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Dr. Tillmann Bendikowski

CEO of the “Medienagentur Geschichte” (“History Media Agency”)

Dr. Tillmann Bendikowski was already a qualified journalist when he started studying at the RUB in 1989. He studied history, media studies and communication sciences and the theory and didactics of history until 1994, and worked part-time for a daily newspaper at the same time. In 1999 he did a Ph.D in history. After he finished his doctorate, Bendikowski went self-employed and founded his media agency, “Medienagentur Geschichte” in Hamburg.
Photo: Klaus-Reiner Klebe

Of course there was the odd extremely boring seminar that bordered on violating human rights, but I can remember many courses that were the exact opposite.

RUB Alumni: What exactly does “Medienagentur Geschichte” do?

Dr. Bendikowski: The aim of the “Medienagentur Geschichte” Media Agency is to tell and communicate history. We provide several ways of communicating history: historical exhibitions, book projects, supervising radio and TV productions and the preparation and implementation of cultural events and even genealogy. I am also involved in research projects: recently, for example, I worked on a project on political correctness supervised by Professor Hölscher.

RUB Alumni: How did you live when you were a student?

Dr. Bendikowski: Very traditionally as someone new to the Ruhr, in nearby Langendreer with a retired miner in a house with a coal fire, as befitted the times. The owner was still getting Deputatkohle (coal paid in kind to miners) that I shovelled down into the cellar twice a year. As a reward I didn’t have to pay anything for my heating all the time I studied. And by listening to the tales the older generation had to tell I learned a lot about the history of the Ruhr in terms of both social and mentality aspects. That was my practical experience of the Ruhr to accompany my studies.

RUB Alumni: Can you describe your time as a student at the Ruhr-Universität?

Dr. Bendikowski: It was a very passionate time in academic terms. I had some extremely good, ambitious teachers, at least in history. Of course there was the odd extremely boring seminar that bordered on violating human rights, but I can remember many courses that were the exact opposite, completely absorbing. Unlike today we had so much time to study. We did not have to worry about our final grade with every seminar certificate. This constant exam situation takes so much lightness and uninhibitedness away from learning as a student. Where is the room for error, where is the room for making mistakes? Why isn’t a student allowed to reach an intellectual cul-de-sac from time to time?

RUB Alumni: What was the end of your university time like? How did you part from your friends and colleagues?

Dr. Bendikowski: As was usual at the time: not at all. There were no farewell parties – it was kept simple and left up to you to decide whether or not to keep in touch. But that was also genuine – after all, it’s what we had been doing all the time we were there. We studied and did our Ph.Ds in a very self-determined way. I didn’t study in a group; I was allowed to do my doctorate alone – and I say “was allowed” deliberately. The loneliness of a researcher can most definitely be a source of inspiration.

RUB Alumni: Are you still in contact with any of your fellow former students?

Dr. Bendikowski: Yes, with friends I got to know at that time. And the fellow former student I am in contact with most is my wife.

RUB Alumni: What happened after you finished your degree and your doctorate? How did you find your way into professional life?

Dr. Bendikowski: After finishing my exams I did some practical training at an academic publishing house. During this time, at the end of 1999, I decided to become self-employed. I decided to go precisely between the speed of the journalistic and the necessary slowness of academia. Communicating history in a comprehensible and interesting way to a wider audience is something the generation of historians like Hans Mommsen, Helga Grebing and Günter Brakelmann are a role model for. For purely practical reasons, I started off doing reviews for dailies and reports about historical anniversaries until after one or two years the first major contract came. It was a special exhibition about Theodor Mommsen, Hans Mommsen’s great-grandfather, which meant I was able to occupy myself a little with my own time in Bochum again.

RUB Alumni: Does your title of Doctor help you when you appear as the owner of a media agency for history?

Dr. Bendikowski: Of course it does. Germany is wonderfully subservient to authority. Of course people are much more willing to 'buy' history from a 'Doctor' than from an MA - in Germany most people don't even know what this title stands for (laughs) – No, it is a serious point, actually: a Ph.D qualifies you for a profession if you are a historian, it is visible proof of a solid academic performance connected to a first major publication. That is indispensable for the free market.

RUB Alumni: Can you t ink of a nice anecdote from your time as a student?

Dr. Bendikowski: I once wrote an article for DIE ZEIT on the 40th anniversary of the RUB, there is a nice anecdote in that. I was on my way to the canteen one lunchtime with a friend and there were some painters painting the building. My friend said: "Look, now they're painting the university, and what are they doing? They're painting it grey!” The painter heard us, turned around, pointed to the bucket and said "Sorry, this isn't grey, it's Blue 18“. But it was grey.

RUB Alumni: Would you have any advice or tips for today's Bochum students?

Dr. Bendikowski: I wouldn't let the old ones talk you into anything - which of course includes me. I can remember two pieces of 'advice' from my first semesters well: the first was 'You'll never get a job'. That must have come from frustrated experiences of teachers at that time - and it turned out to be wrong. The second was 'You'll never make a living from writing books'. That wasn't true either, as I now know. The job market requires a lot of good historians. They are also in demand outside the traditional professional fields because their competence is well known. German historians simply have a good reputation. History is worth it in every respect.

RUB Alumni: Thank you for talking to us.