My Overnight Success
by: stern Reporter Günter Dahl (1923-2004)
in: Anniversary Issue “40 Years stern” (August 22, 1988)
Günter Dahl worked for the stern since the day it was born. He headed among others the editorial department Medicine and Health and in later years he traveled as an author and editor. Dahl owes his job contract as a stern-trainee to the lucky coincidence, that as a young man he owned a typewriter that he was able make available to the publishing house. Here this “man from day one” tells his career story:
"Often when on a plane or on the Intercity train I have the luck of taking a seat between two young and successful professionals whose career opportunities are written on their faces. How I envy them! I see the rungs of their career ladder before me. High school graduation, their studies, a degree, traineeship, overseas position, assistant to the board and the leap into management. I then imagine what it would be like to hold a presentation on "Career Planning in 1947"- They would die of laughter with their famous last words being "My dear sir that was but a wonderful tall tale."
I’ll tell it anyway.
It was my school teacher who put the bug in my ear about being a journalist. He was a feuilleton editor, art critic and theater dramaturge before he took up teaching and, as he put it, gave up the most wonderful of all professions. That was 1936. His pupil Günter Dahl was 13.
I graduated from high school after which I studied journalism till the third semester. Then in 1944 I was seriously injured in an air raid on Berlin. My parent’s apartment and father’s workshop, he was a master tailor, were but a smoking heap of ruins.
Well, that was it with journalism.
We found a place to stay in Sudetenland. I was imprisoned twice and weighed a mere 34 kilos when I was released. After a long illness at the beginning 1947 I got on my feet again and dug up the addresses of all the existing newspapers and magazines, bought 110 postcards and had a bookkeeper copy my application for a traineeship on the mimeograph at his company. He wanted a liverwurst for this. My father got the liverwurst from a farmer, for whom he had sewn a hat. In the meantime we were living in a village near Hanover.
It was clear for my father: The boy really wants to be a journalist, and a great thing happened. My father opened a package that he hadn’t let out of his sight once while on the run even keeping it hidden from the farmers here and pulled out 3 meters of the finest English fabric, enough for a suit. "Had you been a daughter, this would have been your dowry," he said, "this is all I have, as you know. Take this and see to it you get a typewriter for it."
With a feigned telegram about an "urgent family matter" I got the permission to travel on a military train from Hanover to Berlin where I had my fabric appraised at 2700 Reichsmarks and exchanged it for a typewriter for 2400 Reichsmarks.
When I arrived back in our village there was a telegram on the table waiting for me from the publishing house “Volk und Zeit”. It read: "Are interested in application. Awaiting personal interview. Will cover travel expenses."
That I travelled on a train so jam-packed that I had to spend the night out on the running-board, wasn’t all that unusual for those times (April 1947). You just had to hang on tight.
There was a man next to me, who had a half loaf of bread in his knapsack but nothing to spread on it, whereas I had a can of sugar beet molasses in my backpack but no bread. We quickly came to an agreement. He told me that he was on his way to exchange piano strings for paper, as he and three friends planned on creating a teen magazine. And I told him, that I was going to Karlsruhe to begin my career as a journalist tomorrow and that furthermore, I owned a typewriter. The man pricked up his ears and wanted to have my address before he disappeared with his piano strings.
I was too optimistic too soon: Karlsruhe was a total flop. I got warm soup, my travel money and the well-meant advice to take on another profession. They had expected a sharp young reporter who had something written to show for it. They wished me all the best.
Well, that was it with journalism. Again.
At the end of June 1947 I received a letter from the "Zick-Zack Publishing House" in Bad Pymont asking whether I could remember the night-time train trip and would like to drop by? And at the end the sentence: "Should you be interested, bring your typewriter with you."
So, leaving my typewriter at home, I drove to Bad Pymont. It was to be about me. When I showed up empty-handed the disappointment of the gentlemen in Bad Pymont was great. I soon found out why: the “Zick-Zack Publishing House” didn’t have an own typewriter. The man with whom I had shared the running-board and another much younger man, who palmed himself off as the Editor-in-Chief (I estimated him to be 24, as old as I) disappeared into the room next door. A third man leafed through the stories I had managed to write in the last 2 months, mumbled "oh, well" and then joined the others. I heard them whispering "It’s only important that he bring his typewriter with him, as a favor we can take the poor guy on. His work is hardly worth mentioning. But maybe he can learn …"
When the man came back into the room, he mercifully told me the publishing house was willing to give me a chance as a trainee. And could I begin immediately? My contract arrived the next day: 150 Reichsmarks a month and the sentence “Herr Dahl explicitly allows the publishing house to use his typewriter.”
That’s the way it was – “Career Management 1947”. No tall tales, you young professionals of today, but the moment of truth. They did keep me, by the way, when the publishing house got its first own typewriter and in 1948 when "Zick-Zack" became the stern. And I’ve stayed - up to this very day.
It was a fantastic time in the most wonderful of all professions."
Anniversary Issue “40 Years stern” (August 22nd, 1988)