Biography Reiner Luyken
My curriculum vitae: A typical journalist, a jack of all trades and a master of none.
Educated at a classical grammar school in Munich, then apprenticeship as harpischord maker. Afterwards journeyman's time
as organ builder, jobbing as carpenter and long distance lorry driver, a year in Greece. A second attempt to escape from
Germany, this time to Scottland, this time successful. Six years salmon fisher, marriage, the first kids. 1982 the first
writing attempt, published in "Die Zeit", a German weekly newspaper. 1984 to 1994 free-lance journalist, since 1994 working
world-wide exclusively for "Die Zeit" (a German weekly journal), now as senior international correspondent.
• 1984 Stipendium by the Michael Jürgen Leisler Foundation
• 1985/1986 Reporting award by the IG Metall (German Metal Union)
• 1990 Best economy report (sponsored by the Raiffeisenbanken, German banks)
• 1995 German-British Journalist Award (by the German federal president Roman Herzog and Prince Philip, Duke of Edingurgh)
• 1996 Theodor-Wolff-Award (Germany)
• 2005 Media Award by the Johanna-Quandt-Foundation
Article from "Zeit", Christmas 2006:
(sent by Reiner)
It looks like perfect planning. We married on the 2nd of February. Nine
months and 9 days later, our first daughter was born. We called her
Sián and, with middle name, Saturn. It was 1980, a few hours after her
birth a spacecraft reached the planet for the first time. The first son
followed three years later, we called him Lewis after the Hebridean
island that we can see from our home. The second son, Jörg, was born
two years later. Annabel, the number four, arrived three years after
Jörg. In eight years we had build up a family for which you would get
liberal approval from Arabs or Afghans. If you tell them that you have
two sons and two daughters they praise that as a gift from Allah.
In Europe, you belong to the social fringes with a family like that.
Four children? Who can afford it? Either those at the bottom, they
bring their brats up on social security, or those at the top for whom
it doesn't matter how much it costs.
We belong neither top nor to the bottom. But we live at the edge of
Europe on a remote peninsula in the northwest of Scotland. Here, four
children are as good as the norm. The MacLennans have four daughters.
The MacLeods had their sixth child not long ago. None of them of them
are poor, none of them are rich. Kenny MacLennan is a sheep farmer and
deer hunter. Michael MacLeod is an enterprising fisherman.
In reality, things were not as well thought-out as it may sound. Our
family is anything but planned. Sián owes her life to the fact that her
mother forgot to pack the pill when we went on our honeymoon. Lewis was
sort of planned as an antidote against the early onset of the oldest
daughter’s attitude problems as a single-child. Number three, however,
stole himself into our lives. After the fateful night my wife asked the
local nurse for an abortion pill. The nurse had non of it. She made it
abundantly clear that this was completely out of the question. We will
be thankful to her for ever. She died not long after from cancer, still
a very young woman.
When my wife turned pregnant for the fourth time she had internalised
what the nurse had been on about. Every child is a blessing. The more
children your have, the more fulfilment you will find in life, despite
all the trouble. My wife is by no means a Mother Earth. She hated to
walk around with a fat belly. The early years of our marriage were
chaotic. We had very little money. We raised hens and ducks and pigs.
We sold potatoes, we lived from fish from the sea and vegetables from
Our house had no heating, only an open fire in the living room. Our
kitchen was a corrugated iron lean-to at the back of the old stone
building. Blizzards blew the snow through every nook and cranny. One
morning the snow lay ankle-deep on the kitchen floor. The first winter
we spent largely keeping our screaming baby - the one named after the
freezing planet - from freezing to death.
In summertime I fished salmon, some money came into the house. The next
winter I renovated our abode. Meanwhile, we lived in a stone cottage
which didn't even have a bathroom. If we wanted to shower we had to
heat water on the stove and pour it over our heads outside in the snow
My British wife was 24 years old when we married. She had graduated
from art school. She weaved tapestries until late in her third
pregnancy. She had an offer for a position as an artist-in-residence in
the south of Scotland. Did she think about the career break caused by
"I never asked myself that question" she says. "You follow a goal in
life. Then things change, you do something else and you follow another
Pursuing this other goal we never even thought if the government was
child-friendly, or if it was lacking family-friendly policies. Don’t
our children belong to us? Is it the government’s business how many
children we have, and how we manage to raise them?
