Axel Springer, the conservative and fiercely anti-Communist publisher who built West Germany’s biggest newspaper empire after World War II, died in West Berlin on Sunday at the age of 73, a spokesman for his publishing house said.
The spokesman said that Springer died of a heart attack in the early hours of the evening after a brief illness.
Springer dominated the news market with the mass-circulation daily Bild, the more serious daily Die Welt and dozens of weekly magazines and local newspapers. The Springer empire also produces West Germany’s only national Sunday newspapers, Bild am Sonntag and Welt am Sonntag.
All served as staunch supporters of Chancellor Helmut Kohl’s conservative Christian Democratic Union.
Springer launched his career in 1946 with a weekly radio magazine called Hoer Zu (Listen), later a television journal that was the country’s biggest-selling magazine for nearly 40 years.
In 1952, he launched Bild, renowned for its large, garish headlines and large daily doses of scandal and violence. With a daily circulation of 6.5 million, Bild became the largest circulating newspaper in Europe.
Strong Supporter of Israel
As well as echoing his right-wing views, Springer’s newspapers also reflected his strong support for Israel and his unbending hostility toward East Germany. He was also a strong supporter of the North Atlantic Treaty Organization and repeatedly urged the West to maintain a powerful military deterrent.
Despite the normalization of ties between the two German states in the early 1970s, Springer newspapers still put the name of the German Democratic Republic (East Germany) in quotation marks to imply lack of recognition of the Communist republic.
To underline his commitment to a reunited Germany, Springer moved the headquarters of his publishing empire from Hamburg to West Berlin in 1960, housing it in a 20-story building alongside the border in the divided city.
A neon sign atop the building overlooking the Berlin Wall declares, “Berlin Remains Free.” The Springer concern, which employs about 12,000 people, is one of the country’s biggest book publishers and recently branched out into satellite television.
Springer retained firm personal control over his company until he began a major restructuring program earlier this year to ensure its stability and survival after his death.
Target of Demonstrations
Springer’s right-wing views coupled with his domination of the newspaper markets made his company the target of often violent left-wing demonstrations in the late 1960’s and early 1970’s that resulted in several deaths.
In 1972, 17 people were injured when two bombs exploded at his publishing house in Hamburg.
His headquarters in West Berlin, where all but one of the main newspapers are run by the Springer concern, were frequently sealed off by police in that period to protect them from attack.
Springer married five times and is survived by a son and a daughter.