Karl Lagerfeld, the ever-present, indefatigable octogenarian who had awaken a French sleeping beauty from its slumber to its resplendent self in today’s world of luxury once remarked to Monocle that Berlin was a city totally disfigured, “a human body with an arm and a leg missing.” Because its image had been distorted by the remnants of its war past, it could no longer function on its own, without the same fin de siècle quality as untouched by other cities like New York and Paris. Perhaps seen without as much splendour as with bureaucracy, it’s become rather an illusion. Today, Berlin is a young body with a mindset and attitude that has a reckoning of being cosmopolitan. With a sense of great renewal since its reunification of West and East – it’s longer seen just through the television portal of Deutsche Welle or campish television crime series, there’s a real focus on a city that’s become the world’s new epicentre of democracy. A claim which America has been proud of, has been under considerable attack by the presidential regime of Donald Trump.
When the Berlin Wall fell in late 1989, its identity was no longer bisected – it reunified and set off to embrace a new future. Its future today is one that also pervades in English speakers, and yet, when one refers to some German media outlets both online and offline, it’s described as the German The New York Times’ T Magazine or an iteration of the The New Yorker. It belies however, the fact that it has its a voice of its own – one which is more international, and more outward looking than those its compared with. Due to the spectre of its history, there’s a cultural sensitivity to all kinds of subjects – without esotericism – treating the same topics of ‘high’ and ‘low’ as equally informative as they are uniquely interesting. Abridging the division between high and low culture is a sentiment that Christoph Amend believes in.
Christoph Amend is the editor of ZEITmagazin. It’s a magazine supplement published weekly within DIE ZEIT whose parent newspaper has long been established in Hamburg since 1946. Unlike many newspapers in the country, let alone in the world, DIE ZEIT is a national weekly newspaper synonymous for its informative analyses of affairs, politics and media. Its front cover may appear like unbreakable, obfuscate lines of code yet, it’s the the most widely read weekly reaching 2.25 million readers and over 507, 000 copies sold each week. With several daily newspapers published across the country including the Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung, Der Tagesspiegel, Süddeutsche Zeitung, the way German citizens consume their media in a printed form – and how much this format is invaluable – the placed importance on news journalism is not an overstatement. Born in 1974, Amend set out to become a journalist; first as an editor at Süddeutsche Zeitung, published from Munich, he began editing Berlin’s Der Tagsspeigel’s sunday magazine, and finally becoming the editor of ZEITmagazin in 2007.
“The leitmotif [of ZEITmagazin] is telling the stories and is usually a visual column. A few years ago – we have an artist, photographer or illustrator to take over a full page of our magazine for the whole year. So we give them space and time to tell their stories in 52/53 issues. And that’s what we did with Lina actually.” Amend is talking about Lina – Lina Scheynius to be more precise – who before the vortexes of social media grew – founded an online presence on Flickr. Swedish-born, she became known for her semi-nude and unclothed portraits many of herself in interior settings with oscillating natural light. The intention wasn’t risque, the appearance might have been so, but for Scheynius, this was a definite display of exploring the female gaze from a woman’s perspective. Her young ambition was to become a top fashion model at 16, but the experience ruptured her faith in an industry that detested the slightest change of physique, that discriminated against physical form, that took images at the expense of health and well-being, and found sexual innuendo and casting process as mere hilarity to her life as a living rag doll. For Scheynius, the modelling experience gave her time to digest a career change as a photographer with colour vignettes exploring the boundaries of commercialism and intimacy, trust and illusion, eroticism and perversion. Her presence is marked by humility, who shows her nude body (the thrusting of her breasts, the curvature of her legs and drape of her hips) with self-control – imbuing a truth beyond pretension. “And it’s interesting that you mentioned how you heard about ZEITmagazin because of [Lina], because you’ve been following her. It happened quite frequently, internationally. I run into people who often follow the work of artists like Lina and realise she’s working with ZEITmagazin – they ask ‘What’s that magazine?’ It’s a supplement of a weekly newspaper – ‘why – how do they work?’ so that’s interesting to me the international newsstand the magazine has,” Amend explained.
