OBITUARY: Gerd Bucerius

In 1945 a press officer of the British Military Government asked the Hamburg minister responsible for the city's housing to set up a daily paper. The person concerned was Gerd Bucerius, a lawyer by profession. He presented a plan which the British adopted and they, not he, started to publish the highly successful Die Welt. As a consolation prize the British gave Bucerius a licence to publish a weekly, Die Zeit. Publication began on 21 February 1946.

In terms of prestige the weekly came to overshadow the daily. Together with Der Spiegel, Bucerius's publication has remained the most influential German weekly. Yet the development of Die Zeit was not without difficulties. Although Germans were excited about new ideas in politics, the arts and economics, and were desperate for contributions which helped them to understand the shameful years of Hitlerism, the financing of such a project was not easy. In the 1950s the paper suffered severe financial losses.

Bucerius had bought 50 per cent of the shares in the rival weekly Stern, which was a great financial success. Stern was glossy, Die Zeit was not; Stern mixed fashion, crime, sex, scandal, even cookery, with serious political articles. Happily all three weeklies survived. Die Zeit achieved profitability in the second half of the 1970s. In its early years the paper was regarded as independent but rather conservative; by the end of the 1960s it was on the liberal wing of the Bonn establishment.

Gerd Bucerius was born in Ham, Westphalia, in 1906. He studied law in Hamburg and worked briefly as a judge in Kiel and Flensburg. He could not continue in this position after the Nazi take-over in 1933 but remained a lawyer, defending those who fell foul of the regime.

Bucerius was a founder member of the right-of-centre Christian Democratic Union (CDU) in 1945. After serving in the regional government in Hamburg and the Economic Council, the forerunner of the German parliament, he entered the first democratically elected post-war German parliament, the Bundestag, in 1949, remaining a member until 1962. He was most concerned about the future of Germany and served as the chairman of the Berlin committee, in 1949-53.

From the start, Bucerius was for the market economy, worried about the influence of the Catholic church and took the view that the Protestant wing of the CDU must have its proper place in the party hierarchy. Nevertheless, he supported Konrad Adenauer as party leader and Chancellor. Later he became increasingly disenchanted with "the old fox". Adenauer wanted to make Bucerius responsible for any criticism of his leadership which appeared in Die Zeit. Bucerius could not convince his leader that he did not interfere with the editor's freedom. On 22 March 1962 Bucerius resigned from parliament and from the CDU. He supported Dr Ludwig Erhard, the "Atlanticist" and father of the economic miracle, to succeed Adenauer in 1963 against the "Gaullist" wing of Christian Democracy.

In the 1980s Bucerius handed over the management of Die Zeit to Helmut Schmidt, who had been removed from office in 1982 after the Liberal FDP had withdrawn its support from the Social Democratic Chancellor. Bucerius had known Schmidt since they were both politically active in Hamburg in the post-war years. This did not mean that Bucerius had become a Social Democratic supporter, rather he supported the ex-Chancellor. He was critical of the SPD's dialogue with the ruling SED in East Germany in the 1980s. On this he differed with the formidable Countess Marion Donhoff, his long- time collaborator at Die Zeit. Bucerius felt the SPD was taking the SED too seriously, regarding it as the legitimate representative of the people it ruled. He believed it was an illusion to think real peace could be had with such a regime.

In 1986, together with the Social Democrat Herbert Wehner, Bucerius was elected a freeman of the city of Hamburg. On that occasion Helmut Schmidt said, both were full of passion, both were filled with a sense of responsibility for the fate of Germany.

Karl Anton Martin Gerhard (Gerd) Bucerius, publisher, lawyer: born Hamm, Westphalia 19 May 1906; publisher and proprietor, Die Zeit 1946-95; married 1947 Gertrud Muller; died Hamburg 29 September 1995.

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