News history

The Zeitungsmuseum in Wadgassen is located in a beautiful former abbey building. The building allows for generous exhibiting of both the history of German newspapers and example machinery used to make them.

The floor of the entrance hall is covered in quotes about newspapers and their value to society.

Much of the history of newspapers is presented in writing, from the description of the first appearance of the word “Newe Zeitung” (“New Message”) in 1502 and that this term is curious as both the word “Zeitung” and “Newe” actually meant the same thing in those days – new. The word Zeitung only developed its meaning of message during the middle to late 16th century. Examples of newspapers of the time prepared in copperplates are on display. Current tabloid press retains a very similar layout to that of the 1500s, from the top of the page going down: the title, a headline, a picture, and text of the story being reported.

The number and frequency of publication of newspapers grew in that century driven by Gutenberg’s printing press development, improvements in paper manufacturing and the investment by the then Emperor Maximilian I in a postal service run by the Tassis (now Thurn & Taxis) family. In Leipzig, the “Einkommende Zeitungen” appeared 6 days a week in the 1650s and increased to 7 editions a week in 1660.

The increase in newspaper frequencies and publishers created a desire for censorship, as rulers became uncomfortable with what was being printed. The perception of how editors were just following censors, who cut publications with their scissors, was satirised in 1847 in the Leuchtturm magazine.

Press freedom only became enshrined in law with the passing of the Grundgesetz, the constitution of the Federal Republic of Germany in 1949, which explicitly states in Article 5 “Freedom of the press and freedom of reporting by means of broadcasts and films shall be guaranteed. There shall be no censorship.”

The lower floor of the permanent exhibition is devoted to the machinery surrounding newspaper history. There are examples of presses, including a rotary press and a couple of Linotype machines. I had always thought Linotype machines were connected to linoleum, having made lino prints in primary school. Only on seeing the machine, which casts each “line o’ type” in lead did the penny drop!

There is a full typesetting workshop, including a set made up for a local bus timetable to show how individual typesetting used to work, pre-linotype. The history of lithography printing is also presented, which had originally been referred to as “stone printing”. The early method involved changing the water (and hence ink) absorbency of stone surfaces using chemicals and some stones that had been used in printing pictures are on display.

This part of the museum becomes increasingly hands-on with a range of typewriters (all being used by children while I was there, hence no pictures) and activity stations to test out different types of paper, and how different inks work. One “feeling station” has openings through which different kinds of paper can be felt, and through small holes on the other side, visitors can see whether their sense of touch accurately informed them of the type of paper they were feeling.

My sense is that the upper floor is interesting for adults, less so for children. The lower floor is a lot of fun for children and adults who have not grown too old to experiment a bit!

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