When learning a foreign language, reading is one of the essential skills through which we develop vocabulary and practice grammar and sentence structure in a natural way. Reading additionally helps improve writing skills. Although this assumption is not without controversy, most experts believe that reading also promotes oral fluency. And last but not least, reading comprehension is a vital part of all major German language proficiency examinations (and often the most relevant part). At school, the focus is typically on reading textbooks and pieces of literature and less so on contemporary topics like those found in daily papers. However, many people are not very much into literature but like reading about politics, sports, fashion, celebrities, etc. For this kind of German learners, online newspapers and magazines are an ideal choice of reading material.
To be able to read and understand articles in German newspapers and magazines you need slightly different vocabulary than that you were taught at school. The language of newspapers and magazines is much closer to the language that normal Germans use in daily life than what you find in school textbooks or classical literature. It is rather like watching TV or listening to the radio but in a written form. Since each language is constantly evolving (as the world around us changes), vocabulary and phrases used today differ from those that were popular ten or more years ago. However, that does not mean you should not be reading literature when studying the German language. You should read both, classical works and daily papers, because you need to develop a solid language base that also includes contemporary style to sound natural.
The greatest benefit of reading online newspapers and magazines is the freedom of choice. You will surely find topics that you are interested in and normally read about in your native tongue. That will not only keep you motivated but will also help you quickly absorb new vocabulary and phrases. Since you are familiar with the topic you will often be able to guess the meaning of unknown expressions without having to refer to the online dictionary. Below you will find an overview of the most popular newspapers and magazines in the German language that are freely accessible online.
National Daily Newspapers
- Süddeutsche Zeitung (SZ), published in Munich, is the largest daily national newspaper in Germany with circulation of 370K copies and daily readership of 1.1 million. Do not get confused by its name (South German Newspaper) as Süddeutsche Zeitung is popular throughout Germany, not just in the south. It supports centre-left and liberal views.
- Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung (FAZ), published in Frankfurt am Main, is the second most popular German national daily. The literal English translation means Frankfurt General Newspaper. The FAZ has a circulation of 260K copies daily that are available in 148 countries around the world. This makes it the most widely read German newspaper outside of Germany. Its political views are centre-right and conservative-liberal.
- Die Welt (The World in English), published in Berlin, is the third largest German national daily newspaper with circulation of nearly 190K copies. Die Welt represents right-wing and conservative-liberal views.
- Handelsblatt (literally Commerce Paper), published in Düsseldorf, is the premier German commercial newspaper and the fourth most popular German national daily, having a circulation of 120K copies. Handelsblatt supports economically-liberal views. Unfortunately, premium articles are only available in full-text to the paying subscribers.
National Weekly Newspapers
- Die Zeit (The Time in English), published in Hamburg with circulation of 510K copies and readership of more than two million, is the largest German national weekly newspaper. Its political views are centrist and liberal.
National News Magazines
- Der Spiegel (The Mirror in English), published in Hamburg, is the most popular German national weekly news magazine, having a circulation of 830K. This highly influential German magazine is largely famous for its investigative journalism.
- Stern (Star in English), also published in Hamburg, is the second largest national weekly news magazine in Germany with circulation of over 730K copies. It is known for its unbiased, in-depth political reports.
- Focus, published in Munich, is the third most popular German national weekly news magazine, having a circulation of 500K. It is one of the youngest German magazines launched in 1993. Focus supports politically conservative and economically liberal views.
- Hannoversche Allgemeine Zeitung (HAZ), published in Hannover and distributed in Lower Saxony, is the largest regional daily newspaper in Germany with circulation of nearly 480K copies. The literal English translation means Hannover General Newspaper. However, some articles in the online version are only available to the paying subscribers.
- Westdeutsche Allgemeine Zeitung (WAZ) or “West German General Newspaper” in English, published in Essen with circulation of 400K, is the second most popular regional daily newspaper in Germany and the most popular regional business newspaper.
- Rheinische Post (RP) or Rhine Post in English (named after the river Rhine) published in Düsseldorf, having a circulation of 300K copies, is the third largest regional daily newspaper in Germany.
- Bild also known as Bildzeitung (literally Picture-Newspaper in English), published in Berlin with circulation of 2.1 million copies daily, is by far the most popular German national boulevard paper. Bild is notorious for its sensationalism, having a strong influence on German political life. Its nearest equivalent in Europe is The Sun.
- Die Kronen Zeitung or simply Krone, published in Vienna with circulation of 830K copies daily, is the largest Austrian boulevard newspaper. Due to its near monopoly in Austria, the paper has a huge influence on domestic politics. Its political views are conservative and Eurosceptic.
This is just a short selection of the most popular German-language newspapers and magazines that you can read online without subscription. For further ideas, check this list of the 80 most widely-read German papers.