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Introducing…Heidi Klum

Introducing…is The Local's guide to the fabulous world of German celebrity. Know all there is about Germany’s top model Heidi Klum? We shine the spotlight on a Rhineland beauty who’s become a one-woman glamour franchise.

Introducing…Heidi Klum
Photo: DPA

If you flick on a TV or open a newspaper in Germany these days it’s hard not to bump into Heidi. With a fierce PR machine pushing the latest season of her series Germany’s Next Top Model, the leggy Klum is omnipresent in the media. Of course, as one of the country’s leading cultural exports, there are few Teutons as well-known around the world as the pretty lass from Bergisch Gladbach near Cologne.

There’s no doubt she’s famous, but how’d she get her big break?

Heidi has defined Germanic beauty since taking over as Germany’s buxom blonde du jour from Claudia Schiffer in the 1990s. But apart from being a top supermodel, she is also a television host, an occasional actress, a producer, a designer and of course an extremely successful businesswoman selling one very important product – Heidi herself. She even registered for the trademark Heidi Klum GmbH way back in 1996!

She got into modelling by beating out 25,000 other girls in 1992 to win a contest where Heidi and other wannabe models went on a Thomas Gottschalk TV show and subjected themselves to a celebrity jury. Sound familiar? Yes, her start was not unlike her current hit TV show.

Her big break internationally came in 1998 when she became the first German model to grace the cover of the Sports Illustrated swimsuit edition.

So she’s more than the average catwalk model on a cocaine diet?

Oh yes indeed! Instead of spending her free time away from the fashion world knocking back the champagne on a yacht in the Caribbean, Heidi has developed her career into global media enterprise. She has her own clothing line, cosmetic series and several TV shows including Germany’s next Top Model – by Heidi Klum.

A quality product ‘Made in Germany,’ eh? Sounds too good to be true. She must have skeletons in the closet.

Well, there is definitely one. Heidi doesn’t beat her assistants with telephones like Naomi Campbell or get photographed snorting drugs like Kate Moss, but she does have an illegitimate lovechild with an Italian businessman. Formula One bigwig Flavio Briatore – a notorious womaniser in his day – knocked Klum up and then promptly ditched her. Perhaps not wanting to ruin his playboy image Flavio still denies that Heidi’s four-year-old daughter Leni is his spawn.

In fact, the day she announced that she was pregnant with his baby, Briatore was pictured kissing Austrian crystal heiress Fiona Swarovski.

So, lucky in life, but unlucky in love?

Before Flavio, there was one failed marriage and a series of high-profile flings including the likes of Anthony Kiedis from the Red Hot Chili Peppers, so it might seem that way. But plucky Heidi eventually found her prince charming too! After all her romantic disasters she met and fell head-over-heels in love with the British pop singer Seal – while still heavily pregnant with Leni.

A decent English gentleman to the rescue. I suppose they lived happily ever after?

Indeed. They married in 2005 and have since had two more children together: Henry Günther Ademola Dashtu Samuel (3) and Johan Riley Fyodor Taiwo Samuel (2).

Good gracious, that’s a mouthful. I take it Heidi didn’t become a full-time mother and housewife?

Certainly not! Those nappies don’t buy themselves!

What’s that supposed to mean?

It means that Heidi advertises pretty much everything you can imagine. Whenever you decide not to go to the loo during a television advert break during her show, you’ll probably still see her smiling at you. She might have jelly sweets stuck between her toes for Katjes, be hawking perfume for Douglas, or even shilling for McDonald’s fast food. She’s even rocked out for the Guitar Hero video game in her panties.

Fair enough. A girl’s got to eat. But getting back to the sexy models on the catwalk…

Sure! Despite squeezing out three kids, Heidi still does some runway shows like the annual Victoria’s Secret underwear show – if that’s the kind of thing that floats your boat. But the latest season of Germany’s next Top Model has also garnered her some unflattering publicity.

Oh no! Are the newcomers prettier than she is?

Well, they’re certainly younger than the now 35-year-old Heidi! But according to the contestants on the show, Klum is far from being as nice as her public persona would seem. She supposedly is hardly ever present on set (which makes sense since she has lived in Manhattan since 1993), but when she does turn up, Heidi is reportedly quite cold and harsh with the girls.

So much for the wholesome girl from next door routine.

Certainly that’s the case if you believe this year’s contestants. Some of the failed model hopefuls have gabbed to more than one gossip magazine, claiming that everything is staged and the winner was already apparent from the beginning.

Aren’t they just being catty? Models are always so rational when it comes to how pretty other girls are, right? Just ask my boyfriend…

Well, if the rumours are true, this is more than just a case of sour grapes from some underfed failed clothes-hangers. It would also certainly cast a rather dark shadow across Heidi’s squeaky-clean image.

Then again, it’s only a TV show about pretty girls fighting for attention. What did you expect? Masterpiece Theatre? Now pass me the chocolates, this week’s episode is about to start…

TV

Five of the best German historical dramas to binge watch right now 

What do you do when you're trying to immerse yourself in German history, but public life is shut down due to Covid-19? Find some binge-worthy historical dramas, writes Charlotte Hall.

Five of the best German historical dramas to binge watch right now 
A scene from the Barbarians. Photo: picture alliance/DPA/Netflix/Katalin Vermes

When I moved to Berlin for my year abroad, I was meant to immerse myself in the language, the culture, the history. I was ready to soak up that German influence like a sponge, and take it home with me to England to wring out during my final year of uni. All good, in theory. In practice: well, there was this little thing called Covid-19 that kind of got in the way a bit. 

