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Book author Frey (right) at an award ceremony for Vladimir Putin in 2009: Trouble for the co-author of the »Bild« newspaper

Photo: Norbert Millauer / picture-alliance / dpa

On Friday afternoon, »Bild« had to publish an unpleasant report »on its own behalf«. In it, the editors of the newspaper announced that they had decided to release Dresden's chief reporter Jürgen Helfricht with immediate effect. The background to this was "participation in a book project about which the editors were not informed and which they would never have approved".

What had happened? The media magazine »Übermedien« had researched that Helfricht is the co-author of an autobiographical book by Hans-Joachim Frey. » Learning to love Russia« is the title of the work, which was published by Husum Verlag in 2018 under the name of the long-time director of the Dresden Semperopernball. This, in turn, is Jürgen Helfricht's main publishing house – in the publisher's shop you will find 37 titles on a wide variety of his topics: from »Magical Dresden« to the »Nudossi Code« to »Healing through Water«

But the title, written with Frey, is much more explosive. Because in "Learning to Love Russia" – subtitled "Insights into a World Cultural Nation" – Vladimir Putin is almost raved about. If, like me, you understand politics as statesmanship, then the active athlete, fitness fan, judoka, skier and swimmer Putin is a genius of this art," "Übermedien" quotes from the book. The foreword was written by Vladimir Medinsky, the Russian Minister of Culture at the time.

In the spring, Frey was presented with a medal by Putin for his services

In response to an inquiry from SPIEGEL, a spokesman for the publishing house Axel Springer said that "Bild" had "not been informed" by Jürgen Helfricht about Mr. Frey's participation in the publication of his book and had "not approved it. Nor would that have happened." They only learned about the book through the request of "Übermedien" to Helfricht.

"The editor-in-chief has therefore decided to release Jürgen Helfricht from his duties and release him from his duties in accordance with Axel Springer's guidelines for journalistic independence," the Bild press release continues. The case is being examined comprehensively and will "promptly draw the consequences under employment law derived from it". There is no place for such behavior at Axel Springer.

The author duo Helfricht/Frey is well-rehearsed, they have already published two works together about the Semperopernball. The close contacts between the cultural manager Frey and the Russian government have been going on for a long time. In 2009, Vladimir Putin was awarded the Order of the Semper Opera Ball. In 2018, Frey was director and artistic director of a gala for the World Cup in Russia at the Bolshoi Theatre in Moscow. In 2021, Frey praised Putin's "really great work". After the Russian invasion of Ukraine, the Semperoper distanced itself from Frey. In the spring, Frey was presented with a medal by Putin for his services.

The case of "Learning to Love Russia" is made even more explosive by the fact that the book has also been translated into Russian. At the World Cup gala in the Bolshoi, he presented Vladimir Putin with the first copy of the German version, Hans-Joachim Frey told a Russian media portal. When Frey then asked the president if he could write a foreword for the Russian edition, the president agreed.

The Russian edition of "Learning to Love Russia" is published by the Eksmo publishing house in a special series, the "Presidential Library", "Übermedien" further discovered. The other title, which is offered on the publisher's website, is by Hubert Seipel, "Putin's Power".

The German television journalist Seipel has received hundreds of thousands of euros from Russia for his work and has hidden this from NDR, his book publisher and the public. This has been revealed by SPIEGEL and ZDF. The findings are based on confidential documents from Cyprus, which were evaluated as part of the international research "Cyprus Confidential". Here you can find out more about the background.