Backlog demand as far as the eye can see. Winners from three years will be honored on June 2nd in the French Cathedral during a festive ceremony: on the 30th anniversary of the Rias media award ceremony, namely for their outstanding contributions to German-American understanding. They include “Tagesthemen” moderator Ingo Zamperoni and Ines Pohl, who heads the Deutsche Welle studio in Washington.
When the city was still divided, the US soldiers stationed in West Berlin often assumed the role of ambassadors for Germany in the USA after their return. They got to know the culture, the people, made friends and were able to get a differentiated picture.
Before the Allied troops left after reunification, the search began for new traditions that could replace this important bridge across the Atlantic. The Rias Commission was founded 30 years ago, a foundation with the aim of organizing journalist exchange programs and deepening the ideals of German-American friendship. And by awarding production grants and an annual radio and TV prize “to support those radio and television programs that make a particular contribution to German-American international understanding.” The initial capital provided by the federal government in 1992 and 1993 totaled 40 million DM.
The Rias himself (“Radio in the American Sector”) was a legend in West Berlin. The broadcasts started on February 7, 1946. During the blockade, after the Wall was built, and during Kennedy’s visit, the Rias was always an important and reliable source of information. After reunification, the station was transformed into Deutschlandradio with offices in Cologne and Berlin. Deutschlandradio Berlin is now broadcasting on the former Rias frequency FM 89.6. In the anniversary year, the foundation has a total of 100 participants.
US Ambassador Amy Gutmann and Minister of State Claudia Roth intend to hold the speeches at the anniversary celebration of the media award. Host Erik Kirschbaum has been the administrative director of the foundation since 2016 and is responsible for bringing the purposes to life. “We finance our exchange programs with the income from the share capital,” he says. And they seem to be very productive. Above all, journalists from the Midwest are often amazed at what they experience in Germany, how much Germans know about the USA, how similar some things are seen.
Among the German journalists who go to the USA for one to three weeks, one always tries to find colleagues who have never traveled across the Atlantic before. Among them were many East German journalists for a long time. During their stays on the east coast of the USA they meet experienced supporters of the transatlantic friendship. Among them is New Jersey’s governor, former US Ambassador Phil Murphy, who regularly receives the groups. Visits to the White House, Harlem, think tanks and radio stations are also part of the program.
Erik Kirschbaum used to work for the Reuters news agency and still publishes regularly in the Los Angeles Times and the Independent. “The German scholarship holders see that some things are different in the USA than they thought,” he says. “You get to know many new facets.” But all participants in the programs have one thing in common: “They broaden their horizons, make new friends.” A number of joint journalistic projects have also come about in this way.
The foundation now has its offices in the former Rias building on Hans-Rosenthal-Platz in Schöneberg. Because of the low interest rates, the income from the start-up capital has fallen – from 1.5 million euros ten years ago to 500,000 euros per year. But thanks in part to donations, the programs have even been expanded. This year, for the first time, there is also a program for journalism students. For the Americans, this had already been introduced four years ago.
“We have built good networks over the past 30 years,” says Kirschbaum. “Since the beginning, 900 US journalists have been in Germany and 900 German journalists have been in the USA.” If more is known about Germany and the special features of the country, for example health insurance, in the states of the Midwest, then that’s it thanks to the Rias grants. Erik Kirschbaum says of his US colleagues: “They go back and have Germany in their hearts.”