February 2004

Paul Moor's lifework honored with the Bundesverdienstkreuz

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Paul Moor's lifework honored with the Bundesverdienstkreuz

by Nancy Chapple

Paul Moor, American music critic with a strong professional and emotional connection to Berlin and Germany, was awarded one of Germany's highest honors, the Bundesverdienstkreuz or Federal Cross of Merit with Ribbon. He was honored for serving a cultural bridge between Germany and the English-speaking world over more than five decades.


His foremost professional accomplishment was his intense, psychoanalytically groundbreaking writing about Jürgen Bartsch, convicted murderer of four young boys in the 1960's. By chance, Moor became Bartsch's most important contact to the outside world during his years in prison; the two exchanged hundreds of lengthy letters. When he first became acquainted with the case, it was his own psychoanalysis - a turning point in his personal development - which provided him with a framework for understanding what Bartsch had gone through. He embarked on what became eight years of "informatory" institutional training in psychotherapy at two renowned institutes, the Institute for Psychotherapy and the Berlin Psychoanalytic Institute. Corresponding with Bartsch took a lot out of him, but he felt morally obligated to support his end as conscientiously as possible. The writing, first as reportage for Die Zeit, and later in two books, most recently published by Rowohlt as Jürgen Bartsch: Selbstbildnis eines Kindermörders [Jürgen Bartsch: Self-Portrait of a Child Murderer], explored the perpetrator's psychological background, his difficult childhood, the motivations behind the murders. Two plays based on the 1991 book were produced dozens of times in German-speaking theaters. It is said that his writing on the case transformed not only how psychological cases are reported in the German media but also how they are dealt with in the judicial system.

Born in Texas in 1924, Paul Moor studied piano at Juilliard and the University of Texas, finishing at nineteen. Although he had originally intended to pursue a career as a concert pianist, he turned to working as a freelance writer and journalist in 1947. He moved to Europe shortly thereafter, living in Paris and Munich for a few years before moving to Berlin in 1956. When he moved to San Francisco in 1982, he assumed he had left Europe forever. But, captivated by images of the wall coming down on TV, he realized that Berlin was more his home than anywhere else, and he returned to Berlin for good in 1995.

Paul Moor

The laudation ceremony took place on Jan. 16, 2004. A small circle of friends attended. Paul Moor stresses it was uncomfortable for him after years as an observer and listener to be the one looked at and listened to - but also that it was a profoundly moving experience. To quote from the encomium held by State Secretary Barbara Kisseler: "You are being honored because in more than sixty years of your artistic and journalistic activity you have succeeded as have few personalities in making the cultural accomplishments of our country known in the world. As a socially committed journalist for international magazines, you ... have campaigned for the quality of German art and culture. ... You have without a doubt contributed to better understanding between the countries or, better and more specifically, their peoples. ... The impressive quality of your work [on Jürgen Bartsch, editor's note] is that as an outsider, as an American, you noticed what West German society of the time didn't see or didn't want to see: the cruelty of the upbringing Jürgen Bartsch had suffered. ... With your shocking and unsettling book, you show the misguided life of a child murderer as victim and perpetrator. ... You are a living example of committed journalism ... Your work is a wonderful example for intensively lived German-American history."

Over the decades, Paul Moor wrote and sometimes photographed for Time, Life, The Financial Times, The Times, the International Herald Tribune, High Fidelity and Musical America, and prepared broadcasts for CBS, CBC and in German for Sender Freies Berlin. His big breakthrough came when he covered the first International Tschaikovsky Competition in Moscow in 1958 when the Texan Van Cliburn unexpectedly won first prize - he filed a sixty-page cover story for Time and photographed the lead story for Life the same week. He wrote for Time for 12 years, covering everything except politics from a Berlin base. He recalls the typically generous expense accounts on trips around Europe, particularly eastern Europe. He got involved with the most respected periodicals on the German media scene in the 1960's, working for Die Zeit's Berlin department and writing about music for Der Spiegel. Paul Moor has expended some of his considerable energy on researching Germany's Hitler years, placing special emphasis on understanding the historical truth behind the actions, the motivations of various prominent musicians of the time, e.g. Wilhelm Furtwängler, Richard Strauss, Herbert von Karajan.

When asked whether he found it surprising that a music critic will be remembered in Germany for his work exploring the psychoanalytical subtleties of a murder case, Mr. Moor said that of all his work, "this case is what made the strongest impression on the non-musical German populace." These days, he writes three articles a week about Berlin's musical scene for Musical America. He is currently working on a memoir of his personal friendship with Sviatoslav Richter, whose mother he found in West Germany after years of involuntary separation. "Texas-Paule" is a well-known figure to all of Berlin's classical musical institutions.