The first broadcast of Germany’s version of Sesame Street aired January 8, 1973 and was an almost instant success. “Within just a few weeks, almost every child in Germany aged between three and six knew the programme,” said national broadcaster NDR.
But the US import, which first appeared on US TV in 1969, was not met without controversy. Bavarian broadcaster BR declined to run the series, seeing it as a foreign product of little relevance to German children.
The overt educational element of the programme also bothered broadcasters more used to entertainment than “edutainment.”
“At the time we said, ‘that’s not an emancipatory programme, it’s ancient, it’s a cramming school, it’s awful’,” said Walter Flemmer, then assistant television director for BR, which still does not air the show.
But it was the children, not the experts, who caused the next big upset in the programme’s history.
In 1976 the makers responded to parental and professional concerns that the programme was too removed from everyday German life, by removing the American street scenes.
They were met with the wrath of children who had grown to love the old sets. The makers recalled a “storm of indignation” at the loss of the identification figures and familiar places.
In the end, the programme was re-broadcast in its entirety from January 2, 1978 from Hamburg studios.
This time, everyone seemed happy. Indeed, when NDR cancelled the traditional early evening broadcast of the programme in 2003, parents and grandparents demonstrated in front of the headquarters.
The replacement offering of a 7:30am slot did not appease parents, many of whom enjoyed watching the programme themselves – possibly because of Sesame Street’s extensive use of celebrity cameo appearances.
German actors such as Horst Janson and comedians like Dirk Bach have appeared on the show, while musicians like Herbert Grönemeyer and Xavier Naidoo have sung along with lead characters Ernie and Bert.