The high-brow German weekly Die Zeit is trying to go international with a slick, biannual, best-of magazine in English. But can it appeal to foreign fashionistas? DW spoke to editor Christoph Amend.
"The Berlin State of Mind" - that's the title of the publication whose second issue has just been published. It's a throwback to classic American coffee table magazines like "Vanity Fair" or "Vogue," full of top-notch photographs of models, artists, actors, designers and other celebs. When you enter Christoph Amend's office you realize why. Covers of the "New Yorker" adorn the walls above his desk, and the atmosphere is relaxed, casual and decidedly American. Nonetheless, perhaps because German syntax and idioms still shine though in the translated articles, the magazine has the quirky, off-kilter feel of a multicultural experiment.
DW: As a high-culture weekly in newspaper format, "Die Zeit" is a very unusual publication. How difficult is that to translate not just into a different language, but into a different cultural context?
Christoph Amend: I usually tell foreigners that "Die Zeit" is like the "New Yorker" but in a paper format, and that we also have this magazine, the "ZEITmagazin," which is more like a mix of the "New York Times Magazine" and its wonderful sister magazine, "T." The idea to translate it into English came because I met the French photographer Brigitte Lacombe. She works for the magazine on a regular basis. She said she loved the magazine, the way it's designed, the photography and the way we present our stories. And then she leaned over and said, "I wish I could read it."
I went back to my office, sat down with a couple of colleagues and discussed whether it would make sense to translate "ZEITmagazin" into English. We realized that there is indeed a market for biannual magazines published in English. There are shops that specialize in this sort of English language magazine. So we took our content and remixed it, re-edited it, into a kind of coffee table magazine.
So why have you chosen to make "The Berlin State of Mind" into an old-school, glossy, coffee table magazine? Isn't that the sort of thing that's dying out?
It's not dying. "Die Zeit" has a very successful website, and it is very successful on all social networks. But I think the more we all live in a digital media world, the more we feel the need to take a beautiful magazine into our hands and read it. To flip through the pages and enjoy it. If you look at the medium blogs, especially the younger ones like fashion blogs, what do they talk about? Mostly printed magazines! If a magazine like "Vogue" in America runs a cover with Kim Kardashian and Kanye West or "Fantastic Man" runs a cover with Boris Becker, the blogs discuss it first. The more digital the world becomes, the greater the need for nicely done glossy magazines.
"ZEITmagazin" is a national publication, so why is the English version called "The Berlin State of Mind"?
If you take a look at the current issue of the "New Yorker," the cover story is about how hip the Berlin club Berghain is. That story illustrates the international interest in Berlin. Every time I'm abroad, and someone asks me where I'm from and I say "Germany," they say, "Oh that's nice." But if I say I'm from Berlin, their eyes grow wide. People then usually say, "I've just been there," or "A friend just went there," or "I really want to go." That made us say, "We're a magazine from Berlin. Let's use that as a tool to communicate." The writer Kurt Tucholsky had a wonderful way of summing up the character of Berlin. He said, "Berlin becomes."
But what can someone from Paris, London or New York get in Berlin that they can't get much better at home?
One of the differences is that artists can still afford it. Berliners complain about rising rents, but it's still very affordable compared to Paris or London, or even Munich or Stuttgart. So there are lots of young artists here. A couple of weeks ago I met this Romanian artist, Adrian Ghenie, and I asked him what he liked about Berlin. "What's so special?" He thought for a moment and said, "The German element in Berlin is quite shy." That's true. There are a lot of people living here who don't speak a word of German, and they enjoy that. You don't get distracted by everyday talk from other people. Recently on the Charlie Rose talk show in the US, the actor Bill Murray was talking about the film "The Monuments Men," and he said: "Have you been to Berlin lately? It's so great. People leave you alone."
Can you say more about your target audience?
"ZEITmagazin - The Berlin State of Mind" is distributed internationally, with 500 sale points abroad and of course a lot more in Germany. There are people who read "ZEITmagazin" every week and are interested in buying a kind of collector's edition, a best-of. That also appeals to people who occasionally read the magazine and just want the highlights. Then there are people who are interested in new things, creative things. People in the media industry, in advertising, in the fashion and art worlds. They're always interested in new ideas and visuals. We hope that a magazine edited in Berlin, with a broader perspective than simply fashion and lifestyle, will be of interest to these sorts of people.
Christoph Amend is the editor of "ZEITmagazin." He previously headed the "Tagesspiegel" Sunday magazine and currently lives in Berlin.