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CULTURE

How to make the most of German culture while social distancing

If you are craving some German art, music, language learning or sport, we've compiled a list of activities you can do from the comfort of your own home during this period of social distancing.

How to make the most of German culture while social distancing
There's lots you can watch or do from the comfort of your sofa. File photo: DPA

Germany has introduced strict 'no contact' measures aimed at stalling the spread of coronavirus.

Since that means we are all now spending more time indoors as we socially distance ourselves, it's more important than ever to take care of our minds as well as our bodies,

So what better time to soak up some Deutsche Kultur (German culture)? Luckily, there are numerous opportunities for experiencing this from your own room.

Here's a few things to try:

READ ALSO: You are not alone – living abroad in the time of corona.

Watching German Film and Television Classics 

When you exhaust all that TV streaming websites have to offer, the German film industry has a pretty expansive list of award winning movies to explore.

For example, ‘Das Boot’ (The Boat) is a 1981 WW2 film that follows a German U-Boat and its crew still holds the most Oscar nominations ever for a German film – receiving 6 Academy Award nominations, including Best Director.

For a more light hearted watch, ‘Good bye, Lenin!’ – released in 2003 – has a surprising comical standpoint considering it tells the story of a family in East Berlin between 1989 and 1990.

For more inspiration, you can check out our list of ‘10 epic German movies that you have to watch’.

 

There is also an array of German TV shows that you could really get into, seeing as day-to-day some of us might find ourselves with some extra time on our hands.

Alongside some cult classic films, you can find some of our favourite television programmes in our ‘Ten Top films and TV shows to discover Germany from your couch.

Watching Live Streams

Tip Berlin has put together a comprehensive list of all the live streams occurring across Berlin during this period. The live streams range from opera, to clubbing, to comedy and theatre – there really is something for everyone. You can find this list here

One particularly popular live stream movement gaining a lot of attention is  #Unitedwestream. It's a movement and hashtag adopted by many of Berlin’s clubs, who are continuing to live stream events with DJs playing to empty dance floors amidst the coronavirus crisis.

Berlin clubs have been particularly hard hit by the pandemic, as social distancing paralyses all operations. However, live streaming platforms provide an opportunity for the clubbing culture to continue for now in this uncharted digital space.

Exhibitions, festivals, films and publications are also being live streamed. Berlin Art Link substituted their weekly round-up of events for a piece detailing all the events which are available online, which can be found here. They will be continuously updating the piece throughout this period.

The basketball team ALBA Berlin, are providing live stream lessons which aim to bring exercise and movement to children and young people daily. “ALBA’s Sports Lesson” can be completed within the four walls of your own home, with a varied program such as fitness, coordination and yoga, in addition to various challenges to try. 

After the live stream, all the videos are then available on their YouTube channel.

Check out Library Websites

It is worth checking both your local and regional library portals to see what elements of their sites are free of use; many have even extended such usage to content that was previously behind a paywall.

You can borrow courses, books, films and music from many libraries using the online loan services across Germany.

For example, the ZLB Berlin is tweeting with the hashtag #closedbutopen, as they are promoting the vast number of e-resources that they have available. 

Düsseldorf City Libraries also have an online library with many e-books and online offers.

Additionally, Hamburg's electronic library service eBücherhallen currently offers close to 9,000 pieces of literature in nine different languages as eBooks and audiobooks. You can check out their website to explore these resources here.

Reading German Classics

Just because the libraries are physically closed, it does not mean you cannot indulge in reading some German classics such as Die Blechtrommel (The Tin Drum), Die Verwandlung (Metamorphosis) and Im Westen Nich Neues (All Quiet on the Western Front) are all world renowned classics and can easily be ordered online.

For a longer list of books, we published an article a few months ago featuring our 10 must read German books.

Learning German

Finally, many expats move to Germany full of the motivation that they will ‘learn the lingo’ but for many this dream quickly fades usually due to a myriad of different life factors that come with moving to a new country; learning German tends to take a back seat. 

READ ALSO: How I stopped worrying and learned German in 6 months

If that sounds like a familiar tale then perhaps now is your chance to dedicate that extra hour you are saving from not commuting, to learning the native tongue.

Language learning website Chatterbug is offering free German lessons every weekday at 5pm in a bid to give language learners a chance to connect with other people and brush up on their skills.

To register and take part, students should enter their name, location and email address at Chatterbug Live.

Recently, language app and online site Babbel have been promoting a limited time offer for students of one month subscription for free. The app has been hailed as one of the best language learning platforms due to their multi-angled approach.

Online language learning site Lingoda recently launched their #StayHomeKeepLearning initiative, which is designed to provide digital resources to offline institutions on both a nationwide and global scale.

Lingoda is offering these institutions free access to all of its online learning resources and full assistance in setting up online classes, in addition to a range of masterclasses and guides in English and German on running online classes successfully. Its regular live classes are also open for a small fee to all language learners, level A1-C2.

If your German is already at a relatively high conversational level, then there are also opportunities to speak with native speakers, through sites such as Preply and various Facebook groups.

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OPINION & ANALYISIS

What’s behind Germany’s obsession with roundtable politics talk shows?