Amend is speaking on the phone from his office in Berlin. He used to sport a neatly trimmed, long-back haircut in sandy blonde reminiscent of David Bowie’s ‘London Boy’, but now is coveted as an illustrated avatar (made by The New Yorker’s frequent illustrator Christoph Niemann) in the guise of a detective. Appearances can also be deceiving – he’s got a candour and affability that would make other editors embarrassed. A German pragmatism? Maybe. But also because he’s so thoroughly absorbed and interested in printed matter – he reads The New York Times T Magazine, Le Monde’s M Le Magazine as well as Monocle, and smaller imprints like The White Review. On one hand, it’s a pleasant surprise that his cares about reading indie titles besides the big economic or political headliners; and on the other hand, he has the time to read such print titles in-between non-stop editorial meetings or phone calls from various contributors. Like many good print supplements that are either a part of a newspaper or published on their own, their coverage and audience have grown due to the most simplistic reason: a sense of great discovery when reading. “For a printed weekly magazine – in our digital age that’s what we live in – it’s essential to be absolutely avant-garde. Why is that? Well, because one of the reasons why people buy a magazine is that because they get something they hadn’t seen before. To me as an editor, it’s great to be able to introduce the work of [Lina] to a bigger audience. DIE ZEIT makes out around two million every week so that’s the difference audience in Germany or German-speaking countries,” Amend explains.
As ZEITmagazin comes out every Thursday along with its parent broadsheet, it’s international English edition works as a biannual where the stories that have appeared in its German-native edition is translated and reprinted for its international audience. Far from being old-fashioned, Amend working with his formidable editorial team of 11 chronicle a balanced spectrum of stories that begin with a political introduction, places of du jour (restaurants, bars and cultural institutions to see), and names courting public popularity. Keanu Reeves, The XX, and Sienna Miller were just some of the cast listed on the front cover of its most recent issue (Spring/Summer 2017). Amend doesn’t dissociate their personality or aesthetic, his aim is connect the reader revealing the same kind of aspiration, success and failures that would otherwise stay completely hidden. He revealed that ZEIT Magazin takes on an interpersonal approach – by inviting its readers to have their say. Whilst he says the newspaper has key data on age, gender demographics of its readership, it was more compelling to have an editorial dinner. What he discovered was moving. “We came up with the idea of ‘well, why don’t we just invite readers to talk to our editors?’ Like a dinner – have a laidback conversation about the magazine. That’s what we do frequently, invite a group of 15 to 20 readers that represent the readership of DIE ZEIT and invite 2 to 3 editors (copy-, photo-, designer from our team) – and they have an open conversation together. And one of those dinners that we had – I will never forget: there was a woman in her ‘50s – shy – didn’t speak for the first hour. Then, the moderator asked her, ‘Can you tell us a story or a spread inside the magazine that you remember?’ She thought for a moment and said, ‘Well, about a half-year ago the magazine published a photography spread that I didn’t like.'” Amend paused her to ask, “‘What’s that?’ She then responded, ‘I’ve seen parts of those photographs in the magazine and I’ve realised I’ve been thinking about those photos for six months. As a reader, please show me stories, please show me photographs that I haven’t seen before.'”
As a reader, she will be greeted by the rhetoric of each issue stating: ‘The Berlin State of Mind’ under the masthead, as well as on each issue’s spine. Not ‘The latest Spring fashions’ or ‘A fabulous German magazine’ but a statement of intention. Though, it’s not what Berliners necessarily think, even though Amend and magazine work in Berlin, rather, it happens to be a clever play on words. It’s not about the physical structures: people, places and buildings of Berlin but that ‘Berlin’ exists nowhere yet is everywhere. It’s a mentality – it’s a state of mind – and one that thinks squarely from the outside in. Amend enthuses “the idea of readers to think we’re from Hamburg.” German journalist and contributor to ZEIT Online Imke Henkel has a defined description saying, “ZEIT is the ultimate Hamburg publication, founded and based in the Anglophile, more bourgeois, and indeed liberal city state, rather than the more scruffy, torn, cheeky Berlin, now again German capital and in itself symbol and image of a violent history.”
But capturing the intention and indeed the state of mind of ZEIT Magazin was a French woman. “A magazine like our international issue; why are people interested in a magazine like this? Because of global development on one hand; on the other hand it’s also about somebody like Brigitte Lacombe. I met with Brigitte at the Berlin Film Festival [five years ago] and she said to me: “I really like the way you present your stories, the way you [do] the design – I wish I could read it.” Right there at the lunch, I thought she’s right. But every story we publish in the weekly magazine is interesting for an international audience, and that’s how we started this creative project. Being a weekly magazine, into a bi-annual magazine in English – it’s kind of crazy!” Amend enthuses. Lacombe, like so many contributors and readers that are outsiders feel a palpable sense of openness and wide-eyed curiosity that when they read a story like on Lacombe’s portraits of New York’s leading lights of non-fiction and film, they’re being shown such names as Martin Scorsese and Robert B. Silvers of The New York Review of Books.
