The German Times: It scored with the World Cup. Now for a new goal

With English-language weekly 'The German Times', the nation whose image was transformed last summer hopes to go one stage further. Matthew Beard reports
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The Independent Online

Although German made it only to the semi-finals of last year's football World Cup, the host nation scored a more significant off-the-field victory. Millions of visitors found Germans to be friendly, hospitable and increasingly proud of their nation.

So the launch last week of a Berlin-based English language newspaper with serious ambitions reach Europe's elite can be seen as a continuation of the bullish mood that began at the World Cup.

The German Times, a weekly newspaper with the look of a heavyweight continental broadsheet, was launched simultaneously in Berlin, Strasbourg and London. The fact that the first edition was presented by executive editor Theo Sommer to Hans-Gert Pöttering, the new president of the European Parliament, and German Chancellor Angela Merkel indicates where the paper's priorities will lie. With a staff of only four, it will lean heavily on Sommer - who opines in the first issue on page one on Germany's double presidency of the EU and G8 - and his circle of contacts in the trade, including former FT journalist David Marsh.

Forget the sport and celebrity, this new publication is more likely to be dominated by articles by veteran European commentators on such issues as the European constitution, climate change and energy security.

Sommer, formerly editor-in-chief of the influential weekly Die Zeit, and the Germany Times editor, Bruno Waltert, are aiming to stir up debate about the future of the European Union with an initial circulation distributed free among the continent's key decision-makers.

The paper will be distributed to all 7,000-plus parliamentarians from the EU's 27 member states, although teething troubles prevented the first edition from being read by the members of the House of Commons. In addition the paper will be available to all national governments, members of the European Parliament, the EU Commission and Europe's most important business decision-makers.

The launch intentionally coincides with Germany's presidency of the EU and its hosting of the G8 summit of industrialised nations. This not only provides with a launch pad but the events will also allow the thousands of journalists and Eurocrats attending them to reach their target market in one place.

Although it has a cover price of €2, it is expected that the majority of copies will be given away free. Indeed, the business model appears not to be heavily reliant on sales. The German Times is the sister publication of The Atlantic Times, which is published by Detlev Prinz. "We have already had a very positive experience with The Atlantic Times and made a contribution to the Atlantic dialogue," said Prinz of the publication which launched in 2004 with a circulation of 50,000. "The success in the USA has given us a great deal of courage to launch an ambitious project that puts Europe at its centre."

The German Times will shares presses with The Atlantic Times and rely heavily on advertising mainly from German industrial giants. Observers say it is these companies - most of which do significant business abroad - that are paying to be associated with what is expected to be a largely positive message about Germany and its role in Europe. The first issue carries large adverts from chemicals company BASF, crane maker Demag as well as a special fourth section - the other three are politics, business and "Life" - sponsored by the state of Saxony, the most economically advanced of the eastern states.

Sommer insists, however, that the journalism will be rigorous. The German government stresses it is not backing the publication - other than hosting a glitzy launch at its London embassy two weeks ago - and it hardly expects Sommer, a highly respected journalist, to peddle its propaganda. One points out that the new paper is likely to be far less conservative than, for example, The Business newspaper in London.

Sommer said: "We will aim to provide the facts of the story and if they justify a positive angle then so be it. If they don't, then that's fine too. We thought it was time to try to create a platform for discussing European issues controversially by not as a propaganda sheet."

Michael Flügger, press attaché at the German embassy, said: "The title is a bit misleading because you don't get views just from Germany but across Europe. One of the classic issues will be the European constitution which Germany wants to salvage something from. The paper's aim will be to bring this row to the fore without being a mouthpiece of the government. The paper is using the momentum created by the World Cup which has created a new openness in Germany and a fresh interest in what Europe's biggest country has to say."

Another observer of the German media sees similarities with the government-funded Land der Ideen - Land of Ideas - project started for the World Cup which aimed to focus on sources - apart from football - of national pride. "They are trying to keep the impetus after the football and one of the ways of doing it is through The German Times," said Berlin-based Roger Boyes, author of the book My Dear Krauts. "There is a desire to continue the carnival spirit through the EU presidency and the G8. Instead of kicking balls it's now about doing deals with Putin."