Since almost everything was shut when I arrived in the German capital at the end of August last year, I needed to get my culture-fix elsewhere. Like many, during this pandemic, I turned to streaming sites. And for reasons I can’t quite explain myself, I found myself drawn to the plethora of historical dramas that German Netflix offers. 

READ ALSO: Ten top films and TV shows to discover Germany from your couch

Historical dramas are often denigrated and belittled. They are a notorious “trash” genre and while “historical” is in the name, “accuracy” is usually not the game.

However, in recent years, the rise of series like Chernobyl – and even Bridgerton – have proven the range and variety that can be found in this genre. Rather than the factual history, history dramas offer a distanced perspective of the anxieties and preoccupations of the present, as well as a tell-all insight into the cultural psyche of a country’s perception of its past.

This, at least, is how I rationalise my “Watch it again” list.

On that note, here are the five most bingeable and/or thought-provoking historical dramas in German right now: 

Die Barbaren (2020) 

In November, the first series of Die Barbaren was so successful that Netflix immediately announced that they are working on a second one. It’s easy to see why: the series’ aesthetics are very seductive, morphing modern beard-grooming with a rough-and-ready, fur-clad fantasy of the Germanic tribes. 

The plot is based (loosely) on the story of the battle of the Teutoburg Forest, when a group of Germanic tribes resisted annexation by the Roman Empire. It’s embellished with a neat check-list of Netflix must-haves: a dynamic love triangle, an outspoken female heroine, and plenty of Game of Thrones-style gratuitous violence and sex scenes. While this might not be what the critics would call “original”, it does make the series very bingeable. 

The story of the Teutoburg Forest is a surprisingly contentious topic in Germany. For a long time, the narrative had been co-opted by nationalists and far-right. Nolting, one of the writers of the series, said he intended to reclaim the narrative from “those forces we detest”.

In a sense, the aim of Die Barbaren is to spark a reconsideration of this part of history, instead of leaving it to stagnate in the realm of alt-right propaganda. 

Das Schweigende Klassenzimmer (2018) 

This recent addition to the Netflix inventory won the 2018 peace prize of German film, Die Brücke – and for good reason. Set in the DDR during the Hungarian Revolution of 1956, it’s based on a true story and a book of the same title by Dietrich Garstka. 

READ ALSO: Why it’s time to binge Netflix’s successful German TV series

A group of students in the DDR illegally listen to West-Radio after catching wind of the Hungarian uprising. They hear of the many deaths that happened during the demonstration, including, so the report goes, the famous footballer Ferenc Puskàs – crucially, this later turns out to be untrue. Moved, the classmates decide to hold a moment of silence during class, an idea set in motion by the main character Kurt Wächter (Tom Gramenz). 

At school, all hell breaks loose. Suddenly, the naive group find themselves under investigation by the Stasi. Pressured by all the adults surrounding them, they are given a choice: scapegoat Kurt Wächter as the ring-leader, or have their life-prospects ruined by being banned from taking their Abitur (A-levels/final exams). 

The film is a tense but heartening ode to the coming-of-age genre, and a beautifully shot piece to boot.  

Nirgendwo in Afrika (2001) 

Nirgendwo in Afrika approaches themes of culture-shock, colonial trauma and exile in a delicate and refreshingly nuanced way – especially for a film made two decades ago.

It’s 1933: we follow the Jewish family Redlich as they flee Nazi-Germany to settle on a farm in Kenya. While their little daughter Regina acclimatizes quickly to the pace of life in the Kenyan countryside, her parents must learn to let go of the German life, friends and identities they left behind them. Providing a unique perspective on the Jewish experience of the Nazi regime, this film is a fascinating and at times heart-breaking cultural panorama.  

The film also touches upon the parallels and differences between the loss of land and status experienced by native Kenyan tribes under British colonial rule and that of Jewish people under the Nazis. The comparison is implicit – and makes a very interesting historical angle. 

Unsere Mütter, unsere Väter (2013)

 

Charlotte, Wilhelm, Greta, Viktor, Friedhelm: five friends, but with five very different experiences. It is Berlin in 1941: they gather, dance, drink and say goodbye. Brothers Wilhelm and Friedhelm are being sent to the Eastern Front. But not to worry, the war will soon be over, and they’ll all see each other again at Christmas…

While the two brothers are quickly embroiled in the brutal and pointless war in Russia, Charlotte, a nurse, is following close behind and witnessing the horrors of the casualties at the mobile military hospital. Viktor, a Jewish tailor, tries to flee the country last-minute, and Greta, his lover, is soon tangled in a dangerous web with a married Nazi officer. Christmas in Berlin is looking increasingly unlikely. 

While it’s more revised history than history revision (critics have pointed out chronological inconsistencies), the series has some very powerful moments. It has been praised for its depictions of the bitter war on the Eastern Front. 

Charité (2017-2019) 

In the perfect union of medical and historical drama, this series explores the personal and political conflicts surrounding the Charité Teaching Hospital of Berlin. 

The first season brings together notable historical figures such as Rudolph Virchow, the father of pathology, Paul Ehrlich and Robert Koch, as well as the scientific whirlwinds they created in the 19th century. The second season shifts into the last year of the second-world war, dealing with the traumatised soldiers returning from the front, and the horrific treatment of children with disabilities under the Nazi regime. 

What should be a relatively dry, pseudo-medical period drama has been spun into an exhilarating, and at times thought-provoking, binge-worthy series.

This article was updated on March 15th.

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