What is MERKUR?
Merkur is one of the most important and highly respected cultural journals in the German-speaking region. Founded as a monthly magazine in 1947, it has now been published for seventy-five years. Behind this unusual longevity is a simple concept: Merkur has no defined political or aesthetic agenda. The journal assumes its readers prefer to make their own judgements. For this reason, it does not rely on preconceived opinions but on curiosity, expertise, contradictory spirit and uncompromising awareness of quality.
Merkur is not an academic journal, although many of its contributors are based at universities. It does not serve as a mouthpiece for a particular generation, party, sector of society or interest group. Yet nor is it a classic literary or art journal, and certainly not a glorified feuilleton. Merkur is a cultural journal. Culture, however, rarely presents itself as a peaceful reserve of dignified education and ethical unanimity. Culture is the excessively complex, noisy, always contested field in which the essential questions of the present day, the questions that test its ideals, self-image and values, are publicly formulated and controversially negotiated, whether they concern art, science, politics, philosophy, economics or society. The most interesting positions, the most convincing arguments, the most exciting theses, the most stimulating suggestions and drafts for theories come together in Merkur.
That means that as good as any subject can appear on its pages, provided it meets three requirements: it must be composed of original ideas, though not necessarily scholarly; it must be relevant for educated but not specifically oriented readers; and it must be presented in essayistic form – devoid of academic fussiness, with linguistic and intellectual elegance. The last point is essential for the simple reason that long texts are the general rule in Merkur. The average length of the essays in the magazine’s front section is between ten and fourteen printed pages. Even the shorter pieces tend to be some seven pages long.
Length is not an end unto themselves; it results from the structure: concise arguments, precise analyses, historical review and future prospects, dense descriptions all require space, just as they need adequate parameters. This is why Merkur makes extremely sparing use of pictures and the journal’s visual design is deliberately restrained for the same reason. With this demanding manifesto, the journal is inevitably aimed at a demanding readership: a readership as well informed as it is inquisitive, so much so that it would not put up with a publication that only ever confirms its own views.
A journal like Merkur is shaped by its publishers – from 1947 to 1978 Hans Paeschke (1911-1991) and Joachim Moras (1902-1961), from 1979 to 1983 Hans Schwab-Felisch (1918-1989), from 1984 to 2012 Karl Heinz Bohrer, together with Kurt Scheel from 1991 on. Since 2012, Christian Demand has been the man behind Merkur, from 2017 on together with Ekkehard Knörer. Such an ambitious undertaking can only be carried out, however, when it has an economic basis, an organization to support it. Since 1968 that structure has been provided by Ernst-Klett-Verlag (from 1977 Klett-Cotta), which founded the Ernst H. Klett Merkur Foundation in 1978, thereby securing the journal’s existence and independence. Merkur is still published as a print journal but is now also available in all established e-book formats. All past articles are accessible via a digital full-text archive, with a blog accompanying the journal added in 2012.