Mourning reporter legend: Gerd Ruge died at the age of 93

Mourning reporter legend: Gerd Ruge died at the age of 93
Mourning reporter legend: Gerd Ruge died at the age of 93

Status: 16.10.2021 4:17 p.m.

Gerd Ruge, WDR journalist, reporter, world traveler and role model for entire generations of journalists, is dead. He died on Friday at the age of 93 in Munich. An obituary.

A WDR meeting to establish contacts in 2010. Gerd Ruge nibbles biscuits at the counter and observes the hype of political celebrities and journalists he got caught in. “Oh, you know, I’m over 80 now, I don’t need this anymore,” he says. The television viewers knew him like that: reserved, relaxed, confident. Gerd Ruge died on Friday at the age of 93 in Munich.

Gerd Ruge: The narrator lets you tell

“So how is life?” With this simple question in his friendly way, Ruge approaches people and tells himself by letting them tell.

Gerd Ruge at the wooden fence of the Russian peasant woman, Gerd Ruge in the black ghetto with civil rights activists, Gerd Ruge in the Moscow traffic jam with microphone with the Bulli door open. He captures moods like no other, likes to tell big stories based on the little people.

His more recent travel reports for WDR “Gerd Ruge on the Road” are legendary. The light blue shirt, the beige trousers and, yes, the somewhat muddled language become his trademarks. When Gerd Ruge is on TV, many feel that they are in good hands and like to follow him to the end of the world.

A “holdover” of the old school

In today’s times of cool news journalism and widespread sensational reports, Ruge seems almost like a “holdover” of the old school. “A reporter doesn’t have to put himself in the foreground” is his credo.

He often has to explain what makes a good reporter. “Curiosity and good feet”, but above all he should “have the desire to get involved emotionally” without making the commitment a mistake. He has to be patient, be able to listen – and be impatient at the right moment and finish the contribution.

The native of Hamburg, who began his journalistic training in 1948, also explains his own success with the triumph of the mass medium of television. In the 1960s, the audience absorbed everything that was broadcast. And these are also the pictures of the young German reporter, who at the time was the ARD’s Washington correspondent.

Two assassinations, lots of emotions

Ruge 1964 vor dem Capitol in Washington

Image: wdr

On June 16, 1968, a struggling Ruge said into the television camera: “You will forgive me for not being able to tell it so smoothly, it’s all like a nightmare.” He has just witnessed the fatal assassination attempt on presidential candidate Robert Kennedy, whom he knows privately.

His camera assistant’s pictures of the chaos afterwards can also be seen again and again on US television. In the same year Gerd Ruge reports on the murder of Martin Luther King. He stands on the balcony of the hotel room in Memphis, where the civil rights activist was previously shot.

He indicates with his own body how King first stumbled over the parapet and then fell backwards to the ground. The two attacks, which he describes so emotionally, are for him the most decisive experiences of his life as a journalist, as he often recounts later.

Ruge’s career began with the NWDR

Ruge’s career began with an apprenticeship at the radio school of what was then Nordwestdeutscher Rundfunk (NWDR). Just two years later, in 1950, the young editor received his first major order. He is the first German journalist to receive a visa for Yugoslavia.

In 1956 he went – again as the first German correspondent – to Moscow. Since then there has hardly been an important event on the globe without Ruge.

Russia was close to his heart

Ruge in 1987 with colleague Gabriele Krone-Schmalz in Moscow

Photo: WDR / Manfred Romboy

Of the many locations, Russia is most important to him. “I like people very much. For the most part, they are very warm-hearted, the crazy rich as well as the poor,” is the rationale. He spends 14 years as a correspondent in Moscow.

In the early years there was an encounter that he described as a personal highlight until the end: the encounter with the Russian writer Boris Pasternak. In 1957 he met him in his dacha in a small town near Moscow. It was with this educated, open man that he got to know “the other Russia” for the first time.

Professional interest turns into friendship. Ruge even names his son Boris after the poet. Pasternak falls out of favor in Moscow and later has to give up his Nobel Prize for Literature under pressure from the Kremlin.

Ruge is spied on for the contact with him and leaves Russia two days before his deportation, only to return 30 years later as head of the Moscow ARD studio.

Beijing, Bonn, Cologne

Gerd Ruge with Monika Piel (WDR director 2007 to 2013)

Image: WDR / Sachs

In the meantime he reports from the USA and for the newspaper “Die Welt” from Beijing, directs the WDR studio in Bonn, initiates the ARD “Weltspiegel” and is the head of the television magazine “Monitor”. After all, he also holds the post of editor-in-chief at WDR television. However, it doesn’t last long at his desk in Cologne.

After his time as Moscow studio director, he will retire on September 1, 1993. He is showered with awards. In addition to the Federal Cross of Merit, he received three Grimme Prizes and the Hanns-Joachim-Friedrichs Prize.

In 2011 Amnesty International is honoring him on the 50th anniversary of the foundation and pioneer of the German department of the aid organization.

Gerd Ruge privately

But retirement? Does Ruge ever retire? “Not really, but every now and then,” he once said himself. He continues to write, takes the readers on a trip to Moscow and in 2013 presents his political memories – title, of course: “On the way”.

Sometimes he is a guest on talk shows, “a living legend of the profession”, who, with the serenity of his experience, brings calm to the excited group. He even prefers to visit old places to see what has changed.

“As a pensioner he is a failure,” says Ruge’s wife Irmgard Eicher, with whom he lives in Munich until her death in 2021 and likes to spend two months a year in his own beach house in Cyprus.

WDR congratulates him on his 80th birthday on August 9, 2008 with a portrait that is also intended to show the private pages of the reporter legend. The authors accompany him to Cyprus. But the private complaint eludes. He was “polite but inaccessible”, was already in his school report.

The television team is allowed to film him chatting in the kitchen of his favorite restaurant and how he buys his three to four daily newspapers every day. Home stories have always been too close to him. On his own initiative he reveals that he actually wanted to be a forester, loves nature, knows about birds and relaxes on the water.

He needs coffee in the morning to wake up after quitting smoking after 60 years – without any problems, by the way. Ruge got married three times. Boris and their daughter Elisabeth are from their first marriage.

Gorbachev: “A person to whom one takes off his hat”

In 2014 Ruge, who had already been awarded the Federal Cross of Merit and the Grimme Prize, won the German Television Prize – as a “reporter legend”, which stands for “quality journalism par excellence”, as WDR director Tom Buhrow calls it.

What he thinks of journalism today, he says very openly: The international reporting on German television has a lot of color and emotions, but “little cold analysis”. As early as the 1970s, he complained that the daily pressures left hardly any time for analysis and reflection.

At Ruge’s heyday, the relationship with politicians is also different. While today “mutual mistrust is much greater,” according to Ruge’s assessment, someone like him is often in private contact with prominent politicians.

With Robert Kennedy, for example, or Mikhail Gorbachev. The Soviet head of state and party has great respect for his Duz friend, the German correspondent, who explains the end of the Cold War to people with his analyzes and reports. He once said: “Gerd Ruge is a person of high morality. A person to whom one takes off his hat.”

On the occasion of the death of Gerd Ruge, the WDR is changing the program today: At 9.45 pm the WDR television broadcasts the long Gerd Ruge night “Around the world in 80 years” followed by one of his last reports “Gerd Ruge on the road – summer on Colorado”.


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