ZEITmagazin doesn’t operate a ‘Berlin State of Mind’ so much as it aims to reveal the unfamiliar. It springs to mind instantly when in the last couple of years, art goers and gallerists have had their attentive eyes on a Brown-educated photographer. Her photography has been exhibited at the Tate Modern, MoMA and Whitney Museum showing the unseen and morally contaminated – what people carry deemed to be illicit through airport controlled scanners, and a series of Indian citizens living declared dead to profit from land ownership. She’s become a chronicler, surpassing parameters that normally, society isn’t able to enter. Taryn Simon’s voice is deeply rooted in her use of photography to expose established devises – much of which are politically-motivated – that have the power to both protect and destroy life. It’s a significant relationship she has exposed between the notion of power and control. When Amend interviewed her for ZEITmagazin, she attests that, “It investigates the powers that control our world, and tries to use their own techniques against them. Sheer repetition can have an incredible effect, large systems often use that trick. I construct my exhibitions around a similar principle.”
When Amend intends to cover any story with a political or social subtext such as this, it’s not by machination. A writer and a photographer are always sent first-hand to cover. It goes back to the his anecdote and to ZEITmagazin’s readership of bringing a picture to a story. “We design ZEITmagazin as the emotional side of DIE ZEIT. Every story that we publish – every spread that we publish have an emotional personal side to it. That’s how we define is as what we do. We don’t do a political weekly analyses – that something that the weekly paper does. But when we cover politics for example, we send a photographer and a writer out for a year and tell us – ‘How has the country changed?’ For one story, photographer Philip Blenkinsop was sent out to photograph some of Thailand’s prisons where the incarcerated have a chance of social redemption. Fighting literally their way out in boxing contests will grant them early parole, and even champion boxers from around the world test their own skills by fighting what they see as a measure of will and strength.
“We design ZEITmagazin as the emotional side of DIE ZEIT. Every story that we publish – every spread that we publish have an emotional personal side to it…”
Amend’s apt description of emotion is not without balance or causality, which ZEITmagazin excels in. In a political climate of uncertainty, in which rights and freedoms are continuously tested, the world is looking far more towards Berlin and more specifically in Angela Merkel. She’s become something of a quasi-matriarch of European democracy and has assuaged the stoking political fires created by both Western and Eastern leaders that are toying with unimaginative forces to damage international peace. But it’s representative of her true instincts as a politician, and as Germany’s commander-in-chief. Every issue has a political allegory, devoted to her by DIE ZEIT’s deputy and politics editor Bernd Ulrich who said that, “[Merkel] She observes, learns, acts, goes on observing, goes on learning And she doesn’t do so cold-bloodedly or aggressively, but rather with understanding.” In the latest Spring/Summer 2017 issue, Ulrich followed up by seeing her dispassionate quality be tried and tested in the face of US rhetoric and diplomatic conflict: “She doesn’t wear herself out trying to counter the attack [on Germany’s 1 million refugee settlement] directly. Instead, she transforms it into a kind of resilience. Withstanding this kind of challenge actually makes her stronger and better able to maintain her position.” Amend explains that such introductions in the magazine preface other important subjects that bring politics into balance: culture, science, food and fashion. He makes a point that, “DIE ZEIT is German and the way we write about things because it’s a German magazine and most of them are German; and generally speaking, if you look at the world now – in the last couple of years – more and more people are interested in what’s happening in Germany – because of the political situation in the world. Because also people interested in Angela Merkel – she’s one of few people who stand for freedom and expression: hope of Europe.”
Being ‘German’ now means an omnipresence of English speakers, many of whom who have come to settle or crisscrossed the world to find better opportunities. Although the United Nations call Australia a multicultural success story, there’s nothing homogenous about being ‘German’. It’s cultivated a living heritage: a Turkish-German, a British-German, a Cambodian-German, which is one of the best European success stories, which says a lot about integration culturally. If you had to talk about a truer trait, is the German quality of being ‘self-loathing’. In an Op-ed, Harald Martenstein describes ‘German’ cliches saying, “Everybody knows that Germany’s image abroad rests on four pillars: football, beer, Mercedes, and Adolf Hitler.” That’s more about Brand Germany’s soft powers (the latter – of course, is a total exception) but if we’re talking about world influence, beyond its manufacturing cachet, there’s quite a lot to be said about its Hamburg roots. German fashion designers may not capture the same lexicon as the French or British, but a praktikant/self-taught mindset distills even better fashion. Hamburg-born Jil Sander in her 1990s heydays was prominent for her ability to dress all kinds of women, of different places, and of different demographics. Calling her a ‘minimalist’ falls short to someone who wasn’t stiff: she took fabric research, shapes and colours as her approach to women’s wear. The press were always enthusiastic calling her a fashion minimalist, but the colours of navy or black were as strong, as they were poetic if she had done something more opulent. There’s also the son of Hamburg: Karl Lagerfeld who’s taken ‘Brand Germany’ and embedded it into a venerated French maison for 34 years. He values the handicraft – the tools of pencils, paper, paints to illustrate his prodigal collections for Chanel and, in turn, the hand-craft of those who make them into reality. Martenstein goes onto say the belief that Germans “harbour a particular love of order”. But in reality, it’s perhaps a German self-reflection – outsiders like the outpour of English speakers like to believe Germans are sanguine.
