Through the decades

By Pascal SteinwachsLex KlerenMisch PautschGilles Kayser Switch to German for original article

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The story we are about to tell here is a long one. Possibly too long - after all, 75 years of Lëtzebuerger Journal is no mean feat. So let's limit ourselves to a few very personal memories, peppered with the statements of various contemporary witnesses.

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We will not go into the first four decades of the Journal's history here; that can be read elsewhere. For the author of this article, however, the Journal adventure began 34 years ago, which means that I have experienced almost half of the life of the Lëtzebuerger Journal in the front line.

It all started with an embargo. Namely, when we worked for a short time as freelancers for the Tageblatt at the end of the 80's, the Esch/Alzetter based newspaper sent us one day to a press conference of the fair company, which was a relatively big deal at that time. The fact that the date of the Foire was subject to an embargo until the day after next was, for whatever reason, ignored by us, so that the corresponding article was published directly the next day.

An embargo and its consequences

Either we didn't know the word embargo, didn't take the whole thing seriously, or simply overlooked the embargo – we can't remember that exactly. In any case, our breaking of the embargo brought us to the attention of Rob Roemen, the editor-in-chief of the Journal at the time. Impressed by our chutzpah, he almost immediately offered us a permanent position, so that we indirectly owe it to an embargo that we came to the Journal more than three decades ago – and are still there.

Right at the beginning of our career at the Journal, the editor-in-chief sends me to the first United Nations World Summit for Children in New York. He probably assumed that the paper's youngest editor would be a good fit for a summit on children's rights.

Of course, here again there is a term whose meaning we didn't know, and quickly googling something, you couldn't do that back then. So Jacques Poos, the Luxembourg foreign minister at the time, who takes us under his wing in New York, talks about a troika the whole time. However, all the time we don't understand what he means by that, but of course, being professionals, we didn't let on.

Only later do we find out that in international political parlance a troika refers to the group of three countries that previously held the six-monthly rotating presidency of the Council, that are currently holding the presidency, and that will hold the presidency next. And at that time, in the second semester of 1990, the turn is next to Luxembourg.

Hans-Dietrich Genscher and Blixa Bargeld

On the way to Jacques Poos, who is staying in a different, much better (and certainly more expensive) hotel than we are, we have to wait for the elevator one afternoon down in the hotel lobby, and when the elevator door opens, there suddenly stands Hans-Dietrich Genscher, the almost world-famous German foreign minister at the time – in his legendary yellow sweater, of course. A journalist's life can be a lot of fun, we think to ourselves ..

That's what we also think on our second evening in the Big Apple, when we get tickets for a concert by Nick Cave and the Bad Seeds on the black market after our work is done, and New York is still really dangerous at that time, really exciting. The guitarist of the Bad Seeds was Blixa Bargeld, and with this Blixa Bargeld, who in real life was also the head of the then famous avant-garde band Einstürzende Neubauten (and still is, but the Neubauten haven't been famous for a long time), we had conducted an exclusive interview for the Lëtzebuerger Journal in Saarbrücken a few months earlier.

"I wish the Journal would still be around in 25 years."

Henri Grethen, Member of the Board of Directors

Which brings us to the next topic: at that time, the Journal was the only newspaper to have a youth page every Saturday, for which we were responsible and which we were allowed to design all by ourselves. We also interviewed Einstürzende Neubauten, who, by the way, performed several times in Luxembourg in the decades that followed, including at the highly cultural Philharmonie.

A Moien! in the sauna

Of course, we generously populated the page with personal favorites such as the grindcore gods of the time, Napalm Death, or the no less divine Vanessa Paradis, but what made the youth page special was our weekly editorial to the youth and to all those who remained young at heart: The Moien!, only real with exclamation points.

The Moien! appeared for the first time on September 16, 1989, even before the fall of the Berlin Wall (younger readers should just google it now); the summer hit (and dance) that year was, by the way, Lambada (younger readers can google that again now).

Moien! has many readers at that time, also and especially among politicians. For example, a certain Lucien Lux, who was a Bettembourg député-maire in those years and was later to become a minister, told us that he always read the Moien! with enthusiasm in the sauna on Saturdays. The images we have of the LSAP politician in our heads afterwards haunt us for weeks.

