The Sinking of The Starnberg Bote

A MORSEL of news that now comes to me will not shake the earth, but it has significance and I am touched. The Land und See Bote, the local newspaper in the Bavarian village of Starnberg by the Sea, ceased to publish two years ago. Mary Louise Mineau, our neighbor here in Maine, was born in Starnberg and has just flown back after a visit. To me, and naturally to Mary, the Land und See Bote was special. Let me fill you in.

After World War II, the United States area of occupation included Bavaria, and one of our tasks was to restore to the Germans an unfettered press, replacing the Nazi-controlled newspapers of the Hitler days. We did make mistakes. After a few years, another fellow and I were asked by our State Department to visit Germany, look the small-town newspaper scene over, and render a report.

My own surmise was, and is, that at the time the US had too many experts who knew too little about both the Germans and journalism and that a complex intellectual problem boiled down to a nuts-and-bolts simplicity. During our three-month inspection of the German press, we came at last to Starnberg and visited the publishing plant of the Starnberger Land und See Bote, a fairy-godmother moment.

A German newspaper is a dreary sight to an American. We do overplay our front-page hoopla with fires and wrecks, but we do not limit our front pages to the severity of ``lead articles'' of erudite and desiccated ponderosities composed by stilted philosophy doctors on the political necessity of economic parity in the Lithuanian sugar beet industry. After we had become accustomed to such doldrum drivel in paper after paper, it was fun to get to Starnberg and find a paper with a smile.

Lake Starnberg (the See) was a placid body of water, and our meeting with the newspaper people was at lunch time on a restaurant verandah over the water. The publisher was a woman (she had inherited) and her staff was entirely otherwise. At that time it was correct for a woman to defer to her betters. We could see custom limited her trump suit. However, there was the Bote. In German Bote does not mean boat. It means a messenger, a bringer of glad tidings, a suitable name for a newspaper in both German and English.

But being on the lake, the name Starnberger Messenger was punned. A cartoon appearing daily on the front page showed a Rube Goldberg contraption that was a boat on wheels. It was charging from the lake up onto the beach with a great splash of water, and it had the happy effect of dripping levity onto the heavy-headed text from the brainy editor. The cartoon was something no right-minded thinker would ever expect to find on the front page of any German journal. Madame wasted no great time in letting us know it was her idea, and also that the whimsey was not endorsed by her masculine staff. Perhaps I've shown why I was always partial to beautiful Starnberg's amphibious publication.

True to custom, the lady excused herself after dessert, and upon completing the German ritual of shaking hands all the way around she permitted the chauffeur to drive her home in the status Mercedes. She left the business talk to us gentlemen. When Mary told me the Starnberger Land und See Bote had gone up spout, these years later, I merely said, ``Blame the men she had around her.''

Mary, not being a journalist, didn't inquire what brought on the demise, but I would suspect it's the same disorder that haunts our American scene. Small papers bought up by chains, the desire to let one press do the whole bunch. You guess - I'm not an expert these days.

Not long after my visit to Starnberg as an expert, some boys in our Frankfurt occupation bureau prevailed on a German small-town editor to bring out an issue in the ``American'' style. He was Dr. Georg Dietrich of the Taunus Anzeiger, published in the village of Ober Ursel in the Taunus hills, not far from Frankfurt. He was reluctant to be persuaded, but as the American began collecting material for copy his interest grew, and by the time the paper appeared he was excited.

This issue carried many local names, which German editors avoided as an invasion of privacy, and a lot of street gossip that ``sells papers'' but distracts attention from the traditional pontifications. Dr. Dietrich found that his readers liked the ``American'' paper, but decided `twere best as a one-time stunt. Shortly after, Dietrich came to the US to visit and he made a special flight to Maine to call on me and rehash this and that.

With a complimentary angling license supplied by our governor, he adroitly boated a two-pounder at our Rangeley Lake, and was overjoyed when I showed him the news item about it that I contrived to get in the Lewiston Daily Sun. You can't beat names in a paper. Dr. Georg said he had good Forelle sport in the Taunus ponds, but nothing like this. He went home and wrote a book called ``Das ist Amerika.''

Neither has Mary told me what the Starnbergers read now that their Bote has quit. I might chance a guess that Starnbergers are reading the Munich Mercury, which is another German paper I ``surveyed.'' It was granted a publishing license by our occupation people soon after the war ended. In our great zeal of those days about keeping former Nazis out of the newspaper business, we wisely issued the license to publish the Mercury to a triumvirate of prominent communists.

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