Aenne Burda –
The Economic Wonderwoman

A cut above the rest

On November 3, 2005, Aenne Burda passed away at the age of 96 in Offenburg. A week later a funeral procession passed through the streets of her hometown, headed by a 600 Mercedes Pullman bearing the publisher's coffin. It was followed by 50 black limousines containing mourners such as the politicians Wolfgang Schäuble, Hans-Dietrich Genscher and Günther Oettinger; the film producer Arthur Cohn, the fashion designer Karl Lagerfeld and the publisher Friede Springer. Two hundred prominent figures from the worlds of politics, society and commerce had converged on the small town to bid their personal farewells to Aenne Burda. They were all paying homage to a unique individual whom the Welt am Sonntag newspaper had described as Germany's most successful woman in 1979 – before that same accolade fell to Mildred Scheel, the physician and wife of German President Walter Scheel, and the actor and singer Hildegard Knef.

The publisher's obituaries were replete with superlatives:

She was the "woman of the century," the "icon of the 20th century," the "princess of dresses," the "most successful postwar entrepreneur," the "personification of the economic miracle," and "Germany's economic wonderwoman."

"She possessed a grandeur that has long vanished from our world."

Udo Jürgens, composer and singer (1934-2014)

The name Aenne Burda is inextricably linked with Burda Moden. In its heyday, the sewing pattern magazine had a circulation topping four million and was sold in 120 countries around the world.

But how did Anna Magdalene Lemminger, the railway worker's daughter from the backwoods of Baden, manage to create the most successful fashion empire in the world?

Born in 1909, before Germany became a democracy, Anna Magdalene was the second of three children. Their father was first a stoker and then a train driver. Their mother was a devout Catholic known for her thrift. The family lived on a street with others in similar circumstances; they were modest and always blended in. Only Anna stood out, thanks to her fierce determination and querulous nature. She decided she had no intention of attending the regular elementary school like her siblings and the other railroader children. She was insistent she wanted to go to the convent school, which normally only offered places to the affluent. One day she was admonished and sent home – for being the only student in her class not wearing leather-soled shoes. Her family could only afford hobnail shoes. This stung her and strengthened her resolve to build a better life for herself.

Franz Burda was a visionary, had a doctorate, and proposed to her

An opportunity arose when she met Dr. Franz Burda in 1929. He was by no means rich at that point; he could not even afford to pay his electricity bills on time. As an apprentice at the electricity company, it was her job to send them out. Yet despite his debts, Burda had big plans for his father's three-man print shop. He was a visionary, had a doctorate and proposed to her. They wed in 1931, and Anna had her father take out a 10,000-mark loan to pay for a ceremony worthy of the couple, and finance home furnishings that befitted someone of her new standing.

Her husband Franz made good on his promises. He celebrated commercial success with one of Germany's first radio guides, while Anna gave birth to three sons, tended to her children and looked after their home. "There wasn't much time for dreams," Aenne Burda later recalled. "You're completely consumed by the real world."

In May 1945 Anna Burda was 35 years old, and her boys were aged 5, 9 and 13. She would have liked to work for her husband's company, but Franz Burda was opposed. At this point he was printing schoolbooks and postage stamps for the French military authorities and was soon granted licenses to publish magazines. A French friend suggested she publish a fashion magazine, but her husband rejected the idea. This rankled all the more when the Frenchman raised the topic again in 1949. "Hey, your husband stole my idea!"

"She was a woman of her time, and it was no easy time to be a woman."

Karl Lagerfeld, fashion designer (1933-2019)

Franz Burda had indeed set up a fashion publishing house in Lahr, 18 kilometers distant, and had entrusted his former secretary Elfriede with its management. That was bad enough. But Elfriede Breuer, as Anna Burda soon found out, had been her husband's lover. And the mother of his illegitimate daughter – who had been born in 1940, just a few months after her own third child, Hubert.

This was a devastating blow. Her marriage, her dreams, were in tatters. Refusing to give up, she resolved to turn defeat into victory. And she demanded restitution: "Either I get the publishing company – or I file for divorce!"

On December 28, 1949, the erstwhile jilted wife became the sole owner of the fashion publishing company. The new managing director changed her first name from Anna to Aenne. The freshly acquired offices were housed in a former pub: a two-story building with a grubby façade and crumbling plaster. It was here that Aenne Burda set up shop with her 48 employees – and a debt of 200,000 marks inherited from her predecessor.

The graphic designer and author Kurt Weidemann, who spent many years teaching at the Stuttgart Academy of Fine Arts, once wrote: "What emerged in the rear courtyards needs to come to the fore. The more behind-the-scenes, the greater the urge to advance. Especially if you are doing something that isn't first and foremost for yourself, but designed to spark curiosity and desire in others."

