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A Medium of Transatlanticism: Newspapers in the Weimar Era

Newspapers and print media constitute an essential, but often underutilized medium for exploring transatlantic exchange. With increasing numbers of titles digitized, newspapers are now accessible to scholars in unprecedented ways. In light of new online tools and advances in research surrounding the German press, this entry looks at how newspapers were interwoven with key macrotrends of transatlanticism during the Weimar Republic and examines select case studies to reveal the medium’s value for historical, cultural, and literary analysis.

By Jonathan O. Wipplinger

Toward the end of the Weimar Republic, there were some 4,700 newspapers in Germany, with more than 100 in the city of Berlin alone (Ross 147). For researchers of the interwar period, print media, especially daily newspapers, have long stood as a tantalizing, yet daunting and even overwhelming potential resource. The complicated history of the newspaper industry, combined with the Weimar press’s dizzying hyperinflation of words and images long made anything outside of general overviews or labor- and time-intensive scouring all but impossible (Fulda 2-8). Over the past two decades however, improved scholarly access to historical newspapers has begun to change this situation. Large-scale and ongoing digitization projects, like those in Austria (ANNO) and Germany (ZEFYS and Deutsches Zeitungsportal) have opened many millions of pages to virtual browsing and full-text searches. While many limitations remain – including large gaps in coverage, the loss of archival material during World War II – their online presence is likely to facilitate greater use in scholarship moving forward. Given this, in my entry I want to suggest some ways of approaching not only the content, but the distinct medium of Weimar-era newspapers. While I focus on transatlanticism and German-American cultural exchange in the 1920s, I believe the issues raised have relevance beyond this framework as well and resonate in important ways with previous blog entries by Tim Sommer, Tobias Boes, and Anna Axtner-Borsutzky.

»Deutsches Zeitungsportal« Landing Page

Newspapers as Agents of Transatlantic Exchange

From the choice of font, the use of visual media like photography, to, more generally, their commercial orientation, newspapers did not just comment on transatlanticism, but were themselves key actors. Before even thinking about what German-American topics a particular newspaper referenced, one must first examine how the paper’s design, marketing, aesthetic, and editorial practices participated within debates over Americanism and related issues like consumerism, democracy, and modernization, a point eloquently shown in Jochen Hung’s recent monograph (Hung 2023). Indeed, as Peter Fritzsche reminds us, newspapers of the period did not merely present ideas, but »fashioned ways of looking in addition to fashioning looks, and they trained readers how to move through streets and crowds in addition to guiding them among sensational sights« (Fritzsche 16). Consideration of paratextual and design elements can thus help one understand how newspapers contributed, in complex and complicated ways, to the discourses surrounding transatlanticism.

Beyond this formal element, one must also think through the practical uses and ends to which a paper was put, that is to say, how the end user, the reader, consumed it. Though older than new(er) media like the phonograph or film, for Kaspar Maase reading the newspaper played an important role in the »learning process« by which a modern, urban public coalesced (Maase 70-71). The paper was read in the cafĂ©, in the streetcar, on the street, at home and at work; and it was consumed for a multitude of reasons, for entertainment, leisure, information, as well as more practical purposes, like for »wrapping paper« (Fulda 28). Designed to be consumed in discrete, chunkable parts, newspapers were viewed less as part of elite than mass culture. In 1926, journalist and cultural critic Hans Siemsen discussed them as an example of the »literature of nonreaders.« While avoiding traditional literary forms like the novel, Siemsen argues that this group, the vast majority of Weimar Germans, consumed the texts of the modern city as their literature. They »read the newspaper, especially the ads [Inserate]. They go to the cinema. […] They read the ad pillars and the billboards on the houses, roofs, and streetcars« (Siemsen 663-664, trans. slightly modified). Newspaper reading was therefore as much about remaining informed, as about the distracted scanning of want ads, of illustrated ads for department stores or consumer products like records or automobiles, as well as catching up on the latest entertainment offerings. In sum, rather than existing in antithesis to visual or technological media like film, Weimar’s newspapers were designed and consumed in ways that resonated with these technologies and many other practices associated with Americanism in the period.   

