly representative with our impressions. But we will offer every effort, passion, and collective knowledge from the Berliner Verlag in order to achieve our goal. Our goal is that no one wants to turn its back on Berlin again, because they were, as sung by Pankow, bored. We hope to become a destination for the intelligent, upright and ambitious individuals in this world, because here, social security along with personal responsibility is brought into harmony with fairness. We don’t just feel it, we know that something more was possible, and should be possible again in this city and in this country.

Please feel then encouraged to actively contribute. Submit tips on stories, so we can report it; submit articles; buy this newspaper online, at your local corner store, or even better, buy a subscription as an act of cultivating reassurance. Demand something more from the Verlag, help us to achieve something more for this city! And maybe we can try it as Berliners together, regardless of where we live or where we are from, because whether you want to believe or not, we haven´t been the slightest bit bored in weeks!

With these thoughts in mind and with best wishes for you: from Berliners, for Berliners!

Silke und Holger Friedrich