Extensive Research Pays Off For 2008 Burns Award Winners


Burns Award winners Andrew Curry (2003) and Gregor Peter Schmitz (1997) at the June alumni dinner in Berlin.

From left: Frank-Dieter Freiling, Burns trustee and coordinator; Martina Johns, Burns alumna, IJP director and coordinator for the Asia fellowships; Mathias Döpfner, Burns alumnus and CEO of Axel Springer; and IJP director Vassilios Theodossiou, coordinator for Northern Europe fellowships.

The 2008 Burns and Kennan Award winners focus on the hopes of the African-American civil rights movement with Barack Obama's historic election; on Germany's struggle with releasing Stasi police secrets; and on an American identity crisis displayed in its new embassy building in Berlin.

Burns Award winners Andrew Curry (2003) and Gregor Peter Schmitz (1997) at the June alumni dinner in Berlin.

Gregor Peter Schmitz (Burns 1997), Washington correspondent for Der Spiegel, won the German Burns Award for "Obama's Traum (Obama's Dream)," published in the October 2008 Spiegel Special USA issue. Schmitz focused on a central theme of last year's U.S. presidential election: the African-American civil rights movement. In his article, Schmitz discusses the hopes of black civil rights activists and their role in the election of Barack Obama. But Schmitz also strikingly explains the disappointment of some within the movement, like Jesse Jackson, who was only a minor feature in Obama's campaign. This inconsistency is described vividly and extensively by the author, whose in-depth research impressed the jury.

Andrew Curry (Burns 2003), who currently freelances from Berlin, won the U.S. Burns Award for "Piecing together the dark legacy of East Germany's secret police," published in the February 2008 edition of Wired magazine. Considering that Curry's article on Germany's Stasi past is a marginal issue for U.S. readers, the fact that the magazine printed this considerably long story in its entirety is impressive. This is due to Curry's dramatic writing, which artfully explains the tedious puzzle work of regenerating the Stasi files, while relating the personal story of an employee of the agency in charge of the files. The jury felt that Curry covered this difficult topic in an entertaining and captivating way without losing focus on the story's depth or significance.

The two 2,000-Euro prizes are awarded by Germany's Foreign Minister. Both Curry and Schmitz received their honors at the annual Burns alumni dinner and lecture on June 4 in Berlin.

Burns Award winners Andrew Curry (2003) and Gregor Peter Schmitz (1997) at the June alumni dinner in Berlin.

In addition, two German and one American Burns alumni received honorary mentions by the jury. Silvia Feist (Burns 2000) was honored for her article "Der nächste Einsatz (The Next Deployment)," published in the August edition of Germany's Emotion magazine. The story covered two American soldiers who lost limbs in Iraq and Afghanistan; and subsequently competed at the Paralympics in Beijing. Peter Wagner (Burns 2007) received the mention for "Meine Jagd nach dem Autogramm von Obama (My Quest for the Autograph of Obama)," a humorous piece that ran on jetzt.de, the youth page of Süddeutsche Zeitung, on October 27, 2008. Michael Giglio (Burns 2008) received an honorary mention for "Americans Deported to Frankfurt," a rarely covered story about the fate of Americans stranded in Germany, which ran in Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung during his fellowship there last summer.

The 2,000-Euro George F. Kennan Commentary Award went to Niklas Maak, Berlin correspondent for Frankfurter Allgemeine Sonntagszeitung, for his story "Die Botschaft der Botschaft (The Message of the Embassy)," published on April 20, 2008. In a year with no lack of commentary about the outgoing and incoming U.S. president, Maak managed to describe an American identity crisis in his unusual architectural critique of the new U.S. embassy in Berlin. "If a house could stand with crossed arms, this is what it would look like," Maak wrote of the new fortress-style building at Pariser Platz in Berlin Mitte. "The embassy is the picture of a country traumatized by 9/11 and the effects of globalization; a nation that is so armored up, it can no longer see the world."

The jury also gave an honorary mention to Süddeutsche Zeitung correspondent Nikolaus Piper for his commentary piece "Wendejahr 2008 (Year of Change 2008)," published on December 31, 2008. The jury credited Piper's work for its outstanding analysis and foresight, as he tied economic politics to world politics.

The jury for both awards was comprised of journalists Sabine Christiansen, Dr. Christoph von Marschall (Tagesspiegel), Claus Strunz (Hamburger Abendblatt), Florian Illies (Die Zeit/Monopol) and Dr. Dominik Wichmann (Süddeutsche Zeitung), as well as Dr. Frank-Dieter Freiling (ZDF) and Martina Nibbeling-Wriessnig (Foreign Ministry of Germany).

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2003 Burns Award Winners
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