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We Are Pope!

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As Philip Oltermann writes in the latest LRB, it’s sixty years since Bild was first published. To mark the anniversary on Sunday, the Springer Company delivered 41 million copies of the tabloid’s ‘jubilee issue’ to every household in Germany. A celebration of six decades of fearless journalism, or a desperate bid to boost circulation? Twenty years ago, Bild sold about five million copies daily; it’s now down to about half that.
There was even less news than usual in Sunday’s paper. It was printed a long time before Friday’s football triumph against Greece, and the whole project – all those long-gone headlines from the paper’s history – has a forlorn air about it. Seven of the 16 pages are ads for electronics, phones and cars. The rest is given over to celebrities who’ve appeared in its pages, a happy couple who won 15 million marks in a Bild lottery, a football manager’s family photos. There are no pictures of naked starlets – Bild stopped publishing photos of topless women on its front page earlier this year – but there are three of the pope. ‘Our Joseph Ratzinger is Benedict XVI,’ Bild proclaimed in April 2005. ‘We Are Pope!’ The pope’s private secretary is quoted as saying that Ratzinger ‘smiled when he was told of this headline’. 

As for holders of temporal power, Gerhard Schröder once said that what he needed to govern Germany was Bild am Sonntag. The former chancellor appears on page two of the commemorative edition, wearing a forced smile and a crumpled suit, in front of a dozen headlines about him and alongside an interview in which he agrees on the importance of Bild’s style of no-holds-barred reporting, though he has some mild objections to the way it covered his time in office.

A notable absentee from the festivities is Christian Wulff, the one-time minister president of Lower Saxony and for a few months German president. For a while, not a week would go by without some tattle in Bild over Wulff’s new love affair (‘young, attractive, she has a tattoo!’), his political astuteness, his love for his family, his new house, his hobbies. It must have come as quite a shock when he heard that the paper was going to run a story on some irregularities from his time in Hanover. The subsequent cascade of headlines led to Wulff’s resignation and Bild was given the Henri Nannen prize for ‘fearless investigative journalism’.

According to Springer’s sales brochure, a whole page ad in the commemorative number cost €4 million. If Volkswagen and the other advertisers all paid full price, then Sunday’s Bild would have produced revenue of around €30 million. Maybe they did it for the money.

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