Aenne Burda wanted women to feel beautiful and confident

Aenne Burda developed a strong personal ambition to become a successful entrepreneur – and she wanted to help women become more self-confident. She observed them on the streets during the postwar era, wearing practical but dull dresses that had already been twice dismantled and stitched back together again.

By the start of 1950, the German government's efforts to deregulate the economy had not yet changed much, and the impending economic miracle was nowhere in sight. Classic apparel was all but unaffordable. But fabrics were available, having been hoarded by shopkeepers until the deutschmark's installation as the country's new currency. Women were dreaming of Christian Dior's New Look, of donning its full skirts with narrow waists rather than their dowdy aprons and headscarves; they couldn’t wait to abandon wool socks for silk stockings.

Aenne Burda understood this. But, for her, beauty meant more than an attractive exterior. She saw beauty as a powerful force, and her goal was to make German women feel good about themselves. They may not have had the money to buy designer clothes, but they had sewing skills. And the magazine Burda Moden provided the patterns.

In January 1950, the first issue was published at a price of 1.40 deutschmarks – with a projected circulation of 100,000. It was more than a print product. It was documentary evidence of the publishing prowess that was to earn her so many honors and accolades in later life. More than that, it was a testament to her achievements: recognition of her victory over her husband, over the small-town mentality, and over her humble beginnings in the railway community.

"Trusting yourself and your own strength is more important than anything."

Aenne Burda (1909-2005)

"I knew nothing about sewing, but I did know that only an expert seamstress can make patterns," she explained of her winning formula. As early as 1950 she added a young editor from Nuremberg to her team: Irene Baer, aged 21, fearless like Aenne, ambitious like Aenne. From the very beginning until her premature death from cancer in 1978, Irene Baer was the publisher's right-hand woman. Together the duo succeeded in turning their predecessor's loss-making publication into the world's most successful fashion magazine. Irene Baer went on to become Aenne Burda's deputy and the first editor-in-chief of Burda Moden.

Germany's economic miracle began with the postwar revival of 1951-52. By then, Aenne Burda had paid off the debts on her publishing company and even had the means to finance a newly-built family villa in Offenburg in 1952. That same year, the company began producing individual sewing patterns for sale in department stores. Burda patterns delivered a perfect fit, as they were consistently adapted to the average German woman’s physique. By now Burda Moden was being published in 11 European countries, and a year later the United States, Canada, Argentina and Brazil were added. In 1953 Aenne released her first Burda Moden special. Published biannually from issue 29 onwards, they are the most impressive magazines created under her aegis. Aenne Burda spared no expense. She hired top international photographers, including Rolf Lutz from Zurich, Guy Arsac from Paris and Rico Puhlmann from Berlin.

"Aenne Burda was always frank and open with others, she said what she believed and believed what she said."

Arthur Cohn, film producer and Oscar winner (born 1927)

The circulation, sales and workforce of the fashion publisher grew. Aenne Burda had a charming smile and engaging personality, but her motto was, "Be tough, tougher than any man." She simply bought out competing companies. Needing more space for her expanding organization, she commissioned the architect Egon Eiermann to design her first dedicated publishing plant. It was completed in 1955, by which time she was selling Burda Moden in more than 60 countries.

"She possessed toughness, kindness, charm and the fire of an Anna Magnani."

Uli Richter, fashion designer (born 1926)

Like many Germans, Aenne Burda was drawn to Italy during the 1950s. But she wasn't satisfied with the Adriatic coast. She traveled to Sicily, to Taormina, which by then had become a mecca for the international film and gay sets – an unfamiliar environment that Aenne nonetheless found fascinating. Far from home, she was able to enjoy an unprecedented freedom in the scenic fishing village. She fell in love with the Sicilian Giovanni Panarello, engaging in a romance that was to last for three decades. But even during the two months a year she spent on the island starting in 1955, she never neglected her work and maintained regular contact with her staff.

In the age when almost anything seemed possible, Aenne Burda discovered that 'miracles are makable.' "I made money," she said, "as if it grew on trees." In 1957, the circulation of Burda Moden had grown to half a million; two years later, she increased the size of her company by a third. Aenne Burda's panache was no less remarkable than her temper tantrums. She could yell, rage, throw ashtrays and phones around if something or somebody didn't suit her. She didn't care a hoot what others thought. Even in old age, she never tired of emphasizing one thing: "I made Burda great. Not those guys with their printing shop," by which she meant her husband's company. "It was me, writing and kicking up a fuss. Me."

