Farewell To My Friend Frank Schirrmacher

Farewell To My Friend Frank Schirrmacher

Hubert Burda [6.18.14]

Farewell to my friend Frank Schirrmacher

by Hubert Burda, Focus Magazine (June 17, 2014)

FAZ co-editor Frank Schirrmacher died at the age of 54 years

[Rough translation:]

The editor of the Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung, Frank Schirrmacher, died at 54 years. Germany has lost a great thinker. An obituary by Hubert Burda.

Thursday last week: I had invited Frank Schirrmacher and his wife Rebecca Casati to have dinner with Michael Bloomberg, former Mayor of New York, in the "Hotel Adlon" in Berlin. Also on the list were German Finance Minister Wolfgang Schaeuble and a group of donors, philanthropists and intellectuals. Days earlier he had emailed me:

"Dear Hubert, we are looking forward to this apparently exciting evening! Yours, Frank. "

This is the last message I received from my friend, an unusually ingenious thinker, a brilliant helsman of debates that moved our country forward in the last two decades.

When he began as co-editor of the Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung on January 21, 1994, he was just 34 years. old. We German publishers all wondered whether it would work. Joachim Fest, his predecessor in office, and to some extent also his teacher, the legendary historian of the Nazi period and subtle art lover, could hardly conceal his skepticism.

The dashing, youthful literary editor of the FAZ (from 1989 on) who liked to pit the realism of an Ernst Jünger against the ideological literature of the day, soon became a stubborn culture czar seldom given to a moment of self doubt.  Eventually, his orchestration of the  Ignatz-Bubis-Martin-Walser debate in 1998/1999 made him someone that everyone was talking about. Even the international press was impressed by him.


He began his career at FAZ as one of the youngest editors ever with a doctorate in literature, soon followed Marcel Reich-Ranicki as head of the literary department and finally, at only age 34 years, he took over from Joachim Fest as a publisher. His books are bestsellers.

In July 2000, we met for a long walk on the island of Rügen. He had gone through a dramatic change. After having passionately participated with great passion as a Feuilleton journalist in the affairs of literary and political life, he had morphed into a a stupendously erudite diagnostician, exploring the revolution of science and technology at the end of the last century which he was clearly fascinated by.

On 27 June 2000, the FAZ devoted six pages to the publication of the abstract set of letters of the human genome first deciphered by the genomics researcher Craig Venter. The headline: "Craig Venter's last words."

On our tour of the romantic island we talked a lot about Craig Venter, John Brockman, the New York agent who had great success in selling rights to the works of the most important scientific authors of the English-speaking to international book publishers, and of course, in his activities via the Internet. Our one-to-one talks ever since were always about the future of journalism and the fate publishers in times of Google. "Lousy pennies", nothing more was left for us by the media giant, we agreed. Our optimism for the future was mixed occasionally with anger.

Of course, Michael Bloomberg and Schirrmacher at dinner would have resulted in dazzling talk about Google, its visions of the future and attempts at transforming the lives of people. Both would have come to an agreement that rules must be established to limit global monopolies at the European and transatlantic level.

Frank Schirrmacher was an entirely new intellectual type, a non-ideologue who wasn't interested in preaching a right or left worldview. He was especially interested in the processes of social upheavals, the intellectual and technological revolutions. First of all, he wanted to understand them without any prejudice, which was what he was after.

The range of his interests was greater than that of his teachers and sometimes disciplinarians, such as Siegfried Unseld, Joachim Fest, and Marcel Reich-Ranicki. He was the first to note that because the world we live in is one of global change, for responsible journalists "culture" and "science" must be seen in a new context of applied natural sciences.

Information, communication, our thoughts and feelings are changing rapidly. Schirrmacher's concerns: In an IT-controlled environment, is there still a place for humans? Are we, as responsible citizens, capable of retaining our commitment to freedom?

I bow before a great journalist. One of the transcendent minds of our time will henceforth be the silent partner of my thinking.

[Link: Original German Language article]