The foreigner’s image of Germany is of a land of books, a serious country of deep thought and highbrow ideas. Certainly 95,000 new books are published each year in Germany and nothing else in the world comes close to the immense annual Frankfurt Book Fair. Yet Germany also has dynamic printed, television and radio sectors. It’s also relatively easy to find British and US newspapers in large German towns, and in the cities larger newsagents carry many of the London-printed editions at lunchtime on the same day. The best place to look for foreign media is at newsagents in the main train station – those in cities also carry a small stock of international magazines.
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Newspapers and magazines
The German press is characterized by the number of titles. At the national level, the daily newspaper market is dominated by a small number of publishers. Largest, with 24 percent of the market, is Axel Springer group, which prints both heavyweight newspapers and the “boulevard press” as Germany calls tabloids. The press is strongest at regional level, although many of the city-produced dailies are distributed nationwide. Germany’s best-seller on the streets is sensationalist tabloid BILD (bild.de), which shifts four million units daily. Of the dailies, conservative Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung (faz.net) enjoys considerable prestige, presumably thanks to its weighty opinions and business focus rather than dry content – an English-language version is included as a supplement in every issue of the International Herald Tribune – and Berlin-produced Die Welt (welt.de) has a great influence on public opinion.
At the other end of the political spectrum is the left-of-centre Tageszeitung, known as “Taz” (taz.de) – not so hot on solid news, but with good in-depth articles on politics and ecology. It has the added advantage of being an easier read for non-native German speakers, since the German used is a little simpler. Other nationwide papers include Munich’s Süddeutsche Zeitung (sueddeutsche.de) and Frankfurter Rundschau (fr-online.de). The big name in financial reporting, alongside Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung, is Hamburg-based Financial Times Deutschland (ftd.de) printed on the brand’s trademark pink paper. Incidentally, Berlin-produced The Local (thelocal.de) provides German news in English but is tricky to find even in its home Berlin – good online edition, though, with regional sections.
The German magazine sector is extremely buoyant, with some 870 magazines and 1100 specialized periodicals on the market, with weekly news magazines modelled on American Time magazine very popular. The sector is monopolized by the outstanding Der Spiegel (spiegel.de), known for its investigative journalism and probably the most influential political publication in Germany. It also has an excellent English-language website. In a similar vein is Hamburg-based left-wing weekly Die Zeit (zeit.de). Best seen as a weekly newspaper that focuses on analysis and background information, it appears every Thursday and, while left-wing in stance, includes a number of independently written reports on a variety of subjects.
Television and radio
While Länder are responsible for public broadcasting within each state, all contribute programmes for the nationwide principal TV channels (nicknamed “Das Erste”, or “the first”) – run by ARD (Arbeitsgemeinschaft der Rundfunkanstalten Deutschlands; ard.de) and ZDF (Zweites Deutsches Fernsehen;
zdf.de); both approximate BBC or PBS channels. There is an ongoing digitization of terrestrial TV – both ARD and ZDF offer a range of free digital channels.
Otherwise major commercial channels dominate, foremost among them Sat, RTL and VOX. All channels seem to exist on a forced diet of US reruns clumsily dubbed into German. Germany has an above-average percentage of cable households – 53 percent. With cable TV, available in larger hotels, you’ll be able to pick up the locally available cable channels, with over twenty to choose from, including MTV, BBC World, and the ubiquitous CNN.
Radio in Germany is very much a regional affair. According to the various broadcasting laws of the various states, some Länder prefer a variety of commercial radio stations, others opt for diverse programming within a limited number of stations. Spin a dial and you’ll find some decent dance music, American rock and the occasional hip-hop show (mainly late at night) alongside classical, cheese and soft rock. The only nationwide English-speaking radio station is the BBC World Service (90.2FM). British Forces station BFBS (ssvc.com/bfbs) pumps out programming modelled on BBC radio in localized areas – principally western Lower Saxony and Westphalia. BFBS has chart hits and classics plus hourly news, BFBS 2 has more chat plus BBC news programmes from Radio 4 and sport from BBC Radio Five Live. Frequencies vary by area – check the website or scan from (roughly) 95FM to 106FM.