The Digital Journalist
Horst Faas Update
March 2006

by Steve Stibbens

Nothing, I mean nothing, can stop the intrepid Mr. Faas. I have just returned from a two-week visit in Munich and Berlin where I saw Horst in action every day ... 12 hours at a time. For example, when an AP photographer Horst had hired 15 years ago died suddenly at age 42, Horst instantly announced, "I will go to his funeral in Berlin."

Horst Faas with "Munich Lion" and sausages.

Steve Stibbens
Besides the usual hotel reservation in Berlin, for Horst, such a trip required more. The day before, in a sub-zero blowing snowstorm, Horst and his traveling nurse had to check out the S-banh (subway) and the U-banh (urban/train) stations to see if he could navigate the 6-inch gap between the platform and the train with his motorized wheelchair. He couldn't. Instead, a medical taxi/van would take him to the Hauptfbanhof where a forklift-like vehicle would deposit him on the train for the 5-hour ride on the bullet train to Berlin at 200 mph. Another forklift would retrieve Horst from the train and a medical van would deposit him at the hotel. Likewise, trips to the church and cemetery services had to be arranged in advance. The 5-hour trip back to Munich required the meticulous planning and organization in reverse.

The point is that Horst takes everything in stride, with his usual dry wit and totally without notice that he isn't walking. The trip to Berlin and back was an extreme hassle to say the least. Not once in two weeks did I detect even a hint of complaining. Yet, rolling about in his chair is not without constant danger. Being narrow enough to negotiate doorways, the chair is top-heavy. A fall and consequential injury to his already damaged spine could easily prove fatal.

Horst and Ursula are now settled in their large, modern, comfortable 5th-floor apartment in the very center of Munich. After 30 years in London, the Faas' Kensington flat has been sold. The several truckloads of paintings, sculptures, furniture and belongings have come and gone. Horst's collection of 400 paintings and Asian scrolls all but covers the walls like a museum.

The world is nearby from the apartment overlooking the Marienplatz Square. Within a block or two in any direction are stores, shops and restaurants of all tastes. He is surrounded by museums and centuries-old history, including the thousand-year-old St. Peterskirche, Munich's first parish church. As well, there is the famous bustling Viktualienmarkt, one of Europe's great food markets. On Tal Street, directly below the Faas apartment, is the Paulander Im Tal, a warm, friendly brewery-owned restaurant where Horst has become a welcome and frequent patron.

Horst begins his day at 6:30 a.m. when a medical assistant hoists him from his bed and sets him in his wheelchair. From then on, not a moment is wasted until he is deposited in bed 12 hours later. A therapist exercises Horst's limbs until about 10 a.m. to help keep his organs functioning. Next, Horst wheels to his G5 Macintosh where he dumps a ton of spam e-mail, reads and responds to e-mails, writes letters and otherwise handles the family business until noon or so. Typing at the keyboard can be a problem. Without feeling from mid-chest down, remaining upright with his arms while typing can be a problem. Between 11 a.m. and noon are the best times for phone calls.

Afternoons are spent shopping the many fine stores and shops around the Marienplatz or directing craftsmen who build and install things in the apartment.

Around 6:30 p.m., Horst is ready to be hoisted into his bed. He can only sleep on his side. An assistant returns twice each night to turn him to the other side.

Through it all, Horst remains the same old Horst I've known for 44 years. He has become more intense, often lost in deep thought as he sorts the details of the day. Smiles and outright laughter are less frequent but in the mornings when he feels good, he can be quite cheerful.

Asked what he would have me say to his many friends, he said, "I appreciate their good wishes but they keep telling me I'll get well. I won't. This is the way it is. Let's move on."

© Steve Stibbens

Steve Stibbens is currently writing a book about Horst Faas' 50+ years as a wire service photojournalist. He and Horst have been friends since they first met in Saigon in 1962, when Steve was a Marine combat correspondent and reporter for Pacific Stars & Stripes. He later served there with Leatherneck magazine and, in 1967, was a war correspondent with The Associated Press. After Vietnam, he was an AP photo editor in the Dallas bureau.