TV journalist: Fritz Pleitgen - a man with attitude to the end

TV journalist
Fritz Pleitgen - a man with attitude to the end

Fritz Pleitgen at WDR in Cologne (1995).  Photo: Roland Scheidemann/dpa

Fritz Pleitgen at WDR in Cologne (1995). photo

© Roland Scheidemann/dpa

Fritz Pleitgen was always a man with attitude: as a journalist, as an organizer of the Ruhr Capital of Culture - and also at the end when he had death before his eyes.

Fritz Pleitgen was already badly marked by his illness, but he still agreed to the request to comment on the Ukraine war. The former television journalist and artistic director sat very pale and very thin on the sofa in his house in Bergisch Gladbach near Cologne. "Cancer is eating away at me," he admitted. Talking makes him tired. In terms of content, however, his answers were as analytically polished as ever.

Yes, he was in favor of supplying heavy weapons to the Ukraine, he told the German Press Agency. Only that could force Russian President Vladimir Putin to the negotiating table. But no, "the Russians are no different people from us. I've always found them to be conversational partners with whom it's worth exchanging ideas." The many people he met on his reportage trips through Russia had very similar ideas about life as he did himself. "I didn't notice any significant differences and I'm far from wanting to exclude the Russians from our milieu. "

Died aged 84

Fritz Pleitgen died on Thursday at the age of 84, like him WDR announced on Friday. "A great captain is now leaving the stage of life," said today's WDR director and ARD chairman Tom Buhrow. "He shaped WDR like no other. Fritz Pleitgen stood for courage and fairness, and he loved his WDR."

Pleitgen leaves his Woman, to whom he had been married since 1969, three sons and one daughter. You can imagine him as a happy person, both privately and professionally. "On balance, it went as if someone had controlled it," he summed up at the end. "Because I'm not that outstandingly gifted."

The tall, gaunt man came out of the Ruhr area, from Duisburg-Meiderich. He was born there in 1938, in the midst of soot-spitting coking plants and blast furnaces with tongues of flame. He had consciously witnessed the Second World War. "My first perceptions are flames and sirens."

After the war he grew up in Bünde in East Westphalia. In his confirmation suit he gained his first experiences as a newspaper reporter. His best school was the district court, he once said: That's where he learned that you should never rely on just one source. In 1963, WDR got him, and soon he was reporting on the Cyprus conflict and the Six-Day War. In the 1970s he was a correspondent in Moscow and East Berlin. In 1982 he went to Washington.

The arch-conservative policies of the then President Ronald Reagan didn't appeal to him personally, but that didn't stop him from liking the man. When he once drew the ire of Reagan's press secretary for critical questions, the President put his arm on his shoulder in a fatherly manner and said to the spokesman: "Bob, he had his job to do." (Bob, he was just doing his job.)

In 1994, Pleitgen became WDR radio director and one year later, succeeding Friedrich Nowottny, director. He stayed there for twelve years, until 2007. His last major project was the Ruhr Capital of Culture 2010. Here he was CEO from 2007 to 2011 and as such was "the face of the district". He was concerned with dismantling outdated ideas of the former "coal pot" and sending new pictures of the Ruhr area around the world. When 21 people died in the Love Parade catastrophe in the year of the Capital of Culture, Pleitgen was one of the few who drove straight to the scene of the accident and publicly admitted a moral responsibility.

correspondent in Moscow

Pleitgen also showed attitude after suffering from pancreatic cancer in 2020. Bitterness or even self-pity were alien to him, instead he expressed gratitude for the good treatment and attention he was given. "I know that when it comes to cancer, you really are in God's hands, and I enjoy every additional day that I can walk on earth here."

As for his beloved Russia - the vast empire that he traveled to again and again long after he had left his post as a correspondent - at the end of his life he had to bid farewell to a number of illusions. He underestimated Putin's danger, he admitted. At the same time, he firmly believed that Putin would not have the last word. "Young people won't put up with it in the long run," he predicted. "We've seen tens of thousands take to the streets before, and that can easily happen again." He knew, however, that he himself would never experience this again.


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