Newspapers as Content Creators

Vast amounts of content were required to fill the standard twice daily editions of metropolitan papers. In this way, the commercial and consumer orientation of the press had an effect on all types of newspapers, not just tabloids, though these led the way. Indeed, more and more readers demanded entertainment coverage from even party-affiliated papers, rather than »always just politics, politics, politics,« as one reader complained to the Communist Rote Fahne (quoted in Ross 145). While politics certainly did not disappear, sections on sports and nightlife, as well as games and puzzles played their part in meeting a paper’s space requirements. But so, too, did increased reporting on world events in which American innovations, personalities, technologies, and everyday life featured prominently (Hung 16-28).

Berlin Newsstand in 1922

The demand for more content also facilitated greater interconnectivity within the press, both nationally and internationally. To start, in many papers a not insignificant portion of their content derived from news agencies like the Wolffsches Telegraphenbüro or Hugenberg’s Telegraphen-Union (Fulda 16). So although Ross is correct to say that the German press was more decentralized and regional than its UK or US counterparts (Ross 147), this did not necessarily mean that German newspaper content was always of a bespoke nature. Indeed, as Fritzsche relates, already by 1913 such telegraphed reports constituted almost half of the news in the Frankfurter Zeitung (Fritzsche 213). Individual articles could also be shared across national boundaries, especially between German and Austrian papers. One case in point is an article on Harlem and Black American culture, which was published on September 4, 1929 in the Kölnische Zeitung and then on September 22 in Vienna’s Neue Freie Presse (Oberhauser 1929). Technologies like telegraphy, as well as the commercial need for more and newer types of coverage, thus further catalyzed the proliferation of reporting on America in the press of the period.

Mobile Reporting and the Migration of Culture

Just as news reports were becoming ever more mobile, many of the authors who penned these pieces represented a new, mobile form of journalism. While Egon Erwin Kisch’s ›rasender Reporter‹ arguably remains the most famous prototype, a large number women can be counted here as well. Women readers were often targeted by newspapers seeking to retain or add to their circulation (Ross 144-145) and in the 1920s more and more women were able to enter the profession. Indeed, some of the best-known women writers from the period were journalists, including Marieluise Fleißer, Vicki Baum, Gina Kaus, Gabriele Tergit, Erika Mann, and Maria Leitner (Spreizer 2014). Journalistic mobility was not confined to the city or Germany alone of course. As Markham notes, travel literature during Weimar was bound up with the newspaper publishing industry (Markham 101-102). Both Leitner and Mann, for example, undertook trips to America that were in part financed by Ullstein. Each then produced multiple articles that appeared in the publishing house’s newspapers and magazines like Tempo, Uhu, or Der Querschnitt. Only later, and with a much smaller readership I might add, were hers and Mann’s writings republished in travelogue form (Leitner 1932; Mann and Mann 1929). While scholars will likely continue to cite the standalone works, it is important to remember that these texts originated within a particular matrix of journalism, travel writing, publishing houses, and the daily press.

Literary mediations, original works as well as novels in translation, represent another significant mode by which newspapers and mobile journalism acted as a propulsive force of transatlantic exchange. The serialization of novels remained popular throughout the era and while certainly not pervasive, American novels in translation could be found with regularity in the Weimar press. So, too, and arguably with greater frequency due to their diminutive form, could one find translations of modern American poetry, including works by many Black American poets like Langston Hughes (Wipplinger 165-196). Moreover, it was not uncommon for such translation work to be done by the reporting journalist. An important example here is Arthur Rundt, who wrote frequently about his travels to the US in the German and Austrian press and published a number of translations of works by Langston Hughes (Rundt 1926; Wipplinger 174-177). Just as significantly, Rundt later produced not only a translation of Joseph P. McEvoy’s novel Show Girl for Berlin’s Tempo (McEvoy 1929; Hung 109-110) but even penned an original novel about America, Marylin (Rundt 1928). Likely because it never appeared independent of its serialization in the Neue Freie Presse, Rundt’s novel has been all-but absent from discussions of literary Americanism. As a result of a transdisciplinary project led by scholar Primus-Heinz Kucher that used ANNO as a foundation, Marylin was recently rediscovered and has now been published in German and English translation (Rundt 2017; Rundt 2022).

