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:

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Yes, kids could and did watch this.

Terrifying German Culture Hour — The other Punk Edition

Even germans often mistake the phenomena known as „New German Wave“ for just an assortment of weird stuff. In reality, this cambrian explosion of new styles and bands paved the way for a variety of genres in Germany. Most bands went away quietly afterwards, some got (in)famous, and others stuck around for the next few decades.

Even americans probably know Trio and their „Da da da“, the stereotypical german nihilstic dadaism — after all, it featured in a Volkswagen ad.

What people didn’t quite know is that Trio basically did all the things that you would expect from avantgarde punk. And, because this is germany, they of course included axes in their performance, as well as Bommerlunder:

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But the most iconic artist of this era was probably Nena, with all her 99 balloons…


Awesome, isn’t it? Alas, this takes us away from the punk I wanted to point out today, so I won’t go into the details of her (in my opinion) much better song. Listen to it anyway, I might have something to say about it at some other point…

Contemporaries of Nena, and probably as iconic were Extrabreit, and their gleeful song about a burning school hyped schoolkids of at least two generations:

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And yes, we have guitars, plastic trousers and seditious lyrics — the people who were responsible for taping this didn’t realize it yet, but this is a true german punk band!

The lines between punk and wave were still pretty blurred at this point in time, so we should certainly not forget DAF and their „Dance the Mussolini“:

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And then there’s KIZ, I actually have no idea where to put them:


But the point of this particular post is Punk, and I would fail you if I wouldn’t mention the two big fishes in the small pond of german punkrock: Die Ärzte (out of Berlin!) and Die Toten Hosen, hailing from Düsseldorf (Not Cologne!) Fans from either band tended to maintain some sort of snobbish rivalvry against the other band, firmly believing that „their“ punk gods were clearly superior.

In style, Die Ärzte were definitely a bit more silly, whereas Die Toten Hosen could get outright political and serious at times.

To illustrate, see this Toten Hosen song about daddy hanging himself in the attic, dressed up as santa claus:

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And compare with Die Ärzte and their Peace Tank:

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(the monologue at the beginning? The german dub of Leslie Nielsens speech in the second Naked Gun movie. I’ll get into the pecularities of dubbing a lot later…)

As you can probably guess by the toilet humour, Die Ärzte were afraid of nothing when it came to lyrics, so they had funny and life-affirming songs about

  • incest
  • bestiality
  • the monster in the closet
  • the german chancellor beating up his wife
  • spontaneously exploding people
  • bondage
  • people being literally scalped

and so on. Unsurprisingly their albums got banned quite often, to „protect the youth“. The only possible answer to that, of course, was a song explaining all the BDSM fetishes in clinical detail, set to a video of dystopian censors destroying their stuff:

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Die Toten Hosen meanwhile recorded a song with britains Great Train Robber Ronnie Biggs:

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Terrifying German Culture Hour — „Music“

Music is the universal language, they say. And every country and culture has their equivalents of grand symphonies, dirty ditties and horrible songs. Germany is no different…

…you’d think. And you’d be wrong. Especially in the 70es and 80es, there was a union of music, showmanship and.. well, humour, creating a blend that might be a bit hard to understand. On top of that, there was the perceived need to have songs in german language.

Let’s have a look at the results, shall we? Americans will probably have heard „The Battle of New Orleans“ at some point. I mean, Tommy Horton and even Johnny Cash performed it.

Well, considering that it is a song that commemorates the victory over the british, it is a bit surprising that Les Humphries changed the lyrics to some sort of complete nonsense when he landed this hit in Germany:


One of the many singers involved here is Jürgen Drews, who, much later in life, become King of the Mallorquins:

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The need to localize was strong, and spanned all genres of popular music. With an utter disregard to the source material. Enter Cindy & Bert, germanys very burgeois and tame Sonny & Cher, performing their version of Black Sabbaths Paranoid:


(In case your german is failing you: They are indeed telling the story of the dark Hound of Baskerville)

