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June 2001

Trade Route

Ian McMaster—from economy to Germany

A profile of Ian McMaster would not seem right without inserting at least one italicized German word in parentheses (runde Klammer). As former Munich Found Red Tape columnist, McMaster—editor-in-chief of English-language teaching tool Spotlight—has typed more than a few of these in his day.
How did he get here? “By plane,” laughs McMaster. That flight was in 1989, when the Doctor of Economics-cum-lobbyist set out to try something even farther from his original career plans. “I got my PhD from the London School of Economics in 1984,” explains McMaster. “I was not interested in becoming an economist. I had lots of offers, but I didn’t want to work for Maggie Thatcher’s government.” During the five years that preceded the young academic’s arrival in Riem, McMaster worked as a researcher for Disability Alliance, an umbrella organization that campaigns for social benefits for the disabled. “Actually, it was there that I picked up journalism skills,” says McMaster. “First, I learned to type! I wrote press releases and published articles in the Guardian and Financial Times and, in doing so, I began to write in a less academic way.”
Once in Munich, McMaster took the task of communicating with locals seriously. “Learning German in your first year here is the key,” stresses the Newcastle-born, Bath-raised journalist. “I don’t believe anyone should be forced, like the government is talking about doing by requiring a language test for foreigners, but it is a social obligation—and, at the very least, is important when looking for work.” McMaster attended classes at a private language school.
Having taken part in an intensive one-month course in Hungary, McMaster received his certificate (ESL) to teach English. He landed his first job at the Münchner Volkshochschule, an institution to which he still feels he owes his gratitude. “I have a soft spot for the VHS,” smiles McMaster. “I still teach a business correspondence course there three times a semester. They did so much for me, I think it’s good to give back.”
Little did Kate Walsh—former publisher and editor-in-chief of Munich Found—know just how generous with his time McMaster could be. Initially hired to write but one article on cricket, the Englishman proceeded to spend a decade calling government agencies and scouring newspapers in order to write dozens of articles on German bureaucracy. Indeed, McMaster made Red Tape an MF trademark.
As man cannot live on one freelance job alone, McMaster applied, and was hired, for editorial work at Munich-based Spotlight, owned by the German publishers Handelsblatt. He was made editor-in-chief in 1995, a promotion with which he “hadn’t bargained.” The 20-year-old magazine—one of the company’s four seperate publications (the others are published in Spanish, French and Italian) designed to teach foreign languages to Germans in an intelligent, entertaining way—spawned two offspring: Spot On, for teen linguists and, more recently, Business Spotlight, in which McMaster also tops the masthead. “Putting together the first issue of Business Spotlight was a lot of fun,” says McMaster. “Spotlight was already developed when I arrived. This was a chance for us all to design the magazine, from fonts to graphics to columns.” It is also an opportunity for the doctor to retrace his roots. “Everything in life seems to come together,” says a reflective McMaster. “My economics background comes in handy at Business Spotlight.”
An expat you won’t hear at roundtables complaining about German culture—“I hate being around those people who do nothing but trash Munich”—McMaster is genuinely fond of his adopted home. “I felt immediately at home here. It’s a manageable city. After my years in London, Munich was so clean and orderly. I once rang up the subway office in London to inquire about the new timetable. The official said, ‘go to the library and look under fiction!’” McMaster is especially fond of “the little things.” The fact that stores are closed on Sundays—thus “forcing the public to find something more relaxing and interesting to do than shop”—and Munich’s proximity to foreign lands enhance the 42-year-old Cambridge graduate’s experience here. “Living in Munich, you can go anywhere in central Europe, whenever you want. You don’t, but you can,” grins McMaster.
Much like the acclaimed early 20th-century economist John Maynard Keynes—a member of the 1920s coterie of writers known as the Bloomsbury Group—McMaster has found a way to couple headier areas of specialization with more creative ones. McMaster shares ideas with a team of top international writers from his suburban office in 21st-century Planegg near Munich. Ever ready to share his wealth of knowledge, he will certainly spend more hours writing for Munich Found from time to time. Now, that’s economics (Volkswirtschaft). <<<

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