At some point – we also got (and are still getting) older – Moien! and the youth page came to an end, and we devoted ourselves more to culture and the culture and feature pages, for which the best feature writers Luxembourg had in those years were active.

Until we finally started doing politics, pardon me, writing about politics, which we still do today with great pleasure, although, journalistically speaking, we have also found our way back to culture.

When we missed Bill Clinton

As political editors, we naturally attended the legendary briefings of then-Prime Minister Jean-Claude Juncker every Friday, following the Friday meeting of the governing council. Here, Juncker had fun first lecturing for ages on the relationship of the yen to the dollar, or something similar, before gleefully flogging the respective coalition partner, i.e., the LSAP or the DP, in front of the assembled press.

In his later years, however, Juncker gradually lost interest in this exercise, while his successor Xavier Bettel stopped doing it altogether rather quickly after a few press briefings following the Council of Government. Perhaps the future prime minister Luc Frieden will soon reintroduce this tradition.

Rob Roemen, Kik Schneider

But as representatives of the Lëtzebuerger Journal, we also covered all EU summits when they were not yet held in Brussels, but in those countries that were currently holding the EU presidency. For example, we accompanied Juncker twice to Moscow, where we even visited President Putin's office, and to Washington to see Bill Clinton. Unfortunately, we did not attend the corresponding press conference with the U.S. President in the White House – the jet lag and the time difference, you understand … With Prime Minister Bettel, we visited China and the Great Wall of China, among other things, after we had already been to Ethiopia with MP Bettel.

The Journal, meanwhile, is still notorious for its op-ed piece Opgepikt, which was published in the print edition in every issue for a long, long time – we can't remember how long – but in the new, digital Journal only once a week, but in a fantastic XXL version. The writing style we had developed in Moien! also benefits us in Opgepikt.

An op-ed makes a splash

Since then, we have written thousands and thousands of these things, but our Opgepikt, and thus also the Journal, only really made a splash when we dealt with the rumors that Jean-Claude Juncker had a drinking problem. At the time, in early 2014, he was about to become the Conservatives' top candidate for the European elections, and was therefore under the scrutiny of the international media.

So our Opgepikt made it, among others, in the Spiegel, and later even in the bestseller of Die PARTEI MEP Martin Sonneborn (Mr. Sonneborn goes to Brussels – Adventures in the European Parliament): "The journalist Pascal Steinwachs wrote in the 'Lëtzebuerger Journal', mischievous tongues, claimed that Juncker actually has no problem with alcohol, only without".

After that, Juncker was pissed off and didn't talk to us for a while, but we had to – and could – live with that.

Back to our beginnings in the Journal: We actually started with an electric typewriter, until at some point the first computers arrived – huge, ultra-clunky and pretty ugly.

Of course, it wasn't possible to quickly Google something on the Internet for research purposes, because that didn't even exist at the time, not to mention Google. You had to have a solid basic knowledge or be in possession of the appropriate reference books, books or magazines, which was associated with a certain amount of time.

At the beginning of the 90s, the fax machine made its way into the editorial office, until it was replaced by e-mail at some point. We still remember that in the beginning no one really understood how such an e-mail was sent.

"Rob Roemen had voice recorders lying around everywhere."

Josiane Kirsch, longtime editorial secretary

Of course, almost no one had a cell phone in those years. But we do remember one LSAP congress where Jean Asselborn, party president at the time, lent us his cell phone so that we could make a quick call to the editorial office to pass on our text verbally. It was about then, we think we remember, but memory can sometimes play tricks on you, the appointment of Lydie Err as Secretary of State in the government after Georges Wohlfart had become Minister due to the dysfunctions in the Ministry of Health and the resignation of Johny Lahure – we digress ..

The pitfalls of pneumatic tube mail

What we're really trying to say: The whole newspaper-making process was a lot more complicated at that time than it is today, and the cooperation with the respective printing house was particularly close for this reason. The Journal 's offices were conveniently located on the second floor of the Imprimerie Centrale on Rue Adolphe Fischer before we moved to new premises, our own for the first time, on Rue de Strasbourg, just a few meters away, at the beginning of the noughties.

