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‘Germany can’t produce a Breaking Bad’

American TV series Breaking Bad has been smashing viewing records while scooping awards. Meanwhile, Germany, unlike its European neighbours, has not produced a globally successful show for 25 years. Alex Evans finds out why.

'Germany can't produce a Breaking Bad'
Photo: DPA

In a roundup of 12 of the world's best TV series, Germany's top-selling daily newspaper the Bild did not place a single home-grown series in its list.

All but one spot went to American and British shows such as Homeland, Downton Abbey and, of course, Breaking Bad.

Critics and viewers have enjoyed a glut of high quality programmes in recent years, not just from the US and UK but from around Europe, among them gritty crime dramas Spiral from France, Sweden's Wallander, and The Killing from Denmark.

So how is it that Germany, Europe's most powerful economy and a country renowned for its cultural prowess, has not exported a successful TV series for a quarter of a century?

Their last truly internationally successful programme could shed some light on the answer.

The last taste of global success German TV had was the cop drama Derrick, which ran 281 episodes from 1973 to 1998 and was exported to over 100 countries.

But despite its success, Derrick was hardly renowned for its outstanding dramatic quality. Thinker and critic Umberto Eco used the series for a book called Derrick or a Passion for Mediocrity in 2000.

And the series which do well in the country now are not breaking any new ground in terms of dramatic merit, with the ratings dominated by Germany's perennial cheap soap operas and police action shows.

The “mediocrity” that Eco saw in Derrick is still plaguing the industry, it seems.

Uwe Mantel, from the media magazine DWDL, told The Local that the dominance of the two state-financed TV networks contributed to the dearth of high-quality programming in Germany.

“When you look at the German market, it's basically just ARD and ZDF that make the programmes,” he said, “ZDF mostly just make crime shows, and the ARD have a lot of low budget programmes.”

“RTL and Sat1 make a few,” Mantel added, mentioning the popular RTL action series “Alarm for Cobra 11: The Motorway Police”, whose own web page summarizes it as “full of action and fast cars.”

But the most popular German shows are all made by the “big two” networks.

 

According to DWDL's ratings report for 2012, the top ten most-watched series were all produced by either ARD or ZDF. The list was topped by ARD's For Heaven's Sake, a series about Bavarian nuns trying to stop their monastery being demolished.

And soap operas, such as the infamous Good Times, Bad Times, consistently score highly in the ratings. “They have a big audience, but mostly it's a very old audience,” said Mantel.

But Germany has a big problem with selling its shows abroad. “The TV series culture here is not working. There's not much that's exportable, because there isn't much that can even stand on its own two feet here in Germany,” Mantel said.

There are exceptions to the low-quality norm, however. ARD's Weissensee, a family drama set in communist East Berlin in the 1980s, has straddled the border between critical success and viewing figures better than most.

The first episode of the second series was watched by 5.24 million viewers, a result that would make Weissensee a competitor with the top ten series, if the high-budget, high-quality drama can keep up its ratings.

Despite a long absence from screens and the confusing release of the second series on DVD before it was even broadcast, the series' “superb cast and fresh dramatic style” does it credit, according to TV critic website Serienjunkies.de.

The website hailed the first series as “evidence that it pays to invest in the quality of German series.”

But watching one episode of Good Times, Bad Times should rid anyone of the belief in the website's 2010 claim that Weissensee heralded a “minor renaissance” in German television.

READ MORE: British family goes native in Germany for TV show

Alex Evans

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10 unmissable events in Germany this October

From dazzling light shows to quirky food festivals, October is a jam-packed month in Germany. Here are some of the events you won't want to miss.

10 unmissable events in Germany this October

Oktoberfest, Munich Teresienwiese, September 17th – October 3rd

As possibly the world’s most famous beer festival, Oktoberfest needs no introduction – and for those who didn’t make it to Bavaria in September, there are still a few days left to catch it at the start of the month.

If you make it on the last bank holiday Monday, you can catch an especially rowdy party atmosphere as professional rifle shooters mark the end of the fest. But any other day at the Wiesn is an experience to remember, with live music and singing in all the tents, delicious Bavarian beer and a gigantic funfair for the most adventurous visitors.

And for those who can’t make it down to Bavaria at short notice, the Hofbräuhaus beer halls around the country celebrate their own mini-Oktoberfests with dancing, singing, live music and of course a crisp litre or two of Hofbräu. 

READ ALSO: Everything you need to know about Germany’s Oktoberfest

German Unity Day Celebrations, Erfurt Old Town, October 1st – 3rd 

Marking the day when West and East Germany were formally reunited back in 1990 – a year after the fall of the Berlin Wall – Tag der Einheit (Unity Day) is a truly special bank holiday in Germany. 

Each year, a different German city takes it in turn to host the annual Bürgerfest (citizen’s festival) in honour of Germany’s national day. This year, the Thuringian capital of Erfurt will be putting on an action-packed programme of political and cultural events all weekend. To start with, Germany’s five constitutional bodies – the Bundestag, Bundesrat, Federal President, Federal Government and Federal Constitutional Court – will be represented with large information stands on the theme of “Experiencing Politics”. And for those less keen to take a deep dive into the workings of government, each of the 16 states will have the best of their culture and cuisine on display. 

There’ll also be live concerts, performances and a light installation representing German reunification over the weekend, making a visit to scenic Erfurt well worth it. 

