The State of the Newstand

Before the internet captured every conceivable niche related to cars, a trip to a German railway station offered a chance to find out about cars from far-flung regions. 

Lots of magazines in a German railway station.
Lots of magazines in a German railway station.

If you thirsted after wisdom about the US market, there usually could be found a magazine or two in the Presse shop. As you might have noticed I’ve been auf achse in Germany for most of the month. During that time I’ve travelled by rail from Flensburg to Hamburg and on to Goslar in the Harz and then to Zittau on the Polish-Czech-German border via Dresden; and then I travelled from Schwedt on the Oder river to Bad Bellingen via Berlin and then from Bad Bellingen back to Flensburg via Mannheim and many, many other stations.

What I noticed is that if you want to find a well-stocked newsagent then Deutsche Bahn’s main railstations don’t disappoint. En route this time I usually bought an International New York Times and peeped among the car magazines to see if Automobile or Car & Driver might be on sale.

No luck. They seem to have disappeared. Even the excellent newstand at Basel Badische Bahnhof (how Tyler Brule is that reference?) yielded nothing. The Swiss market has been more open to American cars than most so that was my last hope before returning north last Tuesday.

Berlin main rail station: it's a huge shopping mall with trains running through it.
Berlin main rail station: it’s a huge shopping mall with trains running through it.

Automobile and C&D have different characters and I usually bought both when resident in Ireland (do Eason’s still sell them?) and eventually Germany. I had been looking forward to reading one or two of them while on holiday.

What are these magazines like? For one thing they are holding a better standard than the UK new-cars magazines. Automobile seemed to be a car journal for Democrats: modern typefaces and Jamie Kitman wrote for it. C&D had more conservative layouts and among their writers Patrick Bedard (now retired) wrote articles with deep engineering knowledge but also clearly right-of-centre leanings. Both magazines feature first rate writing and good photography though then, as now, the UK’s Car managed to best them. Reading printed texts – the same ones I can get for free on-line – made the content more tangible. Maybe that was because I’d paid cash for the privilege of reading but also because I tended to read the material slowly. It would have been nice to sip an Aperol or Lillet with a new copy of Automobile in front of me.

The German rail-station newstands deserve a mention. At one point during my time in the Harz I had reason to visit a small station called Wernigerode. The newsagent/bookshop surpassed that of Aarhus, Denmark’s second city. Dichter und Denker, hallo.

The magazine rack groaned under the bulk of journals for each of the main German marques. One general classics magazine was paying tribute to the generations of Kadett. BBC’s Top [insert name of host] and Car also stood packed into the horde. If you like car design then Auto & Design could be had but I find the price to be paid to be too much like giving blood. Also, the content is rich in photos but poor on the text side. Whatever your interest in cars, as long as it’s not new American ones you will find something and a nice cup of coffee to go with it (from the inevitable bakery nearby).

Maybe some of our loyal readers in Germany or Switzerland can put a date on the departure of these publications.

Author: richard herriott

I like anchovies. I dislike post-war town planning.

6 thoughts on “The State of the Newstand”

  1. To be honest, I never paid attention to English language car magazines, so I can’t help you much with that. I remember that my dad used to buy a wide variety of French magazines, but I can’t find them today, maybe except in Zurich main station and, of course, west of the ‘Röstigraben’ (which means in the area of our French speaking compatritoes).

    What I also miss in Switzerland, even if it’s just across the Rhine from Austria, are copies of the Austrian ‘auto revue’. Great language, a lot of Austrian humour, and none of this German ‘Premium’ gushing that is such a turn-off in every German and also Swiss magazine. I just bought one last week when I was on a trip in Austria and as usual, I wasn’t disappointed.

    1. I’d have thought the German-language magazines enjoyed distribution as per the language. Are Austrian and Swiss journals not appealing to the German? What is Austrian humour?

    2. Austrian (or, in particular, Viennese) humour is the best of its kind you’ll come across in the German-speaking part of the world. It’s acerbic, sarcastic, ironic, anarchic, macabre, and, above all, black. More to the point: it’s almost the exact opposite of what the people of the Rhineland would consider funny.

      A prime example (by, arguably, my favourite German-language artist):

      I hadn’t realise German train station newsagents are such a draw. I only really got to appreciate foreign-language publications when visiting Finland, where any decent, semi-urban newsagent would have quite a few exotic magazines in stock.

  2. A far better selection than in Leicester Station, although I doubt anyone would be too fussed as most people there struggle to read. That said, East Midlands Airport did stock Car and Driver the last time I passed through, which was admittedly some time ago. It also had an outpost of Curries which sold mostly Apple accessories and the smallest and most expensive Sony laptop I have ever seen.

  3. Thanks for filling in, Kris. I couldn’t have described better what I had in mind (to tell the truth, probably not even half as well). A good example it the Mercedes hearse they tested on the track in the last issue. After every test, there is a small summary, always starting with ‘What we like’, followed by ‘What we miss’. The latter was answered for the hearse with ‘Nothing, by then’.

    Regarding the distribution of German, Austrian and Swiss press (including also TV programmes, for example), usually the German ones raise a certain interest in the smaller countries and are well known there, but it’s hardly the case the other way round. The Austrian and Swiss publications have a much stronger focus on national / regional content, maybe with the exception of the one or two biggest newspapers in Switzerland (I’m not aware of the situation in Austria).

  4. Just returned from some gentle motoring around New England so I am just catching up with DTW; apologies, therefore, for being late to the conversation. Firstly I can assure Richard that Easons (the Belfast branch anyway) still stock C&D regularly and Automobile occasionally. Secondly I cannot match his Tyler Brûlé experiences with kiosks in Germany but I can report that the magazine stands in New England towns were lacking in automotive journalism. I didn’t find a car magazine until Hudson News in Boston airport which had Motor Trend, C&D and tucked in a corner Automobile. What has happened to Road and Track? Unfortunately I had bought C&D before I spotted Automobile as Mrs M only allows one car mag. at a time.

    The C&D is as usual an interesting read with a most informative article on central differentials for 4WD vehicles. I do wish they would tidy the lay out; too much colour wash over text

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