When we started at the Journal, the photos of our photographers still had to be developed in the darkroom. We also had photos from international agencies, but all photos had to be sent to the reprographics department via pneumatic tube. There, the photo was scanned after you had told the repro how big you wanted the picture in the newspaper – for example, on two columns for page 3. Or something like that. We, who are not interested in technology, never really understood the exact procedure.

What we do remember, however, is that the pneumatic tube always broke down at the most inopportune moment. Namely, just when the photo, which was of course a single copy, got stuck in the pneumatic tube on its way to the repro department in the late evening shortly before the editorial deadline. Then, once again, the janitor had to step in, but thankfully he only lived two floors above the offices of the Lëtzebuerger Journal and was a true professional in repairing pneumatic tubes.

Henri Grethen

It should also be mentioned at this point that some of the mostly older correspondents did not yet have a computer and only ever sent in their texts in typewritten or even handwritten form, which then had to be typed up by the people in charge at the print shop. Compared to today, making newspapers was a huge effort.

The editorial sofa as a lifeline

There was also still a lot of smoking in the newspaper editorial offices back then. Anyone entering the office of the Journal's editor-in-chief in the early 1990s would need a few seconds before they could make out anything at all through the thick cigarette smoke, even though Rob Roemen's stature made him anything but impossible to miss.

The cliché of reporters who like to drink was also fulfilled even more at this time, as not a day went by without someone breaking a bottle of Crémant in the editorial office. After their work was done, however, the editors usually went out for a drink. Right around the corner was the main nightlife district of the time, with Marx, Bronx and Elevator.

So it sometimes happened that one would stop by the editorial office late at night – one shouldn't drive drunk, after all – for a short to medium-long time. Not to work, but to take a breather on the sofa there before driving home late at night.

According to legend, it also happened from time to time that those employees who were there first thing in the morning couldn't get the door to their office open because behind it was still an editor who had been severely weakened by the long evening.

Josiane Kirsch

When Josiane Kirsch started her job as editorial secretary and good soul of the newspaper at the turn of the millennium, these times were supposedly long gone, but of course we don't really want to believe that – especially since we were there ourselves.

The editorial secretary spent her first six months in her new job in the old Journal offices in the Imprimerie Centrale before moving to the new premises in the Rue de Strasbourg, which were sold again after the Journal was transformed into a digital medium.

Josiane, who retired shortly before the change from print to digital, remembers the move well: "Everyone had to help out and pack their own things into the moving boxes. We made moving boxes with numbers on them. However, various boxes were still sitting around in the basement for years, not unpacked. Some boxes were even not unpacked at all."

Unpopular open-plan office

When it came to a relaunch in 2012 after lengthy preparations and the journal, which was henceforth printed by Editpress and even received a Monday edition again, the beautiful new offices had to make way for a more than ugly open-plan office. This was all the rage in the executive suites, although the bosses still had their own office, of course.

Josiane Kirsch was also allowed to keep her own office, probably because she also had to do the telephone work. It was then also the telephoning that was an impossibility in the open-plan office, so that no one in the editorial department was really happy with the redesigned premises.

"Our values of openness to the world, respect, tolerance and inclusion have always remained the same."

Kik Schneider, Chairman of the Board of Directors

In conversation with Josiane, we suddenly remember the quirks of former employees, which we won't go into here for reasons of discretion. For Josiane, the best thing in all those years was the collegiality within the Journal team, as she emphasizes.

There was also a special relationship of trust between the editorial secretary and the former editor-in-chief Rob Roemen, otherwise the latter would hardly have entrusted Josiane Kirsch with the PIN number of his ATM card. When Roemen needed something, he simply called Josiane and said, "Da kommt emol". Most of the time, it was to buy cigarettes or something similar. Claude Karger, who replaced Roemen as editor-in-chief in 2005, was much more discreet, and he didn't smoke either.

Josiane also very often had to type out Roemen's articles, which he had spoken on his dictaphone the night before, since he wrote an editorial virtually every day. "He had dictaphones lying around everywhere."

