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CULTURE

A foreigner’s guide to understanding the German press in five minutes

Interested in deciphering the different political biases in the German press? Here’s The Local's quick guide on the Zeitungswelt (newspaper industry), and other media.

A newspaper stand in Berlin showing the German daily Bild.
A newspaper stand in Berlin showing the German daily Bild. Photo: picture alliance/dpa | Christoph Soeder

Germany’s media landscape has changed drastically over the last century; from being used as a propaganda tool by the Nazis, to being censored and state-controlled in the GDR (East Germany).

However, German media has come a long way: the Basic Law (Grundgesetz) outlines freedom of expression and freedom of the press as a fundamental right and according to the 2021 press freedom ranking by the NGO Reporters Without Borders, Germany comes in at 13th place, making it one of the freest countries for journalists to work. 

While the advent of the digital age brought online journalism into the mainstream, the so-called ‘death of the newspaper’ seems to be not as severe in Germany compared to other Western nations, with many Germans (56 percent) choosing to read the printed press over online formats, and German newspapers pulling in 38 million readers.

However, many print online publications now have large online presence as well as a print product. Increasingly, newspapers in Germany are also turning to subscription-based models.

The majority of adults in Germany claim they trust the media – but what media do they consume? To help you understand and navigate the German press, we have broken down some of the Nachrichtenagenturen (news outlets) in Germany.

Print

There are over 330 daily newspapers in circulation in Germany, as well as 17 weeklies and 1600 mass-market magazines. Germany’s print market is the largest in Europe and the fifth largest in the world. Germany is also characterised by its regional press landscape – people from Berlin tend to read newspapers from Berlin, people from Frankfurt tend to read newspapers from Frankfurt, and so on. Even national newspapers have regional sections to make them more attractive to their readers. 

A selection of German newspapers.

A selection of German newspapers. Photo: picture alliance/dpa/dpa-Zentralbild | Jens Kalaene

Conservative

Axel Springer SE, the largest publishing house in Germany, and Europe overall, publishes a number of newspapers since its founding in 1946. Politically conservative, its journalists support a free market economy, are pro-Europe and pro-Israel. But the brand has come under fire for neglecting journalistic and workplace ethics.

The wider Axel Springer publishers were targeted by a number of left-wing groups in the 1960s and 1970s, notably by the Red Army Faction.

READ ALSO: Three gunshots 50 years ago that led to revolt on the streets of Germany

Bild

Springer’s most widely read daily newspaper is the Boulevardzeitung (tabloid), Die BILD. It has an enormous reach of over 7.9 million readers, controlling the largest share of the overall market (23.6 percent) and dominating the tabloid market (79 percent), making it a key political player in Germany. 

It is written clearly and known for its bright images and use of sensationalism and inflammatory language, particularly in its regular reporting of scandals, crimes and celebrities. Often compared to The Sun, Rupert Murdoch’s British tabloid, readers mainly come from lower and middle income groups.

Die Welt

Die Welt (The World) is Springer’s other major newspaper. It is seen as the ‘serious’ alternative to Die BILD and offers an extensive business section. The language is still relatively easy to understand and, fitting with its parent company, is conservative leaning.

Liberal

Süddeutsche Zeitung (SZ)

The Süddeutsche Zeitung (SZ) based in Munich is centre-left on the spectrum and the second most widely read paper in Germany after BILD. It is the flagship of a socially liberal and culturally interested middle class and advocates for a social market economy. 

On Mondays the paper includes articles from the New York Times and on Fridays the SZ-Magazin showcases younger cultural journalism and ties in pop culture. 

Die Tageszeitung (taz)

Berlin’s taz is a left-wing daily newspaper owned by a cooperative, something that is unique in the German media landscape. This allows the newspaper to continue to be independent. 

It is specifically green-left and critical of the system, having been founded in 1878 as an alternative to mainstream newspapers. The newspaper is currently women-led, with two co-editors-in-chief and a deputy. 

Die Zeit

First published in 1946, Die Zeit (The Times) is one of the oldest and most popular weekly newspapers and holds centre-left views. It is known for more longform content and in-depth analysis and an exemplar of Germany’s high-brow journalism.

Newspapers are still fairly popular in Germany. Photo: picture alliance / Marijan Murat/dpa | Marijan Murat

Der Spiegel

Der Spiegel (The Mirror) is a left-liberal leaning weekly political magazine based in Hamburg that focuses on investigative journalism, known for uncovering a number of political affairs and scandals.

It is not to be confused with Der Tagesspiegel (The Daily Mirror), a daily regional newspaper based in Berlin that is liberal and more centrist.

Neues Deutschland (nd)

The nd is a national daily newspaper with a readership focus on East Germany, being the main newspaper of the former SED party. It sees itself as a socialist newspaper and is the most left-leaning of Germany’s mainstream papers. The nd targets not only old eastern leftists but a general left audience and is backed by Die Linke (The Left Party).