"Aenne was simply gifted. She had conviction in everything she did, and acted decisively and without hesitation. No other German has created such a company out of nothing. She truly is the economic wonderwoman!"

Berthold Beitz, manager (1913-2013)

And Burda Moden continued to expand: in 1961 with its own photography atelier, two years later with a culinary studio. In 1965, its circulation reached one million. Aenne's company published cookbooks and specials devoted to children, dolls, babies, lingerie, winter sports, knitwear, mardi gras and – from 1959 onwards – the full-figured. Life was good for the Germans. Men proudly wore their paunches as a sign of prosperity, and women’s statures were more than ample. While the 1973 Oil Crisis triggered hardship in the industrialized West, it had no impact on the German fashion publisher. That same year the circulation of her flagship magazine topped two million for the first time. A year later, Aenne Burda and her 380 employees moved into new premises.

Andy Warhol came from New York to Offenburg to photograph Aenne Burda

In 1973 Hubert Burda invited the artist Andy Warhol to Offenburg. The objective was to create portraits of Aenne and Franz Burda. Two years later, it was the turn of her three sons Franz, Frieder and Hubert: "The Three Gentlemen." Using a Polaroid camera, Warhol photographed Aenne in the garden of her villa in Offenburg. "Mother, look like you're from Hollywood!" Hubert Burda shouted to her on the canopy swing. Aenne Burda did as told, Warhol pressed the shutter – and captured the moment with a memorable portrait.

The Warhol portrait represents the crowning glory of Aenne Burda's career during Germany’s Economic Miracle – even though she experienced a second smaller triumph in the Soviet Union in 1987: Burda Moden in Moscow during the Cold War.

"Aenne Burda never waited for opportunity to present itself. She sought it, recognized it, and seized it."

Hans-Dietrich Genscher, politician (1927-2016)

On March 3, 1987, Aenne Burda captivated the world's press. With Burda Moden, a western magazine had appeared for the first time in the Soviet Union – in Russian. The event was celebrated with a fashion show in the Pillar Hall inside Moscow's Palace of the Unions. Top models such as Christy Turlington and Monica Schnarre presented Burda Moden chic on the catwalk, while clowns from the Moscow State Circus and dancers from the Bolshoi Ballet companioned the show. The project had come to fruition thanks to a joint venture between Aenne Burda's publishing company and the Soviet Union's foreign trade publishers. The triumphant highlight: a reception in Moscow's Lenin Hills with First Lady Raissa Gorbachova on March 4, 1987. Hans-Dietrich Genscher, Germany's Foreign Minister from 1974 to 1992, raved: "Aenne Burda drew the Iron Curtain aside in her own unique way and with the options available to her."

On October 18, 1988, the Soviet government newspaper Izvestia and the Aenne Burda and Hubert Burda publishing houses ushered in a new era in international cooperation: starting January 1989, western companies were allowed to publish advertisements in Izvestia. And Burda was granted the exclusive global rights to sell its advertising space. Izvestia, which was published daily by the Presidium of the Supreme Soviet – in two editions with a combined circulation of ten million – reached between thirty and forty million readers.

In 1994, Aenne Burda transferred ownership of her publishing company to her son Hubert. Burda Moden was integrated into the Burda publishing group. Now called Burda Style, the magazine has been based in Munich since 2010. Today, it also connects with its readers online. The new name is an acknowledgment of the magazine's international repute. It is published in 18 languages and over a hundred different countries.

"Aenne Burdas' directness, sensuality, pioneering spirit, and willingness to fight for her ideas made her a role model and source of inspiration for us women."

Gabriele Strehle, fashion designer (born 1951)

In an age when there were no computers and no Internet, Aenne Burda spun her own worldwide web and created a network for women. Love of fashion formed the common thread that united them. For 70 years, women have been sewing clothes around the globe using patterns from Burda Moden and Burda Style. No fashion designer can boast such variety: since the publishing company started up in 1949, Burda magazines have published some 1,500 patterns a year – making a grand total of almost 100,000.