The truest German designer among them, however, happens to be Frank Leder. Though his studies of fashion came from London’s redoubtable Central Saint Martins School, he’s designed his seasonal menswear in Berlin replete with vintage German fabrics, fastenings with a sense of German heritage. From his studio in Mitte, Leder says that: “Yes certainly a German spirit [in his clothes], rather hard to grasp, as it’s not necessary has something to do with a place like Berlin or Germany in general, but more of a feeling, understanding of things, materials, way to see certain situations. I find myself quite often in Bohemia and in the Polish countryside, where these raw states of mind are more visible, not so overlaid as in Germany itself. It has to do with a sensibility for the land and its people. In my studio I have guys working, who originate from Canada, Japan and Ireland, but they all very much resonate the German spirit, being exposed and living in Berlin. We have this saying of ‘Berliner Luft’ , which literally means ‘Berlin Air’… something in the air which enhances your creative energy.”
The best things about ZEITmagazin’s lies in its cultural focus and the stories which covet its double front covers. Amend loves making his observations in the magazine saying in the latest Spring issue (which features 42 pages of selected fashion by Jil Sander herself) that, “When we discuss fashion I think of System, Purple, Dapper Dan, & Premium, Alla Carta, and Self Service” and “The New Yorker”, “The New York Times Magazine” as the “classics”. Yet, unlike them, ZEIT Magazin – with its haptic, tactile gloss cover in a familiar Heidelberg-ink clay scent – its ability to seamlessly talk to Naomi Campbell, Barry Gibbs, Kate Bush and Tricky – interweaved with the kind of modelled fashion you want to actually wear by collaborator Klaus Stockhausen – it certainly shows more shrewdness than Vogue. Because Vogue shares similar textures and weights tangibly, there’s a deliberate nod however to storytelling and pragmatism. Christoph Niemann, frequent illustrator for The New Yorker, often contributes with his watercolour impressions with his Studio Ghibli sensibility (one weekly cover in May brilliantly depicted France’s new political hope in blue and red ‘heartbeats’ of the Champs d’Elysees). If ZEITmagazin were to be the international Vogue, Mirko Borsche would have an influential say who’s been the magazine’s creative director since 2007.
Borsche is a German powerhouse in graphic design (who might be mistaken by his name for Mike Meire the other powerhouse from Berlin) who lives and works from his studio in Munich. He holds the creative title alongside his collaborative work for other clients including Nike, BMW and Vitra. By phone from Munich, Borsche says, “Christoph [Amend] and me work closely together, we are almost everyday in touch, once a week we have a one hour telephone conference, to keep us posted and to create and plan upcoming issues.” He has played an intrinsic role in establishing the visual look of the magazine. Before his appointment, the magazine “had a different name and a different logo at that time” and after six months, the artistic outcomes have resulted in what is seen today in the layout, the visual ideas and language established per page, as well as the art-direction for photographers and illustrators that contribute. “For me a certain style isn’t that important on the first sight, it s more about the way you do the pictorial storytelling, which influences a magazine most,” Borsche explains.
With a longstanding tradition of carte blanche, Borsche works with Amend, and the magazine’s senior editors to art-direct compelling covers . Like in 2014, when a Russian model named Ruslana Korshunova had committed suicide from a Manhattan building, her Vogue Russia cover was superimposed on top of a ZEITmagazin issue, highlighting success, yet underlining the perils of fame. Or, an editorial story placing couples together who’ve met love serendipitously in Berlin, it’s a sense of capturing the zeitgeist, as it is discovery.
“It’s was super-important for me to have a very clear, super classic design – like always with a modern twist on it -and also have young and senior photographers to have modern pictures – and classic reportage because in most magazines this has almost vanished,” Borsche says.
