Marie-Luise Schwarz-Schilling took over her father’s company in the post-war period when she was in her mid-20s. She writes books about the relationship between the sexes and describes marriage as a “sidestep in history.” She has been married for 69 years – to the former postmaster Christian Schwarz-Schilling (CDU). At 91 she founded a foundation. She is a doer who is far from thinking about retiring.

Ms. Schwarz-Schilling, after your father’s death in 1957, you took over the Sonnenschein accumulator factory when you were just 25 years old. You were probably one of the few women in such a role. Did you know what was coming? I knew this from the start, I was the only daughter, so my father had to choose me. But I’ll tell you something: a lot of women were bosses back then. The men were at war or still in captivity. This may not have been made public, but many women have continued to run businesses as bosses – craft businesses, trading companies or even hospitals.

As is so often the case, little is said about what women can achieve. Yes, they did it easily, even successfully. And then they were forced back to the stove – and didn’t cry out either. That was a big West mistake, I have to say.

Did you have an acceptance problem back then or did everyone say, “No, this young woman can do it”? No of course not. There was an attempt to butter up women. And women at 30 aren’t really born leaders. But they were still tolerated because it was necessary. Today it is no longer possible to understand what was once necessary.

How did you assert yourself? I always talked and did things and was in dialogue with the people who were below me. I learned a lot from them. So I didn’t have any major difficulties. But you have to realize that there was no one in my company who wanted to take the chairmanship away from me. This was certainly different in many families.

Did you then decide to start a family? Yes, absolutely. I wanted to have children, done, over.

They had two children. How did you reconcile that? I had a terribly nice nanny, I was extremely lucky. She was a very educated pastor’s daughter and lived with us for 18 years.

Does that mean you had such a progressive upbringing that it was natural to combine work and family? Yes, you could say that. My father had two very energetic sisters and was very liberal. He never had a problem with women.

They then married a man who became Federal Postmaster General – Christian Schwarz-Schilling. But later you wrote a book whose title says that marriage is a sidestep of history. Yes, the entire history of humanity. I mean, 5,000 years out of 100,000 years isn’t that much. Now marriage is apparently coming back into fashion. But we still have the greatest difficulties with it today.

What is the problem with marriage? That women always believe they are not as good as men. Men constantly overestimate themselves. This is a problem that has not yet been solved. Things get better as a woman once you turn 50.

This means that we can encourage our readers to be much more confident after the age of 50. Precisely.

My mother was born in 1935 and when she was 35 she said that she would no longer marry today. My father was really angry. I can understand that. For me today, however, there are definitely good reasons for family or marriage. Especially when it comes to immigration, it is useful for integration that families connect and people from Syria or wherever feel comfortable here. This is a completely new point of view that I have never commented on before.

An exciting point. It’s less about the interaction between the sexes in a marriage and more about family and integration. Yes, you feel more comfortable in a country when you have uncles and aunts here.

You once described love as a commercial transaction. What does that mean? That’s absolutely correct. You constantly exchange a kind word or a smile or a kiss or anything else. But it’s more complicated than I could explain in three words. You have to read my book for that.

How many years have you been married now? 69 years.

Does that mean your trading relationship worked really well? Yes, that worked well.

Would you describe yourself as a feminist? Oh, I don’t know.

You are committed to equal rights for women. I would say you are a feminist. So if you’d like that, call me that. But don’t pin me on that. Otherwise someone will come along at some point and say: “A feminist isn’t allowed to say that.” And I do not want that.

So what’s important is what you do and not the label. Exactly.

Now, at the age of 90, you have founded the “Foundation Mitte Berlin”. What does that mean? Berlin consists of 800 square kilometers. A single square kilometer is the area around the Molkenmarkt, the area where the town hall is located today. I would like to restore this area so that people feel comfortable there. Today this area is a highway with peripheral development. And I want to change that. I want a beautiful, lively old town to be created again. I think what the Senate is planning to do there, namely putting up prefabricated buildings, is a waste. The housing shortage in Berlin cannot be solved there anyway because the district is far too small. We already have so many prefabricated buildings, we have to do something different here. I would like to rebuild the area historically so that you can go there and have a beer in the evening. But the whole city center is dead at night. People need variety.

Your life also reflects the fact that you have always strived for variety. Are you a curious person? Yes, that is an important point for me.

That’s why you were always a pioneer, a doer. These are words you use. But putting something into action is something that is definitely not preached enough today.

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You have a proud age and are still so active. What does your day look like? I sleep for a long time and am awake for a very long time at night. Until five or six. That’s when I have my best time and write my stuff. I also like being alone. I’m always alone at night. Then I’m very satisfied and can think ahead.

Is that what keeps you young? I don’t know, it’s best to ask a specialist.

Your daughters are now around 60, your grandchildren are 30 – do you have any advice for the younger generation? I believe that a woman has to be specially trained in something and be really great at that subject. If a woman is an expert in something, it gives her security. You always have to encourage women and praise them a lot. Women in particular always need positive support. And I want to say that to everyone who has women around them.

Marie-Luise Schwarz-Schiling conducted the conversation with Christiane Benner in the stern podcast “The Boss – Power is Female”. It was editorially adapted for stern PLUS.