What is this Hell that is German Television?

So after spending the last decade mostly tv-less, I started watching the boob tube again on the regular. And boy is that name a most appropriate synonym for the idiot box in Germany.

There are two big reasons for the return of the squawk box:

1. I’m a single mom and an immigrant, which means I have zero idea of the pop culture references my kid comes home from kindergarten with and when her friends start talking about Yakari and Ritter Trank, I don’t want her to feel as much an outcast as I did once MTV launched and my parents couldn’t afford basic cable. So my ban on any television that isn’t Sesame Street has been lifted. For thirty minutes a day, max. Except for days when I’m too tired to wake up at the crack of dawn. So, basically every day but Tuesdays.

and 2. My doctors told me I need to chill the fuck out and there is no more mind-numbingly better way to spend your time than by watching television in a foreign language.

Also, did I mention a friend of mine gave me her television because I could never in my life fathom spending money on one and I got really tired of fighting my kid for my iphone so I actually took it? I guess that makes three big reasons.

Also, a producer friend of mine keeps asking me to pitch a tv series to her and I figured, you know, I’ll research the market while I’m chilling the fuck out. The only research I’ve been able to do these last years was from the tv on the treadmill at the gym and there, I usually turned it to the sports channel and hoped the football players would take off their shirts because the pensioners toiling away on the ellipticals nearby weren’t about to bless me with a flash of their six-pack abs and crazy tatts while I was zoned out mid-run. Btw, can anyone please tell me what the fuck is up with calf tattoos all the muki-bros are sporting? What is that awfulness? I digress.

Anyway, I started watching tv for the first time since moving to Germany eight years ago and you know what? I haven’t been missing a thing. It’s horrible. Forget the terrible voice-overs of crap American sitcoms that not a single person in the US would ever watch. Like The King of Queens or How I Met Your Mother. NO ONE in the US watches those shows. But Germans love Doogie Howser and that fat misogynist dude.

Forget the English-language 24-hour news channels, which make me full of rage which goes against doctor’s orders to numb my mind. Forget the sports channel which shows ski jumping on repeat even in July and forget Viva, which is a horrid mix of music videos and the badly-dubbed shit cartoons like American Guy. Forget, too, the German news shows, which seemed to be solely comprised of the day’s stupidest scandal in German politics and some footage from something going on in the US that affects absolutely no one in Europe, like cold weather, and is only on at noon and 8 p.m..

Forget all that and there isn’t much left. Arte’s okay but only if you like documentaries (not mind-numbing enough, thanks). There’s that one channel that always has black and white footage of something having to do with World War II (not mind-numbing enough either). There’s RTL, aka, the Idiot Sendung which gets public funds and instead of using them on several really great low-budget films or series, blows it on films that include helicopter stuntwork and exploding volcanoes and then buys the rest of their slots from the US. There’s a local channel that seems to be non-stop Carneval warm-up parties.

And then there’s Kika, the kids channel, where we learn about how the post office works and why our boogers are sometimes black. Genau richtig for our purposes. The kid and I have, in the last months, become Kika-addicts. Not because it’s good per se.  But because the quality of German television is sheer and utter crap. I’d say something similar about television everywhere but even the Germans I know who work in television here admit that the quality for the money is sub-par. Even Kika, which I don’t mind supporting with my GEZ fees, is terrible after dark.

It’s so bad that I tried out streaming options for my laptop — Watchever, which had movies in English but very very limited selection and Love Film, which has an awesome selection of dubbed movies but virtually zero in German and if I’m going to waste two hours of my life watching Bridget Jones’ Diary for the millionth time, you’d better believe I’m doing it in English. Besides, streaming is totally against the point. I’m supposed to be getting off my computer — i.e., chilling the fuck out — and at this point, my stress levels are so high that if my laptop is on, you’d better believe it’s because I’m procrastinating writing that god damned advertorial that’s due tomorrow and not to watch Til Schweiger try and get into some blondine’s panties.

So I’m back where I started: watching Die Kleine Prinzessin with the kid and the Muppets auf Deutsch on a Saturday night. Chilling out.

But enough about me. What do you think I should be wasting my time watching?

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17 thoughts on “What is this Hell that is German Television?

  1. barbtaub January 20, 2014 / 1:28 am

    I feel your pain. Every time my kids visit, they demand to know why I still don’t have a TV. I don’t know why this shocks them. We didn’t have one when they were little, because I pictured them reading the classics, practicing the instruments on which they would of course achieve virtuoso mastery, and discussing world events. All I achieved was that they were physically incapable of walking past so much as a catfood commercial. Oh, and I was the proud owner of a crate the movers labelled “whole mess of lil fiddles” containing violins ranging from one the size of a cellphone up to full size (plus a little cello in case I parented the next Yo Yo Ma) that gathered dust over the course of several moves. Not one of my kids plays an instrument, reads Dostoyevsky, or even owns a cat.

    But having said all that, two things remain sacred: Dr Who and Sherlock. Thank God or at least the Queen for BBC iPlayer!

