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Everything You Never Knew You Wanted to Know About Berlin

OF THE RISE AND FALL OF “BERLINER ILLUSTRIRTE ZEITUNG”

The cover of the newspaper as used in 1892-1893

The cover of the newspaper as used in 1892-1893

On January 4, 1892 the first regular edition of the first mass-market newspaper in Germany, “Berliner Illustrirte Zeitung” hit the newsstands in Berlin. The weekly, created in 1891 by Otto Eysler, the publisher of popular magazine “Lustige Blätter“, and supported by Eysler’s friend and owner of a very promising publishing house, Leopold Ullstein, became an almost immediate sensation – it was after all the first German paper to be offered without a regular subscription. At the price of 10 Pfennig per issue combined with an excellent quality of print achieved thanks to the use of the such marvels of printing technology as offset print and linotype machines (pr “line casting machines”) it changed the German press market for ever.

The cover of the first edition of the “Berliner Illustrirte Zeitung” – the original spelling of the word illustrirte would not be changed until 1941 – featured a group picture of an officer corps of a tragically sunken ship. This mix of novelty and death worked its magic and the paper sold brilliantly that day. From 1901 the weekly published photos not only on the front page but also inside each edition – a technical accomplishment on par with being able to watch films on the screens of our smartphones today.

Cover photo for the August 1919 edition on BIZ, made by Wilhelm Steffen, sparked the first big scandal in the German Republic: it showed scantily-clad President Friedrich Ebert wading in the lake with his Minister Gustav Noske, sporting an equally modest (or immodest as some screamed) outfit.

Thanks to clever marketing, interesting content and the fact that in 1904 the state at last allowed street-sale of newspapers (before that press could only be delivered home or picked up at appointed newsagents’) Berliner Illustrirte Zeitung saw its readership numbers explode from 10,000 in 1900 to 500,000 in 1910 and up to one million only four years later. For Ullstein’s popular weekly the outbreak of the First World War was a curse and a blessing in one: a curse because it meant loss of many talented editors, skilled printers and workers and a blessing in that everybody wanted to know literally everything about the war.

Like all other press publishers at the time, in the 1920s Ullstein’s weekly had to face the daily challenge of rampant inflation: at times it was quite impossible to predict or plan the price of the next edition and as such it needed to be adjusted “on the go”. But sales remained more or less stable or at least stable enough for the company to afford completing its great construction project: new buildings and Ullstein’s new seat. In 1927 best part of Ullstein’s press empire left Berlin’s legendary Zeitungsviertel and moved into the brand-new stronghold of free press, a red-brick temple of modernism – Ullsteinhaus in Tempelhof.

Ullsteinhaus Tempelhof (image via Deutsches Pressemuseum).

By the early 1930s the paper was printed in two million copies per week but soon after the Nazis’ coming to power, its owners, the Ullsteins, were removed from the board of directors – like all other traditional Berlin press houses with Jewish owners Ullstein Verlag, one of the key media publishers on the market, became “aryanised” or put in control of non-Jewish and regime-faithful managers. After the Second World War it was sold to Axel Springer Verlag in whose hands it remained until 2013 when it was purchased by Funke Media Group.

Strandbad Wannsee photographed for the Berliner Illustrirte Zeitung in 2008 by Christian Schroth.

Strandbad Wannsee photographed for the Berliner Illustrirte Zeitung in 2008 by Christian Schroth.

Since March 1984 all Sunday editions of the “Berliner Morgenpost”, Axel Springer’s flagship Berlin daily, include an insert under the old title “Berliner Illustrirte Zeitung”. Excellent photos and exciting topics are still its chief ingredients.

6 comments on “OF THE RISE AND FALL OF “BERLINER ILLUSTRIRTE ZEITUNG”

  1. TheLastBaron
    January 5, 2018

    Love it. You do dig up the most fascinating stuff!

  2. Gary Costello
    January 7, 2018

    I caught this one a bit late as I forgot to check my mail. Shame on me.
    Nevertheless what a fantastic article (love the bathing suits by the way) and excellent photos as well!
    Thank you.

  3. Tobias L
    January 10, 2018

    Hi. MoPo is with Funke Media Group and not with AS since about 2013

    • notmsparker
      January 10, 2018

      Thank you, Tobias! I have meant to correct that but it slipped my mind again. Just as it keeps slipping my mind that it is not Axel-Springer any more. Apologies to Funke Media Group:)

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