I was born in 1955 and grew up in a family of six in Bückeburg, Lower Saxony. Already at an early age, I was drawn away from the neat, little Schaumburg-Lippe residential town, whose provincialism was once made fun of (in my opinion, rather unjustly) by poet and journalist Hermann Löns in his sharp satire ‘Duodez’.
When I was sixteen, I flew across the Atlantic for the first time and spent a year as an exchange student in Arvada, a suburb of Denver in the U.S. American state of Colorado. As you can see from my curriculum vitae, the (un)United States of America have stayed with me ever since, as has another topic: human rights and their constant peril.
As a student, I joined the Bückeburg group of Amnesty International, and also completed my civilian service with the human rights organization after graduating from high school. As a law student, I was particularly interested in constitutional issues and international humanitarian law. As a journalist I was consistently drawn to the conflict hotspots of this world.
I ended up in journalism by chance, as it was not a typical career path for a lawyer at the time. As a trainee lawyer, I was able to intern with Norddeutscher Rundfunk (NDR = Northern German Broadcasting) for a few weeks and was hired as a news editor right after my final bar exam. Looking back, this was a huge stroke of luck. Whether at the NDR, the weekly Deutsche Allgemeine Sonntagsblatt or the national weekly DIE ZEIT, my work always took me to domestic and foreign conflict hotspots and wherever human rights were in danger. I reported from the war in former Yugoslavia, from India and China, the Middle East and the U.S., from refugee camps, asylum seeker shelters and from the Hungarian border in the autumn of 2015 (often considered the height of the 'refugee crisis'). I chronicled some of these experiences in the booklet ‘Menschenrechte’ (‘Human Rights’), which was published by Reclam Verlag in 2016.
I was at DIE ZEIT for over two and a half decades. As senior political editor and head of the politics department (1999-2007), as U.S. correspondent in Washington D.C. (2007-2014), and political correspondent in the Berlin office (2014-2020). In the U.S., I covered the presidency of Barack Obama and witnessed the rise of the Tea Party, a far-right ideological movement within the Republican Party that enabled the rise and victory of Donald Trump.
When Trump won, I had long since returned to Germany. But his election, which I had thought as unlikely but not impossible, shook me to the core. How could this have happened, what had I missed? These thoughts never left me. Again and again, I returned to the country that was so familiar to me and yet so foreign at times, determined to find out what had moved Trump voters to cast their ballots for this unpredictable, autocratic egomaniac. I traveled to meet them and their families, conducted dozens of interviews, and published my experiences in 2018 under the title ‘Trumps Amerika. Reise in ein weißes Land’ (‘Trump's America. Journey to a White Country’), published by Reclam.
In early 2020, I bid farewell to DIE ZEIT, initially to write a biography about Guido Goldman, the widely unknown founder of major transatlantic institutions. It was published in February 2021 by Herder and in its English version in September 2021 by Berghahn Books in New York and London. In August 2020, I took over the Strategic Communication and Speeches Department of German President Frank-Walter Steinmeier for just under a year – to cover parental leave. This, too, was a stroke of luck: after decades in journalism, I had the rare chance not only to observe, report and comment on politics, but also to help shape it a little, albeit within a narrowly defined frame. Looking back, I see: this ‘change of sides’, putting oneself in the shoes of ‘the others’, as quite beneficial and eye-opening, at times humbling.
Since the late summer of 2021, I have been working on various projects for the German Marshall Fund of the United States and the Atlantik Brücke, so I am once again devoting myself to the subject that is close to my heart: relations between Europe and the United States of America. Above all, I am motivated by the question of how, in times of growing authoritarianism and rapidly changing demographics, we can preserve what constitutes the intrinsic value of the transatlantic relationship, the core of the so-called ‘West’: democracy, the rule of law, civil and human rights.