He’s focused on subtly changing each magazine page’s visual appearance typographically, as well as, visually by being equally receptive to the writing and the play on monochromatic and colour photography which are expansive. He also knows that his role is pivotal for a magazine – without him ZEITmagazin doesn’t happen – that it’s a weekly supplement in Germany’s most widely read newspaper. “Because it’s a weekly, you need to have a design that has a high standard of quality, every week.” Although separated 800 miles from ZEIT’s Berlin office, he works to a graphic format and starts developing visual ideas in consultation with its different magazine editors and Amend himself. “The editors are telling me the content of the next three to four issues and ideas of how could be the photographer, the illustrator, which idea is it going to be, what is the style of the double front cover within the one hour I have to create these ideas.” Borsche’s ability is foretelling who succinctly understands that visual journalism is the cornerstone of newspapers and magazines, highlighting gratuitous forms of making graphic design for its own sake often is at the sake of reading. “I was educated at Süddeutsche Zeitung first and was working for a long while as the art-director of Jetzt magazine, a weekly as well. And what I learnt there was text was super-important – that I have to transfer all this impact. For DIE ZEIT, it’s the same in high standard text quality. Most important was people were going to read it, people were going to understand it. Without good input of high quality text, you can’t really good graphics, pictures or ideas.”
“It was super-important for me to have a very clear, super classic design – like always with a modern twist on it -and also have young and senior photographers to have modern pictures – and classic reportage because in most magazines this has almost vanished.”
– Mirko Borsche
Invariably, there’s the pièce de résistance question: if there’s a ‘German’ identity to Borsche’s work for ZEITmagazin. Borsche tries to explain that, “It has a certain way of pragmatism and that’s quite German – text has to be text, pictures has to be pictures – and all equal in a way.”
Back in Berlin, in the foreground of a resilient German media market compared with other countries that have shuddered newspapers, scaled down their broadsheet size, or simply erected paywalls for accessing journalism, Amend assesses that you must always something new and in quality. “One of the things you have to ask yourself, is especially with visuals – have they been published online for example – or have people already seen it on Instagram. On a weekly basis to publish exclusives or publish exclusive visuals that our readers haven’t seen yet.” Although the most widely read weekly newspaper, DIE ZEIT still has to compete with the daily German newspapers giving Amend a challenge to bring in new readership with a different approach. “What we do [few in our genre] is on a regular basis, we do every couple of weeks our story on the cover as the cover of the newspaper as well. Because it’s a weekly paper, not a daily newspaper, it’s tough to sell the copies so we are up on the same pressure of selling the paper.”
Selling a printed product comes with inherent challenges but for DIE ZEIT, it’s been doing remarkably well. But it’s also excelled when others have failed due to an unwavering commitment to reading print. Despite the digital world newspapers now occupy, Amend says you can’t beat long-form journalism with bite-size news. “If you open a magazine in 2017, it’s a different approach, you want to enter a new world – you have to put your mobile away – and so why are people reading beautifully designed and hopefully with stories – well they want to take a break from their everyday, digital life. And that’s something magazine need to totally reflect. Like in-depth reportage has become even more important.”
Since ZEITmagazin’s ‘Berlin State of Mind’ English edition began in 2013, it’s found an international readership as far as New York where DIE ZEIT doesn’t have any presence, and closer to Germany such as Amsterdam. But Amend loves the fact that it’s at home where he’s discovered such a high concentration of English readers. “Berlin has become, particularly in the last 6 to 7 years, an international city like it was in the 1920s. Smaller parts like in the late 1970s when [David] Bowie and Iggy Pop and Nick Cave came too- but when I came to Berlin in 1999, throughout the next decade it wasn’t international at all. It was Germany’s biggest city but wasn’t international. If you go to places like Mitte, people talk in English, so that’s something that’s totally changed.” He says that’s one of the core reasons Berlin is big market for its international edition with 15, 000 copies sold.
As Amend is whisked away to another meeting, his voice leaves an enduring impression that we can’t escape a ‘Berlin State of Mind’. He last recalls persuading artist Tino Sehgal to create its front cover. Unlike most object-oriented artists, British Sehgal makes site-specific situations. For many months, there was no reply but as he eventually met Amend near Brandeburg Gate, the encounter was like a portrait session – normally met with drawing and paint – replaced with encounter previously unknown and a personal conversation. This sense of insecurity was Sehgal’s idea for a cover, but a cover that didn’t actually exist. In fact, He asked Amend to pen a personal story – as his normal editorial foreword page – which became the actual cover. Amend recounts, “As the the issue came out, one of my assistants came to me and said: “A horrible thing has happened! Look, there’s no cover!”” For Amend, ideas can from anyone, anywhere, from any place just as his Instagram page suggests. Which is why ZEITmagazin does have a Berlin State of Mind.