Business 

Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung (FAZ)

Those with a special interest in business and economics tend to read the Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung (FAZ), though the paper also features foreign policy and culture sections. Its political leaning is centre-right to conservative.

Der Handelsblatt

Based in Düsseldorf, the Handelsblatt is another daily newspaper with a business focus. The paper reports mainly on companies and financial markets, as well as politics and technology. Its political leanings are economically liberal.

Online

The most visited online news sources in 2019 were Spiegel online, t-online, Focus online, Bilde.de and Web.de – all of which are online versions of traditional newspapers.

Many people belonging to Germany’s English speaking population, of course, turn to The Local Germany.

TV

Television is by far the most widely used and widespread media in Germany. The two main news channels, ARD and ZDF (Zweiten Deutschen Fernsehen) take a neutral stance on issues. 

Like TV licensing fees in the UK, residents in Germany help fund these channels, as well as Deutschlandradio, through the so-called Rundfunkbeitrag (broadcasting contribution).

Each household in Germany has to pay €18 a month, with a few exceptions. This contribution accounts for the largest part of the €7.7 billion budget of the public broadcasters, the highest of any non-commercial media company in the world.

ARD’s foreign broadcasting service, Deutsche Welle (DW) is also independent of government influence, though it is financed by taxpayers’ money rather than by broadcasting fees. 

EXPLAINED: How to pay Germany’s TV tax (or legally avoid it)

Member comments

  1. 56% still read print! Why am I not surprised. I’ve lived here 7 years and I’m still trying to get used to living in the 70’s

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LIVING IN GERMANY

Living in Germany: Exploring locally, Bargeld and the NRW state election

In our weekend roundup for Germany we look at exploring the country this summer, the country's obsession with cash and some facts about North Rhine-Westphalia, which goes to the polls on Sunday.

Living in Germany: Exploring locally, Bargeld and the NRW state election

A chance to explore Germany 

Although we’re still in the pandemic, it feels like life in Germany is beginning to feel a bit more like it did before Covid hit us. With many restrictions easing, people have been really enjoying spring and looking forward to summer.  So it’s no surprise that many of you have been reading our stories about travel. Our articles on the €9 monthly ticket as well as train travel in Germany and beyond have been particularly popular. The public transport offer will also give many people the chance to explore closer to home. I know I am really looking forward to seeing more of Germany, whether it’s around the Brandenburg area near where I live, or going further afield (Heidelberg, I’m looking at you). I’d love to know if you want to use the €9 ticket or if you have any plans to explore Germany this summer. Please fill in this survey on the €9 ticket (it’s open until Monday) and get in touch with your opinions or other travel plans by emailing [email protected]. Thanks so much to those of you who’ve already been in touch.

Tweet of the week

The German love of cash or Bargeld in 2022 while the rest of the world goes contactless is indeed one of life’s greatest mysteries, as this tweet highlights. We’ll definitely be using our ‘ask a German’ series to try and find out more about this habit… 

Where is this? 

Pankstrasse U-Bahn
Photo: John MACDOUGALL / AFP

Berliners or those who’ve visited the capital may recognise this U-Bahn station which is situated in the north. The station is actually part of the Pankstrasse nuclear fallout shelter. Built in 1977 during the Cold War, this “multi-purpose” facility was intended to protect the citizens of West Berlin in case of a nuclear conflict. The bunker serves not only as an U-Bahn stop for commuters but also, in an emergency, could have sheltered 3,339 people for up to two weeks. For those interested, we’d recommend checking out a tour like those run by Berliner Untervelten E.V. Due to Vladimir Putin’s invasion of Ukraine, which has led to massive tension between Europe and Russia, the tours have become even more topical.

Did you know?

Since people in the state of North Rhine-Westphalia (NRW) or Nordrhein Westfalen are going to the polls this Sunday, we thought we’d look at some facts about this western state. This is Germany’s most populated state with about 17.9 million people. It’s also home to the most foreigners – around 2.5 million non-Germans live in NRW. With cities such as Cologne, Düsseldorf, Dortmund and Essen, the state is a culturally rich and diverse part of Germany. Many people don’t know that Bonn was the capital of the former West Germany all the way up to reunification, before Berlin took the title. Many federal buildings and institutions still have their base there. 

The state is led by Christian Democrat Hendrik Wüst who took over last year after Armin Laschet resigned as state premier following his unsuccessful federal election bid. The CDU is currently in a coalition with the Free Democrats. But it looks like change is on the horizon. The CDU and the Social Democrats are both polling at around 30 percent, with the CDU having a slight lead of two to four percentage points. Meanwhile, the FDP appears to have lost support. It’s going to be a tight race – and the Greens party – polling at around 17 percent – will likely be the kingmakers. Important topics for voters include the future of German industry, and how to secure jobs in the move to renewable energy. Many people see this election as a test for the federal government which is led by the SPD’s Olaf Scholz. 

Thanks for reading,

Rachel and Imogen @ The Local Germany 

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