From shortwave radio to digital media outlet: The German foreign broadcaster's success story from 1953 to date.
1953: Deutsche Welle launch
From the beginning of the 1980s until the move to Bonn in 2003, the broadcasting center of DW was located at the Raderberggürtel in Cologne.
On May 3, 1953, DW radio goes on air for the first time from Cologne. Founded by the German federal government, it is intended to communicate the values of the young republic to other countries and to support Germany's readmission to the international community.
Initially, DW broadcasts only via shortwave and in German. The first foreign languages are added as early as 1954; by the end of 2021, there will be 32.
1957: German language courses
The program "Learn German at Deutsche Welle" starts in 1957. Almost 50 years later, in 2005, the promotion of the German language becomes an explicit part of DW's programming mission.
DW offers interactive exercises for students and teachers on the Internet, for example the popular video series "Nicos Weg" (Nico's path) or a mobile language course for refugees and migrants.
1964: DW Akademie
In July 1964, international radio journalists take part in the first training course for media professionals from developing countries. This marks the beginning of a huge success story: Just one year later, the Deutsche Welle Training Center (DWAZ) is launched. Since then, hundreds of journalists, technicians and radio station managers from Africa, Asia and Latin America have completed a wide range of training courses every year.
In 1996, DWAZ merges with the TV training center of Sender Freies Berlin and becomes the DWFZ (Deutsche Welle Fortbildungszentrum) and in 2003, the DW Akademie. Today, the DW Akademie is DW's center for international media development, journalistic training and knowledge transfer.
1968: Crisis radio
Warsaw Pact troops put an end to the "Prague Spring" in Czechoslovakia in 1968. DW responds by expanding its offerings in its Eastern European broadcast languages. This is the start "DW crisis radio": After the invasion of Soviet troops in Afghanistan in 1979, DW expands its broadcast languages to Dari and Pashto. In 1989, DW expands its Chinese shortwave programming in response to the Tian'anmen massacre in Beijing.
The civil war in Rwanda in 1994 affects DW directly: The employees of the relay station in the capital Kigali are trapped. Eleven German employees are flown out by Belgian forces. Four of them return soon after at the request of the new Rwandan government and start to operate again.
In the 1990s, events in war-torn Yugoslavia and the transformation process in post-communist societies shape DW’s journalistic work. DW provides for its audience Southeastern Europe in Albanian, Bosnian, Serbian, Macedonian and Croatian.
On April 1, 1992, DW launches a daily television program from the premises of the RIAS-TV station in Berlin. It aims to meet the growing demand for information from and about Germany after reunification in 1990. DW today has four television channels: English, German, Arabic and Spanish.
DW becomes the first German public-service broadcaster to launch news websites on September 1, 1994. The online editors’ first task is covering the national elections.
1996: New building on Voltastrasse
DW moves from RIAS-TV's premises on Berlin's Voltastrasse to a neighboring building. Architect Josef Paul Kleihues redesigns the former industrial site.
1997: DW Act
The DW Act, enacted in December 1997 and amended in 2001 and 2004, defines DW as a non-profit, public-service broadcaster.
1998: Federal Ministry for Culture and Media
After almost 40 years, legal supervision of DW is transferred from the Federal Ministry of the Interior to the Federal Government Commissioner for Culture and the Media following the national elections. State ministers since 1998: Michael Naumann (SPD), Julian Nida-Rümelin (SPD), Christina Weiss (independent), Bernd Neumann (CDU) and, since 2013, Monika Grütters (CDU).
2003: From Cologne to Bonn
After 50 years in Cologne, DW moves to nearby Bonn, Germany's former capital. The famous Schürmann Building was originally designed by architect Joachim Schürmann as an office building for the members of parliament. However, the government moved from Bonn to Berlin years before construction was finished.
2008: Global Media Forum
DW's first international media conference, the Global Media Forum (GMF), takes place from June 2 to 4, 2008 at the World Conference Center Bonn. Keynote speeches are given to around 800 guests from all over the world by then-Foreign Minister Frank-Walter Steinmeier and Nobel Peace Prize laureate Shirin Ebadi.
Erik Bettermann, DW Director General from 2001 to 2013, says at the first GMF opening session: "With this regular event, we are bringing the expertise of a multinational, globally networked media company to create a platform for intercultural exchange between players in globalization. Here, media representatives from around the world work with decision-makers from politics, culture, business, development cooperation and science to find interdisciplinary solutions to global challenges in which media play a central role."
Every year, some 2,000 experts from the media, politics, culture and society come to Bonn from well over 100 countries to attend the Global Media Forum. The GMF has established itself as the largest international media conference in Germany - as "the place made for minds."
2011: Diversity as a success factor
Since 2011, DW has been one of the members of the German employers' initiative "Charta der Vielfalt" (Diversity Charter). The association is committed to promoting diversity in the workplace.
