Terrifying German Culture Hour – Country AND Western

To understand the following, you have to keep in mind that basically all germans for several generations have grown up with the stories of the brave and noble apache chief Winnetou, and his friend Old Shatterhand. The german author Karl May penned those, claiming they were the novelized diaries of his travels of the wild west – while never having left german soil.

Then 1945 the GIs came in and were eventually seen as saviours, so everything America was simply the best.

So we got us french hearthrob actor Pierre Brice to perform the very same role of the noble indian. (And from the point of view of my ten year old self, this is of course not racist or wrong in any way. Yeah, ten-year-old me was kinda stupid.)

Thankfully, at some point even us germans realized how wrong this was and instead decided to parody the whole thing:

So, aside from the movies, country & western music actually has quite a fan following in Germany.Of course, we initially needed it to be translated, and, well, germanized:

But soon enough, real german country bands showed up and we made things our own, especially once we figured out that country music can be coupled with trucks:

Yes, this is a song about someone driving 120 pigs to Beirut. Why? No one knows…

Truck Stop is, for better or worse, the german country band. They have songs about doing the Osnabrück-Hamburg run in one day, how to survive a night-run without Dave Dudley on the radio, why fishing is so damn relaxing, and, oh, how to be a cop in the big city:

If, while watching this, you’re in the vicinity of a german who’s a Fischkopp (a fishhead, as those who are from the northern parts of the country are happily calling themselves), you will notice at least a slight humming along, if not outright singing.

This is because this song, „Big City Beat“, is the title song for a TV series portraying the day-to-day encounters of two police officers who patrol the more earthier parts of Hamburg. The tone is down-to-earth, the pacing relaxed, and the protagonists at the same time cosmopolitan and grounded salt-of-the-earth locals.

If you don’t understood the dialogue, here’s the summary: He’s telling her why he’s on this beat now. Because he didn’t play along to racial profiling and abuse of a different fellow officer. And the actor, Jan Fedder is someone you really want to like. Here’s him in a talk show, singing a traditional Hamburg folk song. Yes, this talk show is habitually being taped in an actual bar, and yes, everyone is chugging alcohol.

He’s a bit older these days, and the perfect yokel.

And yes, folkys yokels are the same everywhere. So people make fun of them:

The singer is Stefan Raab,a former butcher you started out as a VJ, who occasionally regularly made fun of things. And yes, this is the same band as in a few videos back.

Still, Stefan is a special kind of musical genius, who can genre-hop like no other.

(the genre he’s lampooning here is „Volksmusik“. The closest equivalent would be Country, but it most certainly is not that. But that will be another installment of this blog series.)

He habitually reworked Germanys Funniest Home Videos into the summer smash hit of uh.. who cares. But this here highlights very aptly the difficulties everyday germans have when trying to adapt to foreign music.

But the true road to greatness was paved by Stefan Raabs contributions to the Eurovision Song Contest. You might have heard about that, by John Oliver:

Germany used to be represented by things like this:

Things got a teensy bit more tedious in the 90ies:

(The Eurocats still perform regularly on cruise ships)

And the other european nationalities used to send similar candidates. For decades! In the end, fewer and fewer people watched the contest. Stefan Raab thought that someone should do something, so he produced THIS:

Yes, we ran with that, while everyone else was still doing this, this or that. Yes, Eurotrash is a word. Eventually Stefan decided to run himself, so we progressed to…

The finns accepted the challenge and eventually things escalated a bit, and now the Eurovision Song Contest is the camp fest that John Oliver so loved to be confused about:

Thanks Stefan!

PS: At some point, we understood how to do Country. Really:

and yes, we brought Country to the European Song Contest:

(thanks to Jan for reminding me of this!)

Terrifying German Culture Hour: Dinner for One

If you’ve ever spent new years eve in germany, you probably have encountered this: Dinner for One

This sketch, performed by two british variety actors (and tumblers) is a german ritual for generations by now – despite the fact that it is indeed performed in english, without any german subtitles.

Millions of germans will devote about 15 minutes sometime at new years eve to watch this clip. Slavishly. If there is no TV, modern germans will happily gather in a corner of their chosen party location, huddle around the biggest phone screen they can find and fire up YouTube.

Why?

For once, this sketch is hilarious. I mean, look at the butler stumbling over the stuffed tiger, that is solid comedic gold. And the voices he makes!

The other reason? Frankly, I have no idea. Ritual. Like the thing with the Berliner, Pfannkuchen, Kreppel, Krapfen that we insist on gobbling down at the same time. (The vast regional variety of names for food is another post. Rest assured that when ordering a Pfannkuchen, you’ll get vastly different things, depending on where you order it)

But that aside, if something is beloved, there will be copies, hommages.. remixes. One obvious thing of course is recreating it in german language. As I wrote earlier, if it is foreign tv in germany, we dub it, or, even better, remake it:

If you didn’t understand a word, even though you learned german at school, you’re forgiven. This is Kölsch, one of the many wonderful german dialects.

