The weirdest German New Year's Eve habit you've never heard of

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Charley-Kai John - [email protected]
The weirdest German New Year's Eve habit you've never heard of
A still from Dinner for One: Germany's favourite New Year's Eve sketch. Photo: DPA.

Germans hate to be labelled as boring. That's why they've been watching the same comedy sketch on New Year's Eve since 1972.


If you live outside Germany you probably don't know what 'Dinner for One' is.

But it's something that Germans are well aware of, in fact they watch it on TV religiously every New Year's Eve.

The 11-minute British comedy sketch is also known as Der 90 Geburtstag (The 90th birthday), which gives you a little clue as to the plot.

Here's a short summary.

Miss Sophie, played by May Warden, is celebrating her 90th birthday by throwing a dinner for her friends Sir Toby, Admiral von Schneider, Mr Pommeroy and Mr Winterbottom, along with the help of her butler James (Freddie Frinton).

Unfortunately, these friends are unable to attend the dinner as they're long dead, which doesn't put James off pretending he is them to help keep Miss Sophie and her ailing eyesight in good spirits.

James serves four courses accompanied by four drinks. The comedy ensues as James is forced to toast for the absent guests that he is impersonating, becoming increasingly inebriated and finding it increasingly difficult to go about his routine.

Watch out for that tiger! An increasingly drunk James begins to trip over the rug. Photo: DPA.

It is actually pretty funny, funnier than it sounds at least.

Despite being British, the skit is completely unknown in its country of birth, having never been aired in the UK.

The strange story of how this British comedy made its way across the English channel and into millions of German hearts involves German entertainer Peter Frankenfeld.

On a visit to Blackpool in 1962, Frankenfeld encountered Frinton and Warden performing Dinner for One, a skit originally written by playwright Lauri Wylie as early as the 1920s that had become popular in Britain's music-halls.

Frankenfeld was so won over by the performance that he convinced the duo to record the show for German TV.

Germans have Frankenfeld to thank for their New Year's Eve staple. Photo: DPA.

Apart from a short introduction in German, Dinner for One was recorded by broadcaster NDR entirely in the original language with no German subtitles.

The sketch first appeared on German TV in 1963.

However it wasn't until 1972 that it began to be broadcast on New Year's Eve. After that, the sketch quickly gained cult status in the country.

By 1988 it had already earned itself a place in the Guinness World Book of Records as the most repeated TV program in history.

By 1997 more people were watching Dinner for One (11.93 million) than the German Chancellor's New Year's Speech (9.28 million).

It reached audience numbers of more than 13 million in 2003.

As of 2015, it had been broadcast over 230 times in Germany.

In 2016, Dinner for One was made available on online subscription service Netflix.

This year, it will be shown on broadcaster ARD's Das Erste and Die Dritten programmes a total of 15 times.

Like every New Year's Eve, in 2017 millions of Germans will tune in to watch the same sketch.

A German couple enjoying a quiet New Year's Eve in with Miss Sophie and James. Photo: DPA.

Miss Sophie has now been celebrating her birthday for over 50 years in Germany.

The sketch and its laughs just never get old.

Unlike the actors. Freddie Frinton died in 1968 and May Warden in 1978, never truly witnessing the giddying heights of popularity the program would ultimately reach.

The sketch is also popular in Scandinavia and in German-speaking countries like Switzerland and Austria, but also as far afield as South Africa.

One German newspaper, the Südkurier, went as far as to say that the sketch is now as synonymous with New Year's Eve as fireworks and sparkling wine.

If you fancy watching this timeless comedy through the haze of your own impending hangover this New Year's Eve then here's the full sketch in all its glory.



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