The Weird World of German Television.

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:

Tatort

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.

 

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The final scene of Sunday’s Tatort.  Put me off my ice cream.

 

Das Supertalent

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.

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Renata and Paul.  True Love.

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!

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Mallotze: Germany’s Overseas Territory

Do you know how many Federal States Germany has?  If you Google it, use Wikipedia or check a book (in case anyone still does that these days), you’ll find the official answer stands at 16.  I found out last week that this number is wrong.  Germany actually has 16 Federal States within its borders and one overseas territory: Mallotze.

You may think you’ve never heard of Mallotze, and I wouldn’t blame you; I never liked the geography questions in Trivial Pursuit either.  Is it one of those pretty little islands in the Caribbean that people only hear of during Hurricane season?  A lesser-known African nation perhaps, swallowed up by all those other central African nations you’ve hardly heard of (did you know there are TWO Congos, for example?)  Or is it a tiny enclave like Campione d’Italia (a pocket of Italy in Swiss territory, which you’ve probably never heard of but I’ve actually been to – just to be smug.)  Well, let me enlighten you, because none of these are correct.  Here’s a map pinpointing the whereabouts of Mallotze:

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Yep, that’s right.  Mallorca, or Majorca as the Brits call it because we can’t deal with anything remotely foreign, is now a German colony.  Ok, perhaps not in the official sense, but it may as well be.  Picture the scene: I landed at Palma airport last week, and as I walked through to baggage claim, I heard nothing but German spoken around me.  Admittedly, I’d just flown in from Hamburg, but the airport was packed and we were only an average sized plane.  That’s odd, I thought, I’d expect to hear other languages in a European airport, at least a bit of English from my kinsmen, or a smattering of Spanish.  But looking at the arrivals to Palma airport between 06:00-09:00, a whopping 32 out of 50 flights come from Germany.  A further four are from the German parts of Switzerland or from Austria, which is basically the same thing (although don’t tell them I said that.)  That means that 72% of the flights landing before 9am in Mallorca are carrying German speakers.  In fact, four million Germans visit the island each year while around 36,000 permanently call it home.  This in a place where the total population is only 860,000.  It’s no wonder I thought I’d landed in a German territory.  Mallorca has been invaded.

Historically, Malle, as it’s affectionately known in Germany, has had a long relationship with German tourists, especially those looking to party.  Forget Shagaluf, it’s the areas of S’Arenal and Platja de Palma where the real party is at, and the Germans there make the half-naked Brits passed out on the beach at 2am look like amateurs.  One of the 15 beach bars along this stretch of sand was the famous Ballermann 6 (and if you only know a tiny bit of German, you probably know how the number 6 is pronounced).  This name has become synonymous in Germany with excessive drinking and party culture – there was even a 90s movie about it.  Ballermann is a colloquial word that means to get absolutely shitfaced – which is exactly what the Germans visiting this particular part of Mallotze have enjoyed doing for the past forty years.  That’s an impressive record and it makes Magaluf look like a kindergarten.  The bar was famous for serving plastic buckets of Sangria with long straws to encourage people get as drunk as possible in a communal setting – the epitome of class.  I must say, I find the idea of serving sangria in a bucket wholly representative of German efficiency; it gave people a convenient and clean place to puke.  In Magaluf the Brits just puke on themselves, or each other.

So bad a reputation has the cult of Ballermann gained in Germany that the bar was eventually renamed ‘Beach Club Six’ earlier this year; the plastic buckets were swapped for proper glasses, and they’ve stopped the ‘Schlagermusik’ parties (I’ll save an explanation on Schlagermusik for a later post, it deserves its own.)  The bar itself has been revamped and looks practically civilised.  But the long legacy of Ballermann lives on in the hearts of many, and whilst the Germans have now spread from this area to take over the rest of the island, they do still come here to party and reminisce about the good old days – as demonstrated by the bar full of sixty year olds that I saw last Sunday afternoon, all of them three sheets to the wind.

My impression of Mallorca as the 17th Federal State only continued as my week there progressed.  One evening, in a typically Mallorquin restaurant far outside of the usual tourist haunts, we asked what would be suitable for our three-year-old niece to eat.  Imagine my surprise when the waiter responded, in perfect German, that they could give her ‘Schnitzel und Pommes’.  He drew the line at giving her an Apfelschorle, but still, I was impressed (and a little dismayed) at how far Germany has infiltrated the traditional Spanish cuisine.  Every bar we walked past, no matter where on the island we were, served Hefeweizen as well as San Miguel.  You can get Currywurst and Doner Kebabs in every town.  There are four branches of Hamburg-born steakhouse chain, Blockhouse.  There is even a German fast-food chain, Wurstmeister, that was set up a decade ago in Palma by a couple of Germans who didn’t want to go home.  The only Spanish I heard the entire week was spoken by employees in the supermarket.  Most of the natives have either swapped to a German passport or they’re huddled in caves, trying to avoid the onslaught.  Mallorca is now a German island.

Just to demonstrate how ingrained love for Mallotze is, type ‘Malle’ into YouTube.  You’ll be greeted by countless music videos about Mallorca by German popstars.  The first, an awful dance hit by Mia Julia, shows people partying on a beach as a blonde in tiny hotpants sings ‘You’re the coolest place in the world, you are our life and everything that counts…here on the beach we’re never alone, in Mallorca I am at home.’  (Mia Julia is a former porn star who has tried to revamp her career as a singer and appeared a few years ago on Big Brother.  Perhaps everything that represents Ballermann?)  It’s not only the dance hits that show the passion Germany has for its overseas Bundesland.  One of my favourite trash TV programmes here is called Goodbye Deutschland, an amazing car-crash-telly show about people leaving Germany to pursue a life abroad, often with a disastrous ‘I don’t want to watch their misery but its strangely compelling’ outcome.  So many people leave the mainland for Mallotze that Goodbye Deutschland even has ‘Viva Mallorca’ specials (which I LOVE.) . If you speak German and haven’t ever seen it, here you go and you’re welcome.

So the next time you head to Mallorca, be prepared.  You don’t need your Spanish phrasebook, and I believe there is even now a Christmas market complete with Glühwein.  If you’re lucky, you might still be able to find tapas somewhere.

Auf Wiedersehen, Majorca.  Willkommen in Deutschland.

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