Aenne Burda – Timeline

1909 Born Anna Magdalene Lemminger in Offenburg on July 28 to the train driver Franz Lemminger and his wife Maria
1916 Starts elementary school in Offenburg
1918 Switches to the convent school in Offenburg
1919 First Communion
1926 Graduates from the convent school
1927 Completes a one-year program at a commercial college
  Commercial apprenticeship at the Offenburg Electricity Works
1930 Announces her engagement to the publisher and book printer Dr. Franz Burda
1931 Marries on July 9
1932 Her son Franz is born on May 24
1936 Gives birth to her son Frieder on April 29
1940 Her son Hubert is born on February 9
1949 Establishes Modenverlag Aenne Burda, a fashion publishing company
1950 First issue of Burda Moden is published in a print run of 100,000 (January)
1952 Production of individual sewing patterns begins
1953 Construction of new company offices in Offenburg, designed by architect Egon Eiermann
  Launch of Burda International
1954 Acquires the fashion magazine Geo-Moden (circulation: 90,000)
1955 Purchases the publication Praktikus/Susann (circulation: 50,000)
1956 Aenne and Franz Burda celebrate their silver wedding anniversary
1957 The paid circulation of Burda Moden reaches half a million
1962 Construction of her company's own photography atelier
1963 Opens the company's own culinary studio
  Purchases the fashion periodical Beyer-Moden (circulation: 300,000)
1965 The print run for Burda Moden reaches one million
1968 The paid circulation of Burda Moden totals 1.5 million
1970 The number of sewing patterns produced annually tops five million
1971 Burda cookbooks published
1974 Awarded Germany's Grand Order of Merit
  The first issue of the crafts magazine Spass an Handarbeiten goes on sale
  The company moves into its new headquarters in Offenburg
  The publishing house now has a workforce of 380
1977 Carina magazine makes its debut
1979 Awarded Offenburg's Ring of Honor
1980 The first issue of Anna is released
1981 Aenne and Franz Burda celebrate their golden wedding anniversary
1984 Receives the Bavarian Order of Merit
1985 Awarded the Order of Merit of Baden-Württemberg
1986 Her husband Franz Burda passes away on September 30
  The first issue of Verena appears
1987 The Russian-language issue of Burda Moden premieres in March
1988 The first licensed edition of Burda Moden in Hungary is published in October
1989 A global circulation of over four million and translations into 17 languages make Burda Moden the world's biggest fashion magazine
  Alongside Burda Moden, the company publishes a range of periodicals, specials and books: 70 million print products a year. It sells some 10 million individual sewing patterns worldwide
  The Aenne Burda and Hubert Burda publishing houses handle global advertising sales in the West for Russia's government newspaper Izvestia
  The company workforce expands to 570
  Awarded the Jakob Fugger Medal by the federation of Bavarian publishers
  Granted the freedom of Offenburg
  Presented with the Carl Friedrich von Rumohr Ring
1990 Karl Valentin Medal
1991 Establishes the Aenne Burda Foundation which promotes the arts, conservation and the preservation of historic monuments, and provides assistance to the elderly and needy
1994 Aenne Burda's publishing company is incorporated into Hubert Burda Media
  Gold Badge of Honor of the State of Salzburg
1995 Burda Moden launches on the Chinese market
1999 Sponsorship of the sculpture "Freedom – Male/Female" by Jonathan Borofsky in Offenburg
2001 Opening of the Aenne Burda Care Home in Offenburg
  Awarded Germany's Grand Order of Merit with Star
2004 In commemoration of her 95th birthday, Aenne Burda's home town of Offenburg names a street after her
2005 Aenne Burda dies on November 3 


Aenne Burda – Literature

  • Aenne Burda – Verlegerin des guten Geschmacks. Ihre Lieblingsrezepte aus Baden, Elsass und der Welt. J. P. Bachem Editionen, 2021, ISBN 978-3751012638
  • Aenne Burda – Kindheit und Jugend in Offenburg. Ute Dahmen, Petrarca, 2018, ISBN 978-388978151
  • Kluge Geschäftsfrauen. Claudia Lanfranconi, Antonia Meiners, Insel, ISBN 2013, 978-3458359593
  • Aenne Burda – Wunder sind machbar. Ute Dahmen, Petrarca, 2009, ISBN 978-3871150036 (book behind the film "Aenne Burda – Die Wirtschaftswunderfrau")
  • Aenne Burda. Die Macht des Schönen. Judith Betzler, Econ, 1999, ISBN 3430111943

Aenne Burda – Films

  • Aenne Burda – Die Wirtschaftswunderfrau. TV drama, Germany 2018, written and directed by Francis Meletzky, Production: SWR, first broadcast on December 5 and 12, 2018.
  • Aenne Burda – Eine Frau erobert die Welt. Documentary, Germany, 2009, 45 minutes, written and directed by Dora Heinze, production: SWR, First broadcast on July 23, 2009.
  • Aenne Burda. Mode für Millionen. Documentary, Germany, 1999, 45 minutes, written and directed by Kathrin Pitterling, Production: NDR, first broadcast on November 28, 1999.