Those days are indeed long gone. Dictaphones may still be around, but those who still use them will surely continue to use their fax machines and drop their bank transfers in their bank mailboxes.

The newspaper that doesn't come out on Mondays

However, the years are passing. We are getting older. The Journal is getting older. Print has become digital. From an office of two, we move first to an office of four, then to an open-plan office and then to a home office. From Rue Adolphe Fischer, the editorial team moves to Rue de Strasbourg, and from there to Place de la Gare in a co-working space.

Norbert Becker

In any case, we're still having a lot of fun with our work. In the digital journal, which will soon be celebrating its third birthday, we finally have time to take a closer look at a topic. In addition, we no longer have to work towards the editorial deadline every evening, which is very welcome, and the current team around Director Lynn Warken and Editor-in-Chief Melody Hansen is absolutely top class anyway.

With anniversaries like this, you can't help but talk to other contemporary witnesses as well. Actually, we wanted to give these conversations a bit more space, but since we had to realize that most of what Kik Schneider, Henri Grethen and Norbert Becker tell us is rather background information and we have already written so much anyway, this part of the article is more modest than we had actually planned. No matter: Our interview partners, who took a lot of time for us, will certainly understand.

Incidentally, we were hired more than three decades ago by Henri Grethen, who was administrateur-délégué at the Journal at the time and has since rejoined the Journal's Board of Directors as a representative of the Centre d'Etudes Eugène Schaus, the majority shareholder in Editions Lëtzebuerger Journal.

It was then Henri Grethen, along with longtime director Robert Wiget, who put the Journal back on firmer financial footing in the 1980s. "The first initiative I took, that was to abolish the Monday number. Since the printing plant didn't work on weekends, the paper was already printed on Fridays, so anything that happened on weekends was not included. So there was zero point in putting the paper out on Monday."

"What you guys are doing right now, it's excellent, I think it's really good."

Norbert Becker, former Chairman of the Board of Directors

In the press briefing, Jean-Claude Juncker always spoke of the "newspaper that doesn't come out on Mondays" when he publicly reprimanded us for a cheeky op-ed or another article he didn't like.

As administrateur-délégué, Grethen also sometimes had to apologize for articles if they went below the belt, as he confided to us. In this context, he particularly remembers the now legendary Journal issue of a 1 April, in which a fictitious interview with the then CSV Chamber President Erna Hennicot in the sauna was printed. For this purpose, the head of the CSV politician was simply mounted on the naked body of an erotic model. The excitement was tremendous, and so was the fun.

Henri Grethen says the decision to switch to digital was the right one, as the print edition could not be sustained financially in the long term, while digital enabled the Journal to continue to exist.

And what does Henri Grethen wish our medium for its 75th birthday? "That the Journal will still be around in 25 years."

The road to digital

We also spoke, of course, with the current chairman of the Journal's Board of Directors, Kik Schneider, who has been with the Journal a wee bit longer than we have, and who enthusiastically told us about previous conferences he had organized together with Rob Roemen. He also said that for a while he wrote regular editorials for the Journal (as did Henri Grethen, by the way), and wrote a Stater Säit every week.

"I accompanied the Journal through the different stages, all the way to digitalization. Meanwhile, our values of openness to the world, respect, tolerance and inclusion have always remained the same, even though the media have changed."

Kik Schneider was also there when the then Chairman of the Board of Directors Norbert Becker and the then Director Marc Hansen approached the relaunch of the newspaper in 2012. At the same time as the relaunch, the Journal took an eight percent stake in Editpress, so that from then on the Journal would be printed in Esch rather than at Imprimerie Centrale.

Norbert Becker recalls: "It was a course in many stages. It was about finances, and the biggest item was the printing costs." He says the board of directors looked at various offers, but since the press law at the time did not allow the newspaper to be printed abroad, they decided on Editpress.

What Norbert Becker, who is no longer on the board of directors of the Lëtzebuerger Journal, particularly enjoyed during that time was talking to the Journal team. "I always liked it when I could talk to the editorial team and ask what was lacking, what was needed. I would like to see the journey into digital, which takes a certain amount of courage, continue now. What you're doing right now is excellent, I think that's really good."

Not even we could have come up with a better closing word ..