There’s also Bayrisch:

Fränkisch:

with well-known comedians (Miss Sophie is portrayed by the musical genius from this earlier post)

And only germans can appreciate the genius of Downfall for one:

Netflix, savvy as they are, recognized the cultural significance of Dinner for One and made a YouTube ad in this vein:

It becomes slightly problematic if someone confuses the seasons and performs this sketch during the fifth season (which is the Karneval. Another post for a later time):

And to get the german kids hooked young, we also have a version with our beloved depressed square loaf, Bernd:

Terrifying German Culture Hour: Hip Hop

Disclaimer: Those who know this genre, please forgive me for simplifying things A LOT, and probably getting even more wrong and for certain omitting key players. This is not my music, nor my scene, and I have no clue what I’m writing about.

For quite a while, HipHop and Rap were something that had to be imported from the US. But at some point, things changed, and germans discovered that they could use their own mothertongue to make beautiful music, and to express themselves in the manner of of what they saw on american tv.

Due to demographic reasons (black people make up less than 1% of the population), a lot of this was and is still being done by people who are as white as snow.

Except, some took the thing with the mothertongue a bit too far:

That was Fettes Brot, who sing a lot in low german, their local dialect, performing their very own cover of Naughty by Nature.

At roughly the same time, another group emerged onto the scene: Die Fantastischen Vier:

Yes, these were the 90es. The FantaVier (as they got nicknamed quite fast) would stay on as the grandmasters of german Hip Hop, with a career spanning several decades.

Still, it was a glorious time where everyone and their little kid sister tried to make it big:

(one of the catchphrases in this song actually translates to „you’re a babe, I want to drink your bathwater!“. Yes, german hip hop was that gangsta)

Further up north, people were experimenting with soul and R&B:

And some of the experiments invariably included cover versions of beloved german cultural assets:

And some invariably tried to emulate their idols from „the ghetto“, but still sticked to the language they knew:

But a lot of these artists „grew up“, and became fixtures in the german music scene, with songs that were beloved for a reason. But the fondness for not-so-straight videos continued. So, the Fanta4 brought as a song full of acronyms and clever alliterations:

In the meantime, Fettes Brot sings about the hopeless love of teenage boys, hiring a marching band to illustrate the … ach, what would I know:

And then there is the plain bizarre: Bettina, please get dressed:

(In case you wonder: Bettina was the host of a late-night call-in tv game show, which exhorted people to call expensive phone numbers..)

And the guy with the ghetto ambitions? Well, he is part of 5 Stars Deluxe, and they are wonderful:

As wonderful as Seeed, with their… thing:

And to tie everything together: Here’s a grown-up Hip-Hopper with an ape marching band:

Terrifying German Culture Hour – Ad Breaks!

While I was doing research for Terrifying German Culture Hour, something occurred to me:

German TV, especially in the 70ies and 80ies had way less advertising than comparable shows in the US.

That sounds like a trivial „so what?“ insight, but it is actually huge:

For starters, they did of course import TV shows from the US and aired them (dubbed) in Germany. But, where the US original would have three to four ad segments, the german one would have one or two.

And those blocks would actually be in the mathematical middle of the show, not where the showrunners intended them to be. So, we would watch the A-Team, the van would race through some gate, a rocket launcher gets cocked, the screen goes black… and then comes back to show the conclusion. No ad-break. We thought those pauses were normal!

On the other hand, the german ad-breaks would then happen kinda mid-sentence. „yes, I love it when a plan comes… “ ad-jingle, Mainzelmännchen, a few advertisements, possibly with Prilblumen, more Mainzelmännchen, then „yes, I love it when a plan comes together. Get ‚em B.A.!“

Again, we thought that was normal.

The completely other thing: Anything that got aired after 20:00 came without any advertisement. So when the germans took Love Boat and remade it as Das Traumschiff, or General Hospital, remade as Die Schwarzwaldklinik, they not only made these things so very very german, but..

…also expanded it to about 90 to 120 minutes, sans ad breaks. In case the implications aren’t immediately clear to you: Love Boat is a show that has a one-hour slot. That means 40 minutes plus advertising, with the arc of suspense optimized to having three mini-cliffhangers and a satisfying finale.

They took this format, stretched it to more than double the time and reworked the arc of suspense to not have the three mini-cliffhangers. The result was rather plodding and, compared to anything from the US, slow.

The real kicker here is that due to the bureaucracy of german public tv stations, this sort of plodding and timing became the defacto standard of german tv productions for decades. The main production company is still adhering to the formulas laid down in that era, instead of doing more KLIMBIM:

Yes, kids could and did watch this.