READ ALSO: EXPLAINED: How October 3rd became Germany’s national holiday

Cannstatter Volksfest, Stuttgart, September 23rd – October 9th 

If you want to experience big folk festival but want to steer clear of the tourist crowd in Munich, look no further than Oktoberfest’s Swabian sister, the Cannstatter Volksfest in Stuttgart. 

First launched in 1818, the festival has become a mainstay of the autumn calendar in Baden-Württemberg, and it’s an event that is fiercely proud of its Swabian roots. If you go, you can sample some of the best local beers and wines around, as well as other traditional Swabian delicacies. You can also go on rollercoasters and other fairground rides, hear trumpeting Oompah bands and get dizzy on the world’s largest mobile Ferris wheel. 

Weimar Onion Market, October 7th – 9th

Nobody can say that Germans don’t make the most of their seasonal produce – and Weimar’s historic Zwiebelmarkt (onion market) is no exception.

The Zwiebelmarkt tradition dates back as early as the 15th century, when traders would come to the bustling town of Weimar to sell their wares. Over the years, the onion market days became a major social event where locals would also gather to eat, drink and barter. These days, you’ll still find all things onion-related at the onion market, from arts and crafts to culinary treats. But there’s also a funfair, live music, beer tents and family friendly activities to boot.

Ludwigsburg Pumpkin Festival, August 26th – December 4th

If you’re a fan of all things autumnal, look no further than Ludwigsburg Palace, which becomes home to the world’s largest pumpkin exhibition each year from late August to early December. 

It may sound novel, but a walk around the grounds of the palace will show you that in Ludwigsburg, the pumpkin artists certainly don’t do things by halves. Not only can you see incredible sculptures made from around 450,000 pumpkins in total, but you’ll also see a jaw-dropping 600 different varieties of pumpkin there as well. And if you work up an appetite while soaking up the exhibition, you can also sample some delicious pumpkin-based dishes, from soup to Maultaschen.

Pumpkin exhibition Ludwigsburg

Balu and Mowgli from the Jungle Book at the Ludwigsburg pumpkin exhibition. Photo: picture alliance/dpa | Christoph Schmidt

Filmfest Hamburg, 29th September – October 8

Though it tends to get overshadowed by the show-stopper Berlinale, film buffs who can’t wait until February will enjoy a trip to its Hanseatic sibling: Filmfest Hamburg.

Running throughout the first week of October, the Filmfest brings together the best of contemporary cinema from around the world at a range of venues around the city. This year, the festival is also celebrating its 30th anniversary, so there’s bound to be a truly special atmosphere at the event. 

You can find the full programme in English here.

Berlin Festival of Lights, October 7th – 16th

Each year in the middle of August, the familiar sights of the German capital are bathed in colourful light and transformed each evening into weird and wonderful artistic creations.

This year, the theme of the world famous light festival is “Visions of the Future” as artists explore the question: What will our future look like?

The fruits of their labours can be seen around the city each evening from 7-11pm, after it gets dark. Organisers says there will be a big focus on sculptures this year – as well as the usual large installations – as they seek to reduce their electricity use by 75 percent. 

Berlin cathedral at Festival of Lights 2018

Berlin cathedral lit up in colourful lights at the 2018 Festival of Lights. Photo: picture alliance/dpa | Jens Kalaene

Frankfurt Book Fair, October 19th – 23rd 

The world’s largest book fair is returning to Frankfurt this October with the theme of “translation”, exploring the idea of translating ideas into new languages, mediums and contexts.

Alongside the sprawling trade fair and conference, there will also be a packed schedule of literary events where people can hear reading and talks by popular authors. You can find out all about the exhibitors at the book fair this year and what’s on at the conference in English on the Frankfurt Book Fair website

Deutsches Weinlesefest, September 23rd – October 10th 

The picturesque wine-growing regions of western Germany hold wine festivals throughout the year, but the Wine Harvest Festival – or Weinlesefest – is by far one of the biggest.

Fittingly enough, the festival is held in Neustadt an der Weinstraße, a pretty little town located along the famous Wine Route. For the few weeks of the festival, this sleepy little town hosts an enormous wine parade and around 100,000 wine-loving visitors. Head there on the 7th to see the crowning of this year’s Palatinate Wine Queen and sample some Rhineland wines out of a dubbeglas, a big glass that holds a whopping 50cl of wine. As always, drink responsibly! 

READ ALSO: 10 ways to enjoy autumn like a true German

Halloween at Frankenstein’s Castle, October 21st – November 6th 

If the name of Frankenstein’s Castle sounds familiar to you, it should do: apparently, Mary Shelley, the author of the novel Frankenstein, could well have been inspired by the castle when she visited the nearby town of Gernsheim in 1814. 

These days, however, the castle is known for something slightly different: in 1978, American airmen set up an annual Halloween festival at the castle, and the spooky tradition has continued to this day.

Halloween at Frankenstein Castle

A blood-curdling character at Frankenstein Castle’s Halloween Festival in 2018. Photo: picture alliance/dpa | Andreas Arnold

If you want to enjoy what’s been described as one of the most spectacular Halloween experiences in the world, it’s well worth booking tickets to go up to the castle in late October. In the weeks around Halloween, the 1000-year-old castle is transformed in a phantasmagoria of monsters and evil beings lurking in the shadows.

Every year, the organisers of the festivals pull yet another technical trick out of their sleeve to ensure that visitors are more spooked than ever. It’s not for the faint-hearted, but if you think you can handle the adrenaline, it’s bound to be an action-packed night. 

READ ALSO: What are Germany’s 8 spookiest places?

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