The four stories to be told about Friede Springer sound like fairy tales from the Arabian Nights. But they are true stories. They happened in Hamburg and Berlin, and they come together to form a vita in a state of emergency.
The first “fairy tale” begins in 1965. Friede Riewerts grew up in a nursery on Föhr and wants to get away from the island. At the age of 23 and having completed elementary school, she applied to work as a nanny at Germany’s largest newspaper publisher. She is supposed to look after his three-year-old son and is employed by Axel Caesar Springer’s wife – at a time when the fourth marriage of the magnate, who had previously stolen two of his wives from a neighbor’s property with his apparently irresistible charm, is already clearly drifting apart.
The blond, good-looking Friede conquers the heart of the bon vivant and radiant man, first becomes the publisher’s mistress, then his wife and finally his heiress. Before that she experienced stormy times at his side. On the one hand she has every imaginable luxury and gets to know the powerful and rich in the world, on the other hand a little later her husband – after the death of Benno Ohnesorg and the shots at Rudi Dutschke – becomes the hated bogeyman of an entire generation of students.
She also has to experience at close range how one of Axel Springer’s sons, the photographer Sven Simon, takes his own life. A short time later, Springer’s grandson was kidnapped at a Swiss boarding school.
The second story is also more reminiscent of a fable than reality. It begins with how the heiress threatens to gamble away the inheritance – also because her husband made a few mistakes shortly before his death. Although Friede Springer lived well at Springer’s side, she is neither a publisher nor a businesswoman. Her husband recently brought the Burda brothers on board – and in the course of the IPO, Deutsche Bank put another shrewd media mogul in Leo Kirch’s eye as a major shareholder.
As new co-owners, they pursue their own interests. There are also inheritance disputes. At the same time, Friede Springer struggles with male associations and intrigues in her own house. She finally got rid of the Kirchs and Burdas by buying back their shares at a high price. The chairmen of the board also change again and again: Peter Tamm (until 1991), Günter Wille (1991-1993), Günter Prinz (1994), Jürgen Richter (1994-1997), Gus Fischer (1997-2001). But Friede Springer manages the improbable: despite everything, she is able to secure her inheritance.
In the end, according to her biographer Inge Kloepfer, the widow became “the queen” of her empire. In her private life, however, she likes it a size smaller than her deceased husband. Step by step she parted with the aristocratic possessions that Axel Caesar Springer needed for his lifestyle. She sold Schierensee Palace and other residences on Jungfernstieg in Hamburg, London and Jerusalem, as well as her house on Patmos. In Berlin she moved from Springer’s palace in Schwanenwerder to a small villa in Dahlem.
This chapter closes with Mathias Döpfner’s appointment as editor-in-chief of “Welt” in 1998, his promotion to the board and a short time later to chairman of the board (from 2002). At the same time, the particularly turbulent period of digitization for the media industry began – and the third fairytale story.
Döpfner gains the trust of the millionaire, who has now become a billionaire. He resolutely restructures the company and just in time parted with all the regional newspapers and magazines of the press empire, which threatened to become ballast under the changed conditions.
He only wants to expand two media brands: “Bild” should continue to provide Krethi and Plethi with news, the world group is aimed at the educated public. Other titles would get in each other’s way online and cannibalize them.
Then Döpfner brought American investors on board with KKR and entered the US media market with the purchase of Politico. Friede Springer lets him and her editors-in-chief, especially those from the “Bild” newspaper, do as they please.
Only when its editor-in-chief at the time, Julian Reichelt, seems to be doing too colorfully with his campaign journalism and in dealing with colleagues, and thus it becomes publicly visible how the corporate culture is at the “Bild” newspaper, does she intervene with a warning before Döpfner then later – after even the “New York Times” reported on the Reichelt case – pulls the rip cord and lets it fall. pulls the rip cord and lets it fall.
After Friede Springer first gave Mathias Döpfner two percent of the company and sold further shares to him in order to bind him to the company, she bequeathed him shares worth one billion euros and her own voting rights in 2020, in order to keep the inheritance beyond her time to secure.
The fourth “fairy tale”, which is also not a fairy tale but a factual report, ties the three other stories together. It tells how two women, Friede Springer and Bertelsmann heiress Liz Mohn, became Germany’s most powerful media entrepreneurs – which cannot be changed, because in this case it’s not just about female media entrepreneurs. For many years, both were far less visible, but probably more successful than other celebrity model women.
Friede Springer will be 80 years old on Monday. Unlike top dogs like Silvio Berlusconi or Rupert Murdoch, Friede Springer and Liz Mohn carefully and resolutely expanded and developed their companies on the big stage without campaigns or crusades.
Otherwise, the two were and are rarely in the media limelight. At the beginning of their success stories, there was of course a fairy tale wedding they had in common – loosely based on the motto with which the Habsburgs once created Austria’s global empire: “Tu felix Austria nube”…