The children went to the local school. It is a tiny village school, the
first three years are taught in one room, the eight to twelve-year-olds
in another room. My wife worked as an art teacher one day a week.
Before she went off she had to feed the hens and the geese. She had to
take the youngest to a child-minder. The husband, meanwhile a
world-travelling journalist, was, as so often, somewhere far away. The
children waited for the school-bus outside the house. A heavy concrete
lintel was leaning against the wall. Sián challenged her brother: "Bet
you can't lift it?"
My wife heard a scream. When she ran out she saw the boy buried under
the lintel. She freed him with a superhuman act of strength. He looked
unhurt but was sent 130 kilometres to the nearest hospital for
observation. There a nurse asked my wife where the father was. She said
she didn't know. The alarm bells rang - a case for the social services
We had no television. But there were enough children to stage their own
shows. At one time, it was a nativity play, at another time "Rapunzel".
Sián wrote the script and directed, Lewis was the sound engineer,
everybody played several roles. In a third play, I cannot remember any
more what it was about, they recorded a flushing toilet as background
noise. When it came on they were rolling on the floor with laughter and
couldn't carry on...
Can one still imagine such a childhood? The village school is
unchanged. But ten years New Labour, fifteen years economic growth and
twenty years technical advance have radically changed life even in the
remotest corners of the United Kingdom. House prices have soared. 1980
our house was worth 12.000 pounds, today we would have to pay well over
300.000 pounds for it.. Sian spent several quite unhappy teenager years
at high school in Ullapool, a small port 40 kilometres away that looks
idyllic at first glance. Drugs, not only of the allegedly "harmless"
variety, are widespread. They threaten to undermine the family bond.
Nevertheless, Sian and her boyfriend are now moving back to her native
place to live in a stone cottage, just like her parents 27 years ago.
They paid 170.000 pounds for the house and two hectares of land. She
wants to raise hens and pigs. Contrary to her parents they had to take
out a huge mortgage. She has two university grades, she works as a
"telecommuter" for a London publishing house. The boyfriend is a
self-employed landscape gardener. She also wants to become
self-employed at one point. She thinks about designing knitwear to be
produced in India or China, a globalised cottage industry, or to launch
a small publishing company.
But first comes the family. She’d like four children. Why four? "One
would be lonely. Two argue all the time. With three, it is always two
against one. With four, it evens itself out."
After primary school she wants to send her children to the same
boarding school that she and her siblings attended after her unhappy
experiences in Ullapool, despite the enormous cost. Boarding schools
are, this is a stereotype of our time, inhumane institutions, or at
least places that harm the children’s psychological balance. I cannot
imagine anything better for family life. The daily scrapes which all
too often undermine the relations of parents and pubescent teenagers
remain at school. Each reunion is a wonderful happening.
Our children flourished. Maybe they flourished primarily because they
are so close to each other. They always had the support of each other.
After finishing school there was only one place for them to go -
London. As far away as possible from provincial Scotland and from their
remote home. The lure of the metropolis didn't last long. Lewis failed
and started afresh in Manchester. Jörg left London as soon as he
graduated from university. Sian came back. Now only Annabel is left.
All became homesick, or better: they longed for each other.
Only once there was a serious conflict between two of them. It started,
as disputes so often do, with an irrelevancy. Sián called home,
weeping. I was furious. I phoned the guilty brother and knocked the
stuffing out of him as I had never done before. He called his sister
back and apologized. Since then, they are completely at one again.
The Christmas excitement starts at the end of November. Christmas is
still the climax of the year. Everything must be as it has always been.
On Christmas Eve, the "Christkindl" rings the bell, the Christmas tree
is full of red roses (a family tradition of Russian origin), we eat
Baltic herring salad and drink vodka. We are so happy that we drink too
much. Christmas Day is celebrated the British way. At Boxing Day we
play Pooh Sticks on a bridge over a wild creek, a favourite play of
Pooh Bear and his friends. Presents play a secondary role. The main
thing is being together, the feeling of belonging. Or, if you will,
God's blessing of being able to be a big family.