    • Milly January 20, 2014 / 11:29 pm

      Here’s what I’ve heard about kids who don’t grow up with tv: that when they’re around one, they don’t know how to multi-task and get completely absorbed in each and every program they watch, and I noticed this happening with Diva, too. My feeling (now) is that its all about balance so as long as she’s done her ballet and practiced her letters and polished her shoes, I’m okay with a little tv.

  2. cliff1976 January 20, 2014 / 4:26 am

    How about Die Sendung mit der Maus? German co-workers reminisced about it. I watched a couple and thought they were pretty good, too.

    • Milly January 20, 2014 / 11:27 pm

      They are pretty good, but a bit too advanced for the Diva at this stage. Instead, we watch Die Sendung mit der Elefant which is for preschoolers and is pretty fun.

  3. Dan January 20, 2014 / 7:30 am

    If the telly already provokes this kind of rant then you better don’t tune into German radio. That’ll make your blood boil.

    • Milly January 20, 2014 / 11:26 pm

      Amazingly and thankfully, radio is something I can turn on and completely tune out. Except in the car. Then I get road rage because of how awful the sounds coming out of the speakers are. Both here and in the US.

  4. Jonathan Welford January 20, 2014 / 9:33 am

    Why not get a Blue ray player that has the smart tv capabilities so you can watch on line streaming on your television and away from your laptop (that will be screaming at you to read emails, notifications and social media feeds while you try to focus on your movie/tv show)

    • Milly January 20, 2014 / 11:25 pm

      Because getting a blue ray player is beside the point here — which is that in Germany you can’t legally online stream shit because of rights issues. I thought long and hard about Apple TV only because with that, I can confuse it by setting up my Apple account in the States and still get Netflix and Hulu and PBS. Otherwise, we’re shit out of luck here due to GEMA, etc…

  5. Riayn January 20, 2014 / 1:28 pm

    I would say that the standard of TV worldwide is pretty damn poor, except the Germans add to that by the insane amount of really bad reality TV shows they produce.
    However, there is now a tiny beacon of hope in that the Disney Channel is now on Free to Air TV. Yes, it is your stock standard Disney TV programs dubbed into German, but since most of them are cartoons it is still watchable. Also, for someone like me trying to improve their ability to understand German, this channel is already proving to be a godsend. Kika, whilst not too bad, is more preschooler TV & I really can’t handle more than 30 mins of it, Disney is more your middle school TV & much more palatable to this almost 40 year old. Plus they are airing the Gilmore Girls from the very beginning on Sunday nights (gods I loved that show).

    • Milly January 20, 2014 / 11:30 pm

      Oh man, I spent the whole weekend watching Disney and really, I can’t go there. Kika is totally my speed (morally, not linguistically), but I did appreciate the childhood flashbacks I got watching the Muppets Saturday night (thanks to your tweet reminding me it was on).

  6. Ralph January 21, 2014 / 12:09 am

    Throw the effing box out the window. For sanity’s sake.

    • Milly January 22, 2014 / 6:07 pm

      No Shit, eh?

      • Ralph January 23, 2014 / 7:23 pm

        No shit.

        Don’t watch that escapist drivel. That can’t possibly be a priority of someone like you, with a child and a career.

        Instead, you could, for example, spend some of your evenings reading aloud Grimm’s fairy tales to your child–as I did to mine–it took nearly a half a year, but it was a sustaining ritual and helped make my daughter into the discriminating reader she has become.

  7. papascott January 21, 2014 / 10:29 pm

    I was going to come up with an intelligent and competent answer, but then I realized that these days, other than news, science and (for me only) Bundesliga, we don’t actually watch anything German on TV. My wife enjoys US cop shows, so CSI, NCIS and whatever else the German stations show are OK with her. At 14, our son has long outgrown Kika, but it was quite good back in the day (and I assume it still is). Meanwhile, I have a Lovefilm subscription for physical DVDs which I rip to expose our son to good movies, since he enjoys writing scripts and making short films of his own. We’re currently on Billy Wilder, we’ve done Monty Python and Mel Brooks, and since he read the novel, we recently watched The Godfather together with him.

    • Milly January 22, 2014 / 6:11 pm

      Part of my point is that it’s really annoying and lazy that the German tv stations here, which are some of the best funded in Europe, can’t think of anything original to spend their money on and instead, buy those US cop shows, like no one wants to watch anything except people dissecting suspicious deaths. I’m told I’m not the only one who thinks German tv is behind the times but I don’t expect much to change. All the more reason to not spend more money on a smart tv.

  8. Steven February 10, 2014 / 12:05 pm

    Kika is absolutely bizarre- I’m equal parts fascinated by and creeped out by Bernt das Brot. (I also do a pretty good impression of him, though.)

  9. kindikat February 17, 2014 / 9:15 pm

    Germany should do a Masterchef. And stop making that awful “true life” rtl crap. That kids program on KiKa called Ene Mene Bu is awesome but its on a stupid times and they never advertise it. You can watch it online whenever you want.
    Unfortunately it seems like the programming is driven by the tastes of those who sit the whole day in front of the box….

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