Sunday, July 27, 2008

Es ist soweit! Eric im TV

Der Untergang des deutschen Fernsehens ist besiegelt - Eric ist da.

Ab dem 4. August jeden Montag als Teil von KulturJournal bei NDR 3 (spät Abends) werde ich sechs Wochen lang meine "Deutschland-Quiz" auf Norddeutschland ummünzen und verfilmen.

Die Mini-Serie heisst "Hansen in der Hanse", und hat eine Menge Spass gemacht. Wir sind durch 5 norddeutsche Städte herumgereist und die Leute auf der Strasse sowie die Bürgermeister in ihren Ämtern belästigt. Wir haben das mittelalterliche Viagra gefunden (tut weh), die indische Hanse, die deutsche Schuld an der Globalisierung der Welt und haben auch noch herausgefunden, was "Blodman" auf französisch bedeutet.

Dabei sind wir so klamaukig, bizarr und... naja, bizarr vorgegangen, wie es nur ging.

Schaut rein - es macht Spass, und Ihr habt die einzigartige Gelegenheit, zu beobachten, wie eine Fernseh-Karrier im gleichen Moment geboren und zerstört wird.

Und nicht nur das: Ihr werdet sehen, warum Männer in Cadillacs mehr Erfolg bei den Frauen haben.

Tuesday, July 22, 2008

Idiots, Nazis or Pranksters?

Admittedly, Germans are not known for their ha-ha-fall-down humor. It's just not them.

But what they do like to do is make each other look stupid. (And before you frown and disapprove, let me remind you that American humor does that also - or do you really think Jon Stewart makes George Bush look intelligent?)

For example, the Hitler card game.

A small Berlin publisher jumpstarted a mini-scandal when it put out a card game featuring the faces and CVs of dictators, from Hitler to Idi Amin. The game is based on the popular German children's card game called "Quartett", in which you have to match features on your cards to features on the cards of another player to gather their cards - or something like that. Usually the cards feature cars or soccer players.

Immediately German officials realized that someone here wasn't being appropriately respectful of Hitler and complained. A politician of the liberal party SPD called it "tasteless," etc. The newspaper wrote about it and internet forums gathered opinions. It stupid, of course: Getting upset about Hitler is a standard in Germany, you have to drop everything and get all excited about it, like telling a Vegan, "I smell meat in this salad. Do you smell meat in this salad?"

What most people didn't see is that is was a joke. A joke on them. The publisher did it not only to sell cards, but to push buttons, and German buttons are easy to push. It was a prank - a prank on the general public and on any politician or opinion leader willing to stupidly comment. Germans can do pranks.

But the better prank was a few months earlier.

There is a popular comedy show on German TV called "Hello Taxi," in which an excellent improv comedian named Hape Kerkeling pretends to be a taxi driver and drives his passengers nuts on hidden camera.

One of his tricks to to eat, phone, etc., while driving. Using your cell phone while driving in Germany is against the law and is punishable by fine.

Just last week it was reported that several months ago a TV viewer reported Kerkeling to the police for driving a taxi while using a cell phone, because he had seen it on TV.

At first I thought: This guy is an idiot. Especially because he didn't name Kerkeling in his accusation, he named Kerkeling''s fictional TV-character.

Then I thought: Can anybody be that stupid? Or is someone out there playing a prank.

It was a prankster, for sure, and the proof is that the prank worked: The district attorney (in Cologne) followed up on the accusation and initiated an investigation against the TV character. It was a prank on German bureaucracy. That's something Germans can do.

Nothing happened to Kerkeling, by the way: By the time this office sorted through the fake name and viewed the TV footage, several months had passed and it was to late to do anything: a misdemeanor as minor as this becomes invalid after only a few months.

What is Satire?

"Romanticism is people as they would like to be; realism, people as they seem with their insides left out; Satire, people as they are."

- Dawn Powell

Saturday, July 05, 2008

If I'm A Racist, You're A Fascist

Germans are probably the most international people on earth and at the same time the most self-centered and blind to everything beyond their own horizon. It's a strange combination – the exact opposite of America, where no one is really interested in anything that goes on outside our borders but at the same time politically we take on more responsibility internationally than anyone else and then some. Wait, that's not the opposite, it's the same thing. Oh no, I was right the first time: it's the exact opposite.

This week Germany's first Madame Tussaud's Wax Cabinet opened in Berlin and of course one of the figures in it was Hitler. A Brit or American would not find anything weird about this: How can you have a cabinet of wax figures depicting world leaders without Hitler? The idea is ridiculous; it would be like teaching math without mentioning the zero.

Not so for Germans: immediately it was a controversy. A German-Jewish leader called for Tussaud's to take down the figure. It was not removed (though a sign was put up explaining that Hitler was bad, not good, in case anyone should come in and be inspired by his image to go out and kill minorities).

It was more than just a little thing. Germans are capable of a lot of indignant anger. The day of the opening, a guy from Kreuzberg – where indignant anger is an art – rushed into Tussaud's and ripped Hitler's head off. To me, that seems a little bit exaggerated. To many Germans I think it was a vindication and the right thing to do: Someone, at least, was insuring that the Third Reich would not come again. That's what the guy thought, I'm sure.

It is unclear why many Germans found it so offensive: You see photos of Hitler in all the school books, in movies and documentaries, all over the place. But a wax figure of it somehow struck the wrong chord. Did people have the feeling that it glorified Hitler? If so, do the figures of Stalin and Jack the Ripper glorify Stalin and Jack the Ripper?

In a weird way, I suspect it was something else: Deep inside, Germans sometimes have a feeling that frivolous depictions of Hitler are disrespectful. Not because they respect Hitler but because Hitler as a source of evil has become so much larger than life that the vilification of him as turned into a kind of worship of him, too, as the ancients might have worshipped an evil spirit in the hopes of pacifying him. Maybe Germans are afraid Hitler's ghost will come back and find his own wax figure somehow not epicly overblown enough, too small, too human, and in revenge will inspire Germany to do the same thing again.

The opposite happened a few weeks ago: When it was clear that Obama, whom everyone in Germany loves, would get the Democratic nomination, the far-left and sometimes cynical, even funny, newspaper "taz" printed a photo of the White House on the front page with a headline that read "Uncle Obama' Cabin."

Many Americans in Germany and in the US were outraged and accused the taz of racism, and the taz people had no idea why.

Germans, like Americans, learn about the ground-breaking and influential book "Uncle Tom's Cabin", which greatly helped the anti-slavery movement, but each country uses the references to the book differently. For Americans, "Uncle Tom" is a racial slur. For Germans, "Uncle Tom" is a symbol or resistance against slavery (which is what the book was). There is even an "Uncle Tom's Cabin-Street" in Berlin. The headline was not a racial slur, but a triumphant celebration of how far blacks have come since slavery in the US: "You've come a long way, baby", it was saying, or, "Finally, slavery is over."

It was one of these things, like the Tussaud thing, where both peoples agreed that racism is bad and that it is a good thing that Obama may take the White House… but in expressing it they appeared to each other to be racists / fascists.