AOL auf Deutsch
The good, the bad, and the frustrating!
No! You don't have to be an AOL subscriber to benefit from this article! See related links below.
UPDATED: June 2002 - Note: I first wrote this article in September 1999. This version contains updated information that was current as of June 2002.
America Online's German services can be found in all three of the major German-speaking countries: Austria, Germany, and Switzerland. I've been an AOL subscriber for several years, but it was only in 1999 that I finally got around to checking out AOL's German-language service in more detail. That was a disappointing experience, and as of 2002, it doesn't seem to be any better. It's still a tale of broken links and paltry content.
You can find plenty of German newspapers, magazines and other German-language media on the Web in our extensive "Subjects" listings here at About (see sidebar on left and the links below). But I was curious about AOL's German connections, so I spent a couple of hours exploring AOL International (Keyword: International) and particularly AOL's services in Austria, Germany, and Switzerland. Even in 2002, the experience was frustrating and there are few things of use for either beginners or advanced learners of German.
Some of the problems I encountered are all the more puzzling when one realizes that the giant German media concern Bertelsmann, headquartered in Gütersloh, was until recently a part-owner of AOL.
If you are an AOL subscriber in North America, you can reach AOL Germany via the "International" channel. The you choose a country from a pull-down menu. The frustration with AOL Europe came from two main things. The first surprise arose when I clicked on some AOL Germany (AOL.DE) links and this message appeared: "This service is only available to our German members. We hope you can understand." Well, I don't. If I'm an AOL subscriber, why should it matter where I am? If I want to look at AOL's German Nachrichten (news), why not? While I was able to look at many of the German service's opening pages, when I clicked on a particular article ("Weltmeisterschaft 2002"), the document would only start to load, then nothing not even that irritating message about German members only, or an error message. Sometimes I mysteriously ended up on a page in English. Most of the links that worked were on the Web, accessible without using AOL, such as Nachrichten. Since there really can't be that many people in North America who would want to read the news in German, I don't understand the problem. It's stupid.
Often, when I clicked on a German keyword (Kennwort) while viewing the German service in German, I got the message (in English) that it wasn't an AOL keyword! Then I was offered the option of searching for that word. Since the results that came up were all on the Web, I thought this was very poor integration of AOL's American and international content, to say the least.
On the limited plus side, I was able to look at das Wetter or Sport, something that even a German beginner could understand, and a few other AOL links in German. Some other categories were also available, but almost always in limited form. For instance, when I tried to learn more about the soccer World Cup from a German point of view, AOL was very limited and sometimes sent me to a U.S. sports page, which was clearly NOT what I wanted to see. When I clicked on other categories in German, I usually ended up on a page of Web links, not in AOL. It was disappointing how little of AOL's Austrian, Swiss, and German content was actually open to a North American AOL subscriber.
The German Option
On the other hand, if you happen to live in German Europe, then AOL.DE might be an option for you. AOL.DE subscribers have had a flat-rate option since October 1999. As of June 2002, AOL offered a flat DSL rate of 19.90 euro per month. You can check out their current rates at www.aol.de/software/ (then click on "AOL Tarife"). Or check out the competition: www.t-online.de. In my opinion, T-Online (part of Deutsche Telekom) offers more, even though their flat rate is slightly higher than AOL, at 25.00 euro a month (as of June 2002). But they have other rate plans, and you should make up your own mind.
AOL's German Chat
While visiting AOL's Austrian, German, and German-Swiss services in 1999, I decided to try out the German chat offerings. I didn't get to the Austrian chat room, and AOL's SwissTalk (New-German?) chat room was empty, but there was plenty of action in the German chat room! (I'm not sure if German chat is still open to non-Europeans. I didn't test it in 2002.)
Too much action for me! If you're fast on the keyboard and experienced in chat, then you may have no problem with 20 or more people all chatting away in German at once (with an occasional English-speaking pervert dropping by!). The German flies fast and furious, and it's no place for the hesitant or inexperienced. Even as someone fluent in German (but not in typing!), I felt intimidated when I dipped my toes in for a while. Call me biased, but I much prefer the calmer atmosphere of our own German chat room here at About.
To sum up, AOL International's German offerings to us North Americans are pathetic. Much more is available on the Web (and in our "Subjects" section) without going through AOL. Almost three years after I first tried this, AOL still has not integrated its German-language content to any meaningful degree for North American members. I don't hold out much hope -- and I'm much more pessimistic now than when I wrote this in 1999: "Perhaps the next time we visit AOL Germany we'll find more of what should be there now."
AOL's North American Web site. Welcome to "AOL Anywhere"! You can use this site to check your AOL mail from a computer anywhere you have online access -- or to sign up for AOL.
AOL Germany's Web site. In some areas it offers more than if you access AOL.DE as an AOL subscriber! In German, natürlich! AOL members can also access the German, Austrian, and Swiss services via the keyword "International."
The Web site of AOL.DE's biggest competitor.
News - Nachrichten
German-language news, sports, and weather online. From your Guide.
Reading - Magazines and Newspapers
German-language periodicals and other media online. From your Guide.
German for Beginners
Our free online German course.