Anyone who knows me well knows I’m a closet fan of trashy TV. While others binge on Narcos, Breaking Bad and God knows what other trendy Netflix show everyone seems to be watching, I always preferred The X Factor and Eastenders. But since I’ve moved to Germany, it’s become impossible to keep on top of whether Phil Mitchell has fallen off the wagon or whether Simon Cowell finally got rid of that awful singer at judges’ houses. Instead, I’ve had to foray into the weird world of German television programmes to get my fix of trash. The good news for me is that Germany offers a prolific variety of crap on television for anyone who has the inclination to watch it. I thought I’d share my top three highlights with you:
If you’re reading this and you’re not German, you need to understand something about Tatort before I go into detail about it. Tatort is a German institution, just like the beer laws and asparagus season that I’ve discussed with you before. It has history – 47 years of history to be precise, with its roots in the old BRD. You know how every Australian who ever got famous outside of Australia cut their teeth on Neighbours? Well, that’s what Tatort is to German actors. And although a lot of people these days don’t watch it, they still consider it to be one of the pillars of their culture. If you’re foreign and you admit you watch Tatort, you’ve won. You’ve crossed that line into acceptance and can consider yourself integrated into German society. I wouldn’t be surprised if watching Tatort was even a requirement on the citizenship test. But I digress.
On a Sunday evening at 8.15pm, just after the news, it comes on (although not always – on bad weeks you get the historically East German equivalent, Polizeiruf, which isn’t as good.) Each episode follows a couple of police detectives in a different city trying to crack a case. The episodes are made by the regional broadcasters – so it would be like BBC Hampshire making a crime drama set in Hampshire, BBC Westcountry doing one in Cornwall and so on – and the resulting episodes all get shown to the entire nation. Because the episodes are all made by the regional broadcasters, some are better than others. It’s widely accepted that Munich and Münster are the best ones and that Lucerne requires subtitles. The fact that there is such a varying standard is what makes watching Tatort so much bloody fun.
Take Sunday, for example. Sunday was Munich. I LOVE the Munich one. So I sit down with my spaghetti bolognaise and a glass of wine to watch it. The story starts with a young girl giving blow jobs to a room full of masked men who have to, ahem ‘dispense’ into a paddling pool. Her body is found the next day. I can’t remember if she choked. ‘She died having a gang bang!’ yells the police detective. It’s 8-effing-fifteen on a Sunday night. Imagine this in the UK. Ofcom would have to hire more people! It only gets worse. Ten minutes later and we’re watching a young man pleasure himself for the camera. My husband pushes away his dinner in disgust. ‘There’s football on the other side,’ he says hopefully. But it’s too late; despite my shock, I need to know who at the gang bang killed that poor innocent girl. I pour him some more wine and we watch the whole thing (with him discreetly and longingly following the football scores on his phone). We learn lots of new porn-related vocabulary – ATM and BG and BGG and DP (still too scared to Google them all, answers on a postcard please). And then the episode reached its, well, its ‘climax’ so to speak when the two cops burst into a club full of nude people having sex (think Eyes Wide Shut, with neon lights). They arrest the man who I predicted was going to be the killer within the first fifteen minutes in the show. (I should mention, that I have correctly guessed the murderer every single time I’ve watched Tatort. One doesn’t watch it for the clever storyline.) This particular episode is probably the best worst thing I’ve ever watched in my life.
Also, as a side note, I love that on Teletext (yes, UK friends, Teletext is very much alive and kicking over here!) they show ‘live tweets’ from Twitter, as a teletext overlay. Is that so all the oldies can feel included in the Tweet discussion? Baffling! By far my favourite German TV show. Top marks, Tatort.
The German equivalent of Britain’s Got Talent doesn’t seem to enjoy the same popularity that the UK version has. Perhaps nobody else admits that they watch it. Or maybe everyone else has better things to do on a Saturday night than me. The judges consist of Germany’s very own Simon Cowell as well as a camp black American guy with bad German who ticks all the minority boxes in one go, and a practically mute pretty lady who sits between them. The beautiful, almost poetic irony with this show is that hardly any of the contestants are actually from Germany. I’ve seen a trio of Danes whistling Billie Jean into plastic bottles…a man from Belgium doing tricks with gigantic rats…a Austrian/South Korean choir annihilating ‘Oh Happy Day’ with some questionable hip moves…oh and a woman whose ‘talent’ is the fact that she’s managed to massacre her body by increasing her boobs to a grotesque 32S (WT actual F?) and has spent so much time fake tanning she now identifies as black and wants to move to Africa. At least she was actually German though. (You can read more about her here.)
My verdict? Germany – and possibly the rest of mainland Europe – has no supertalent. And I love them for it.
Goodbye Deutschland! Die Auswanderer
Goodbye Deutschland got a mention in my last post but I love it so much I’m going to mention it again. It follows German families who decide, with best intentions but not always the best planning, to emigrate and start a new life abroad. It’s absolute gold as far as trash TV is concerned. I’m sure I am not the only person in Germany who gets a perverse pleasure out of watching these people flailing – especially as in many cases, it somehow works out ok in the end. I’ll always remember my favourite episodes of this show. The first followed a German-Polish woman, Renata, who met a younger (27 to her 50) man on holiday in Turkey and fell in love. Ahhh. They didn’t speak a common language but that didn’t matter – Renata was going to move to marry her man! The only catch – he was from Sudan. Sudan, for God’s sake. What were you thinking Renata?! Needless to say, this one didn’t start so well. Renata couldn’t cope with the culture shock, and Sudan couldn’t cope with Renata. They had a series of mishaps leading up to their wedding day which the camera crew had to help resolve. They did end up getting hitched, but who knows if she’s still there. My second favourite was an older couple who sold everything they owned to move to Albania. It started off badly when they drove for ten hours in the wrong direction to get to Albania. Oops. Then when they did arrive, thinking they were buying a campground from a friend of their old neighbour, it turns out something was lost in translation and the campground wasn’t for sale. Neither of them spoke anything but German and the sight of the man yelling at the cash machine that he didn’t speak English was a treat. This was the one episode where I actually felt bad for watching someone else’s misery. I’m pleased to report that they are still in Albania and now own a boat charter company. Here’s some free advertising to help them out.
So anyway – that’s a cross section of the best German TV has to offer. The next time you go to ask why I still haven’t finished Breaking Bad season 2, you’ll already know the answer. If you’re also a fan or have any recommendations for me, I’d love to hear from you!