World man with a cultural mission – Ulrich Wickert turns 80

The former “Mr. Tagesthemen” is also a successful author. Ulrich Wickert has just presented his seventh French thriller “The Shadows of Paris”.

PRODUCTION - Ulrich Wickert, journalist and author, during an interview in the Literaturhauscafé in Hamburg.

PRODUCTION – Ulrich Wickert, journalist and author, during an interview in the Literaturhauscafé in Hamburg.Jonas Walzberg/dpa

HamburgFor many, Ulrich Wickert stands above all for quality political journalism and news. But his passion lies elsewhere. In fact, he always found culture more exciting than politics in his life, says the 79-year-old, known to millions to this day as “Mr. Tagesthemen” of the ARD, the German Press Agency in Hamburg.

The moderator and author came by bike to the Hamburg Literature House near the Outer Alster for the interview. In a Hanseatic, elegant leisure look. Wickert lives with his family – the publishing manager Julia Jäkel and his ten-year-old twins in Hamburg and southern France. On Friday (December 2nd) he will be 80 years old.

Wickert has seen a lot of the world in his life. He was born in Tokyo, the son of the diplomat, art historian and writer Erwin Wickert. The world-experienced, musical father shaped him, says Wickert, who went to school in Heidelberg and Paris, among other places. What does he mean by culture? “For me, culture always takes place when a development continues. You can probably define culture quite simply as that which is fundamentally important in living together,” replies the man who wrote works such as “The Book of Virtues”. He adds: “You also speak of culture in agriculture – wheat and wine have developed because people have made an effort. The same goes for cheeses, for bread.”

Conversations about being human

Even as a journalist, he made films about the philosopher Herbert Marcuse (1898-1979) and the dramatist Eugène Ionesco (1909-1994), Wickert recalls. “Because I could talk to them about being human in this society. In politics, it’s usually about short-term issues – even if they are important.”

Like his father, he originally wanted to be a diplomat anyway. Therefore, he studied law in Bonn, as well as political science in Connecticut, USA. “In America I learned to debate. And then in Bonn, together with others in the AStA and in the student parliament, we protested against an ex-Nazi at the university – took action and distributed leaflets,” says Wickert, who also had to deal with his Nazi grandfather and father as followers. And he emphasizes: “It all happened long before the youth revolt year 1968.”

The 79-year-old explains with a smile that he soon realized that life offered too many opportunities to become a civil servant. By chance he ended up on WDR television in 1969 with the political magazine “Monitor” and its founder and moderator Claus Hinrich Casdorff (1925-2004). “Learning by doing. Casdorff was a good teacher – he taught us how to do it,” says Wickert, who was sent to Paris for the presidential elections a little later, commenting on this training. In 1977 he went to Washington, DC as an ARD correspondent

Brand “Mr. Topics of the Day”

And on July 1, 1991, the well-travelled man – at the request of his legendary predecessor Hanns Joachim Friedrichs (1927-1995) – became the first presenter of the top news program “Tagesthemen” in Hamburg. Until 2006, alternating weekly with Sabine Christiansen, later with Gabi Bauer and Anne Will. The greeting “…have a pleasant evening and a good night’s sleep” at the end of the program became his trademark. When he said goodbye, the then Foreign Minister Frank-Walter Steinmeier (SPD): “I want to thank you on behalf of many for 15 years of “daily topics” and your excellent journalistic work.” Steinmeier, now Federal President, was the last interviewee of the popular moderator .

For Wickert, books are part of the basic cultural understanding, he makes clear. He soon became an author himself. As a political journalist, Wickert saw how often the rules are broken. One of the responses of the committed cultural person are his books, which have become bestsellers several times and are sometimes controversial. For example, “The Honest is the Stupid: About the Loss of Values” from 1994 saw its third edition this year.

Since 2003, Wickert has also successfully dealt with vices and crimes in society in his crime novels set in France. The seventh volume in the series about the incorruptible investigative magistrate Jacques Ricou (“The Shadows of Paris”) has just been published. “The cases are all based on reality,” emphasizes the author. The father of three has also written a children’s book (“Knight Otto, a princess, a witch, a dragon and much more”).

Wickert, who likes to keep his private life private, is also committed to helping young people in poorer countries – at the Hamburg organization Plan International Germany. “I think children are the weakest, we have to help them,” he says. “Plan International simply has outstanding programs. One of the most important is to enable girls to go to school so that they can later find a job. We also want to spread the awareness that children have rights – and that adults know that children have rights.”

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