New Views Of an Old Media

At the level of form as much as content then, Weimar-era newspapers practiced and facilitated transatlanticism. While they will remain rich sources of information, they ought also be examined as mediators of transatlantic cultural (ex)change themselves. At a basic level, their greater accessibility today represents an opportunity to rethink this medium and the many uses to which it was put. Historical newspapers offer scholars a chance to reexamine and recontextualize familiar figures whose careers were often impacted by the press. Digital tools, meanwhile, can help make visible long-forgotten networks as well as reveal important transatlantic work by previously overlooked writers.


Jonathan O. Wipplinger is Associate Professor of German at the University of Wisconsin, Milwaukee. His research interests include the Weimar era, jazz in Germany as well as images of America and African Americans. Following his recent monograph on The Jazz Republic: Music, Race, and American Culture in Weimar Germany, he is currently working on a book project about the history of popular music in Germany, its spaces and technologies, since 1900.



Fritzsche, Peter. Reading Berlin 1900. Harvard University Press, 1998.

Fulda, Bernhard. Press and Politics in the Weimar Republic. Oxford University Press, 2009.

Hung, Jochen. Moderate Modernity: The Newspaper Tempo and the Transformation of Weimar Democracy. University of Michigan Press, 2023.

Leitner, Maria. Eine Frau reist durch die Welt. Agis-Verlag, 1932.

Maase, Kaspar. Grenzenloses VergnĂĽgen: Der Aufstieg der Massenkultur 1850-1970. Fischer Taschenbuch Verlag, 1997.

Mann, Erika, and Klaus Mann. Rundherum. S. Fischer Verlag, 1929.

Markham, Sara. Workers, Women, and Afro-Americans: Images of the United States in German Travel Literature, from 1923-1933. Peter Lang, 1986.

McEvoy, Joseph P. Revue-Girl. Trans. Arthur Rundt. E.P. Tal & Co, 1929. [First appeared in Tempo, beginning November 28, 1928.]

Oberhauser, Franz Friedrich. »Black City Haarlem [sic].« Kölnische Zeitung, September 4, 1929. [Republished in Neue Freie Presse, September 22, 1929.]

Rundt, Arthur. Amerika ist anders. Wegweiser-Verlag, 1926.

—. Marylin. Neue Freie Presse, September 1, 1928–October 21, 1928.

—. Marylin: Roman. Ed. Primus-Heinz Kucher. Edition Atelier, 2017.

—. Marylin: A Novel of Passing. Trans. Peter Höyng. Boydell & Brewer, 2022.

Ross, Corey. Media and the Making of Modern Germany: Mass Communications, Society, and Politics from the Empire to the Third Reich. Oxford University Press, 2008.

Siemsen, Hans. »The Literature of Nonreaders.« The Weimar Republic Sourcebook, eds. Anton Kaes, Martin Jay, Edward Dimendberg. University of California Press, 1994. 663-664. [Originally published as: Siemsen, Hans. »Die Literatur der Nichtleser,« Die Literarische Welt, vol. 2, no. 37 (September 19, 1926), 4.]

Spreizer, Christa, ed. Discovering Women’s History: German-Speaking Journalists (1900-1950). Peter Lang, 2014.

Wipplinger, Jonathan. The Jazz Republic Music, Race, and American Culture in Weimar Germany. University of Michigan Press, 2017.


Ill. 1: »Deutsches Zeitungsportal« Landing Page (Screenshot:

Ill. 2: Berlin Newsstand in 1922. (Photo: Wikimedia, public domain)

Recomended Citation

Wipplinger, Jonathan O. “A Medium of Transatlanticism: Newspapers in the Weimar Era.” Transatlanticism. Jan. 09, 2024. URL: DOI:

Licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International License.
Lizenziert unter der Creative Commons Namensnennung 4.0 International Lizenz.




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