But fear not — there was originality in german music, even at that time. And some songs even got sung in english. But with more showmanship than any broadway production could ever hope for — exhibit a: Genghiz, err, Dschinghis Khan, singing… Dschinghis Khan:


This song was as big a hit as the production makes you think it is. Really, it was the number one hit in germany for 29 weeks! Produced by Ralph Siegel, they immediately also took Moscow by storm:


Still, you can’t have terrifying german music without acknowledging that germans are actually able to build more terrifying things on top of it. Enter german 70es prime comedian Otto, conducting a live orchestra performance of Dschinghis Khan:

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Do not be fooled: This man is a musical genius, who can take the names of the dissidents & dictators and beat box ahead:

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A propos Ralph Siegel. This guy is a titan of the german music business, responsible for the production of what feels like 95% of all terrifying german culture. Europeans might remember his very weltschmerz-driven plea for „a little bit of peace“:

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I should let you enjoy that peace and end this blogpost at that point, but remember, this is Terrifying German Culture Hour after all. So here, have another cover song, this time based on Grease’s You're the One that I Want — a title that german ears easily mishear as the equivalent of „the bathtub is full“. Yes, german is a weird language, I know:


And next time, I’ll explain the connection between cartoon bikers and two grown men in sailor suits.

Terrifying German Culture Hour — Shows!

TV Shows, what a grande theme. The thing you have to realize at this point, is that when germans hear „show“, they don’t think of Law and Order or Baywatch — those are Serials in our lingo. A show is a grandiose affair, usually reserved for saturday evenings.

On top of that, there is a very german variant of the talk show, which invariably has a group of at least 5 to 6 people sitting around a table and, well, talk.

So, shows. If you’re american, you now probably think of either Rat-Pack-style entertainment or at the very least Larry King or David Letterman. Well, no. We instead got a guy licking pencils but more on that later.

So, to give you an idea how these talk shows looked, and to confirm all your suspicions on how perverse sexually liberated germans are, here’s Nina Hagen demonstrating how women can masturbate. During prime time TV.

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There were also small-scale talk shows for the regional programming. Things were a bit rougher there:

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(no, this was not staged. Yes, the guy with the axe is a musician)

But the big saturday evening shows reigned supreme. You could safely expect a large live audience, some well-known band or musician performing and, this is inevitable, a small band of text running at the bottom at some point, informing you that they are already over their allotted time-slot, meaning that the news that were scheduled for 10pm will now be shown at 10:30pm or even later. and most of the time, the entertainment involved ordinary citizens being either skilled, talented or at least clever. They were the precursor to todays game shows, but apart from five minutes of fame, there wasn’t much to win. Still, the intros got imprinted into the brains of those who grew up at that time:

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(You might want to hold on to the image of the cartoon at the beginning. Those two were made by Loriot, and he will figure in a later installment!) Still, if a german suddenly makes a spooky voice at you, intoning „Risiiikooo“(Riiiisk) at you, then that’s where it’s from.

Another thing in terms of intros was that some shows were deemed to be big enough that they were aired via Eurovision, meaning that they were broadcast to not only germany, but also into the neighbour countries! Such a momentous affair usually got announced with an extra fanfare:

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And now we’re finally at Wetten Dass — the german game show that Will Arnett waxed forth about mightily in US TV already. This is a show where ordinary people made claims about being able to do extraordinary things. Pull a truck by pure muscle mass. Have all lottery numbers from the past 20 years memorized. Have a dog that can destroy 100 balloons in under 60 seconds. Then celebrities were invited to bet on the outcome of the attempt. Wetten Dass was the holy mountain of all saturday evening shows, and the cases where the host was switched out were subject to a major national crisis and debate.

Wetten Dass was such an important show that the premier german pop duo used it to announce it’s reunion (in a fake Blind Date format):

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Anyway: Here’s a guy who can tell you the colour of a pencil by licking it:

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The Great Saturday Evening Show died somewhere around the turn of the century, got briefly revived by a former butcher and is now consigned to the graveyard of memory.