a media industry resource

FAZ and Frankfurter Zeitung


This page considers the Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung (aka FAZ) and its precedecessor the Frankfurter Zeitung, publications broadly equivalent to the New York Times.

This page covers -

  • the Frankfurter Zeitung
  • im Weimar and the Third Reich
  • FAZ
  • studies

The Frankfurter Zeitung

The Frankfurter Zeitung traced its origins to Leopold Sonnemann's establishment in 1856 of the Frankfurter Geschäftsberichte, a finance and investment market newsletter. Sonnemann had expanded from textile production (with a family mill at Höchberg) into banking at Frankfurt, then the financial centre of what was about to become the german state. With AB Rosenthal he developed the Geschäftsberichte as the higher-circulation Frankfurter Handelszeitung.

In 1859 that title became the Frankfurter Zeitung and over the next three decades gained a reputation as Germany's preeminent business paper, marked by the quality of its content and its liberal democratic values. Unfortunately esteem was not reflected in major profitability or circulation: after 1920 for example subscriptions failed to reach the 100,000 mark.

Sonnemann formed the Frankfurter Societäts-Druckerei in 1860 to hold printing and other publishing interests and during 1867 became the Zeitung's sole proprietor and editor. He served in the Reichstag for several years, gaining attention as a critic of Bismark. (Annexation of Alsace-Lorraine after 1872 was for example denounced as "simply robbery").

In Weimar and the Third Reich

From 1900 onwards it attracted attention as a leading outlet for feuilletons from authors such as Thomas Mann, Joseph Roth, Siegfried Kracauer, Theodor Adorno and Walter Benjamin and for incisive economic, cultural and plitical analysis. Joseph Roth commented in 1926 to editor Benno Reifenberg that

It's not possible to write feuilletons with your left hand, and one shouldn't allow oneself to write them on the side. That's a serious slight to the whole form. The feuilleton is as important as politics are to the newspaper, and to the reader it's vastly more important. The modern newspaper is formed by everything but politics. The modern newspaper needs reporters more than it needs editorial writers. I'm not a garnish, not a dessert, I'm the main course … What people pick up the newspaper for is me. Not the parliamentary report. Not the lead article. Not the foreign news. And yet, in the editorial offices, they go around thinking of Roth as a sort of eccentric chatterbox that they can just about afford as they're such a great newspaper. They are so mistaken. I don't write "witty columns". I paint the portrait of the age. That's what great newspapers are there for. I'm not a reporter, I'm a journalist; I'm not an editorial writer, I'm a poet.

With a narrow economic base - in contrast to the range of mass-market publications underpinning ongoing expansion at Ullstein - the Zeitung was hit hard by the hyperinflation of the early 1920s and problems from 1927. In 1929 chemical industry giant IG Farben under Carl Bosch acquired 35% of its shares, with Farben taking a further 14.5% in 1930 and relieving the Simon-Sonnemann family of the remaining shares in 1934. Leading firms in the chemical industry had funded Die Zeit in 1923 as a vehicle for liberal democrat Gustav Stresemann; Farben bought 75% of the Frankfurter Nachtrichten in 1930.

In contrast to immediate takeover of the Ullstein and Mosse groups, overt government 'coordination' of the Zeitung was gradual - apparently because Goebbels regarded the paper as an international showpiece and because its elite readership was deemed of lesser concern than the mass readership of the other group. In 1939 the Nazi Party's Eher Verlag publishing house acquired the Zeitung's capital (and that of associated enterprises), with Max Amann presenting the company to Hitler as "a birthday present". The Zeitung was closed in 1943. Historian Modris Eksteins tartly but accutely commented in 1971 that

Goebbels had once said that he could think of no greater pleasure than 'to see the gentlemen in the Eschenheime Gasse [ie at the FZ] dancing to my ture'. In 1933 they began to dance and danced for ten years - until the FZ ceased publication in 1943. Occasionally, for a split moment, they grimaced or made disrespectful signs behind their backs, but in the audience very few noticed, for attention was focused on the highly accurate dance steps.


Licensing restrictions, concerns about the market and unavailiability of requisites such as newsprint meant that the title was not revived immediately after Germany's surrender. Erich Dombrowski and Zeitung journalists, with French support, launched the Mainzer Allgemeine Zeitung in Mainz at the end of 1946.

The Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung (FAZ) was launched in November 1949 under the leadership of Erich Welter. He had served as editor-in-chief of the Vossisches Zeitung in Berlin from 1932 to 1934 and was on the FZ editorial staff from 1935 to 1943. In 1946 he launched the Wirtschaftszeitung in Stuttgart.

The FAZ is now controlled by the FAZIT Stiftung, a foundation that is broadly comparable to the Guardian Media Group's Scott Trust in its values of editorial independence and and objectives regarding liberal and constitutional civil rights.

The FAZ has a national distribution, with a daily circulation as of August 2004 of around 407,000 copies in Germany and 40,000 copies outside the country (for an overall readership of its German and English editions of around one million people).

The FAZ is the flagship of a group of supplements, new media operations and book publishing interests. Those holdings are highlighted in the following page of this profile. They include major book publisher DVA and a controlling stake in Munich-based publisher Prestel.


There has been no major English-language study of the Frankfurter Zeitung or Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung. A short profile of the admirable Sonnemann appears in The Pity Of It All (New York: Metropolitan 2003) by Amos Elon, usefully read in conjunction with Peter Gay's superb Freud, Jews & other Germans (New York: Oxford Uni Press).

Context for the period from 1900 to 1933 is provided by Modris Eksteins' The Limits of Reason: The German Democratic Press and the Collapse of Weimar Democracy (Oxford: Oxford Uni Press 1975), Kurt Koszyk's Deutsche Press 1914-1945 (Berlin: Colloquium Verlag 1972), 'The Frankfurter Zeitung: Mirror of Weimar Democracy' by Modris Eksteins in Journal of Contemporary History (Vol 6 No 4) 1971 and Peter de Mendelssohn's Zeitungsstadt Berlin: Menschen und Mächte in der Geschichte der Deutschen Presse (Berlin: Ullstein 1959). For the Third Reich see Oron Hale's The Captive Press in the Third Reich (Princeton: Princeton Uni Press 1964) and other works highlighted here.

For IG Farben see in particular Industry & Ideology: IG Farben in the Nazi Era (Cambridge: Cambridge Uni Press 1987) by Peter Hayes and Helmuth Tammen's IG Farbenindustrie Aktiengesellschaft (1925- 1933) - Ein Chemiekonzern in der Weimarer Republik (Berlin: 1978). Henry Ashby Turner's German Big Business & the Rise of Hitler (New York: Oxford Uni Press 1985) offers cautions regarding claims about Hugenberg's influence.

Germanists can turn to Günther Gillessen's Auf verlorenem Posten - Die Frankfurter Zeitung im Dritten Reich (Munich: Siedler 1986), Wolfgang Schivelbusch's Intellektuellendämmerung: Zur Lage der Frankfurter Intelligenz in den zwanziger Jahren (Frankfurt am Main 1983), Werner Wirthle's Frankfurter Zeitung und Frankfurter Societätsdruckerei GmbH. Die wirtschaftlichen Verhältnisse 1927-1939 (Frankfurt aM: Frankfurter Societätsverlag 1977), Almut Todorow's 'Die "Frankfurter Zeitung" als intellektuelles Forum der Weimarer Republik' in Les intellectuelles et l'état sous la république de Weimar (Paris 1993) edited by Manfred Gangl & Hélène Roussel and Helga Hummerich's Wahrheit zwischen den Zeilen: Erinnerungen an Benno Reifenberg und die Frankfurter Zeitung (Freiburg 1984). Albert Oeser Und Die Frankfurter Zeitung (1979) is an account by Erich Welter, first editor of the FAZ. A perspective on continuities before and after 1945 is provided by Die Herren Journalisten: Die Elite der deutschen Presse nach 1945 (Munich: Beck 2002) by Lutz Hachmeister & Friedemann Siering.

Writing by Zeitung authors such as Kracauer, Adorno and Benjamin is available in various collections. For Joseph Roth see in particular his Report From a Parisian Paradise: Essays From France, 1925-1939 (New York: Norton 2003) and What I Saw: Reports from Berlin, 1920-33 (London: Granta 2001).