2013 to date: Digitization and new focus topics
Director General Peter Limbourg is elected to office in 2013. Under his leadership, the English-language 24-hour news channel goes on the air in June 2015. The new TV channel offers magazines, documentaries, interviews and talk shows on topics from politics, business, science, culture and sports. A news program is broadcast on the hour, with different duration depending on the time of day. The current program can be interrupted at any time for "breaking news" at any time.
Digitization is making its way into everyday newsroom life, leading not only to new technical equipment and transmission methods, but also to new workflows. The increasing use of the Internet contrasts with the declining interest in shortwave broadcasting. At the end of October 2011, DW discontinues German-language radio programs via shortwave and focuses on multimedia formats.
Investments in new digital technologies and social media establish DW as a globally respected news station that also reaches younger target groups. Greater regionalization of programming responds to current crises and expands coverage in target regions.
DW Freedom of Speech Award
Since 2015, DW has presented the Freedom of Speech Award annually as part of the Global Media Forum to individuals or initiatives that are particularly committed to human rights and freedom of expression.
Previous Freedom of Speech Award laureates include blogger Raif Badawi (2015), who has been imprisoned in Saudi Arabia since 2012; Sedat Ergin (2016), former editor-in-chief of the Turkish newspaper Hürriyet; the White House Correspondents' Association from the U.S. (2017); Iranian political scientist Sadegh Zibakalam (2018); Mexican investigative journalist and author Anabel Hérnandez (2019).
In 2020, DW honored 17 journalists from 14 countries, representing all journalists worldwide who have disappeared, been arrested or threatened for their reporting on the Corona crisis. Investigative journalist Tobore Ovuorie from Nigeria was honored in 2021, followed by Ukrainian photojournalists Mstyslav Chernov und Evgeniy Maloletka in 2022 and investigative reporter Óscar Martínez from El Salvador in 2023.
Flight and migration
Crises shape world politics, and the topics of flight and migration are gaining in importance for reporting. With its cooperation partners France Médias Monde and the Italian news agency ANSA, DW is launching the online project InfoMigrants in March 2017, which from 2021 on will be offered in six five languages and is funded by the EU. The information platform is aimed at migrants and refugees.
Pope Francis conveys his "sincere appreciation for this important initiative" in a personal letter.
2020: Pandemic and working harder against disinformation
When the pandemic begins, DW broadcasts extended news and special programs on the topic. In mid-March 2020, DW responds to the increased demand for information from people around the world with a new format: overnight, the Covid-19 Special is created and airs the next day. The daily TV format offers information on everything to do with the Coronavirus: on vaccine development, long-term effects of the virus, immunity, but also on social issues – such as how the pandemic could change our everyday lives forever. The idea for the format came from DW editor-in-chief Manuela Kasper-Claridge, Head of the Economy, Science and Environment Department at the time. After more than 500 episodes, Covid-19 Special aired for the last time at the end of 2022.
In 2020, DW's fact-checking team is founded in response to disinformation and conspiracy theories circulating as the pandemic unfolds. The team publishes fact checks online, on TV, and on social media. All team members, who work with digital research tools, are trained fact-checkers.
2022: Russia's war of aggression in Ukraine and move to Riga
In early February, the Russian government bans DW from broadcasting and classifies it as a "foreign agent" in March. The studio in Moscow is closed and a new studio is established in the Latvian capital of Riga. DW's Director General Peter Limbourg emphasizes: "We continue to take all the technical and organizational measures possible to provide our audience in Russia and around the world with critical information." For those interested in Russia, he said, there are "a variety of ways to circumvent censorship." In the context of Russia's war of aggression on Ukraine, coverage in Ukrainian and Russian is expanded: Starting in March 2023, the Russian-language news program DW Novosti is produced daily. Approximately 20 local journalists, editors and cameramen, as well as DW News correspondents, work in the Kyiv Hub established in 2021.
2023: 70 years of Deutsche Welle
DW Director General Peter Limbourg with Clautia Roth, Minister of State and Commissioner of Culture and the Media.
On May 10, DW marks its 70th birthday with a ceremony attended by Minister of State Claudia Roth and numerous other guests from politics, culture and the media in the German Bundestag.
"In order for no one to believe that they can control words and thus control reality, we need independent media. We need journalists who work together worldwide for the freedom of the word. Just as Deutsche Welle has been doing for 70 years," said Chancellor Olaf Scholz in a congratulatory message. Scholz expressed his gratitude for "70 years in which your broadcaster has made a significant contribution to democracy."
For Claudia Roth, Minister of State and Commissioner of Culture and the Media, DW "not only stands for the free word – it is the free word in the conversation between German democracy and the world," it is "indispensable" in view of the "growing dangers to freedom of speech, freedom of the press and freedom of information."