Forget the Bundestag. If you want to understand German politics - and see how lively it can really be - turn on your (almost nightly) talk show.

What's behind Germany's obsession with roundtable politics talk shows?

It may well be one of the most German things imaginable – a roundtable discussion designed to give a fair amount of time to a wide range of viewpoints before (maybe) achieving some sort of consensus.

Failing that, viewers – theoretically anyway – walk away better informed and open to changing some of their opinions after a, again theoretically, respectful discussion.

Welcome to the German political talk show circuit – a collection of moderated roundtable discussions.

Whether its Anne Will on Sunday nights, “Hart aber fair” or “tough but fair” on Mondays, or Maybrit Illner on Thursdays and Markus Lanz on Tuesdays, Wednesdays, and Thursdays – you can tune into several political panels a week if you fancy.

If you have politically-minded German friends or co-workers, you might ask: “Did you watch Lanz last night?” Anecdotally, at least as many people who watch will have strong opinions about why they don’t.

Ukrainian Ambassador Andriy Melnyk makes a video appearance (left video) on the Markus Lanz show on 10 March 2022. Photo: picture alliance/dpa/ZDF | Cornelia Lehmann

“Lanz is a disgrace!” and “I don’t watch Anne Will out of principle!” are both phrases I’ve heard myself more than a few times over the years.

But if you are a fan and you miss an episode, don’t worry – many news outlets will run summaries of what happened during said roundtable the next morning.

“Newspapers regularly publish these recaps almost as if they were relevant parliamentary meetings,” says Peter Littger, a columnist on language and culture in Germany. “It’s super relevant politically. It can increase your voting base and certainly your book sales if you appear there.”

READ ALSO: Tatort to Temptation Island: What do Germans like to watch on TV?

‘Consensus-oriented political culture’

If the nationally-focused ones aren’t enough for you, there’s a good chance you can find a show on a regional broadcaster focusing on issues in your federal state, again in – you guessed it – roundtable format.

As you might have gathered, the show’s name is often the same as its host, who functions first and foremost as a moderator there to facilitate and mediate a discussion between guests who are chosen specifically to balance a panel.

For a discussion on Ukraine, for example, you’ll regularly have people from every political party, from ministers and high-ranking parliamentarians who chair important Bundestag committees to pro-Russian voices from the German Left Party and far-right Alternative for Germany (AfD).

And no one is too high-ranking not to make at least the occasional appearance. Chancellor Olaf Scholz himself joined a Maybrit Illner roundtable on July 7th this year.

German Chancellor Olaf Scholz appears on the Maybrit Illner show on 7 July 2022. Photo: picture alliance/dpa/ZDF | Svea Pietschmann

Both European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen and Ukrainian Foreign Minister Dmytro Kuleba have also made appearances on Anne Will this year.

In characteristically German fashion, state broadcasters have extensive written regulations to ensure a panel also has a balance of people from relevant expert disciplines. For instance, a coronavirus panel may well feature a notable doctor alongside a civil liberties lawyer.

“Germany has a more consensus-oriented political culture than you might see in a country like the UK, for example, which is more confrontational and even adversarial,” says Sebastian Ludwicki-Ziegler a PhD researcher at the University of Stirling’s Department of Communications, Media, and Culture.

“You’ll still get some invited guests who are very contrarian and even aggressive – like Thilo Sarrazin (a former politician who wrote a controversial book in 2010 about Muslim immigration to Germany) for example. But even then, the moderator often tries to maintain a softer, more civil tone.”

Ludwicki-Ziegler says that while the roundtable format reflects German political culture, it also reflects its institutional setup. A show producer can simply get more obvious ranges of political opinion in a country with Germany’s proportional representation, which has seven parties in parliament.

Historic roundtables

Unlike the often subdued German Bundestag though, German talk shows can certainly get lively, or even historic.

Perhaps the most notable TV roundtable happened right after the 2005 federal election. With then incumbent Social Democrat Gerhard Schröder having finished only one percent behind Christian Democrat Angela Merkel when all the votes were counted, party leaders gathered in the traditional “Elefantenrunde,” or yes, the “Elephant’s round,” to discuss the results.

READ ALSO: Talking elephants and grumpy politicians: Four things that will happen after the German elections

With the final election result having been so close, observers still discuss whether Schröder lost his chancellorship at the ballot box or during the 2005 Elefantenrunde. In contrast to a calm Merkel, Schröder insisted he would stay on as Chancellor.

Brash and arrogant, some observers have asked whether he was drunk at the time. German media outlets ran anniversary pieces looking back at his disastrous roundtable performance 5, 10, and 15 years later. One such anniversary piece from 2020 called the roundtable “Schröder’s embarrassing end.”

The 2005 post-election roundtable, or “Elefantenrunde,” is considered by many German political observers to be the disastrous end to former Chancellor Gerhard Schröder;s political career. Photo: picture alliance / dpa | ZDF/Jürgen_Detmers

Mastering the roundtable appearance is a big plus for a German politician, or anyone else looking to move the needle of German public opinion.

Satisfying a particularly German impulse, you can certainly also walk away feeling like you’ve considered all sides. But are there drawbacks?

On 8 May 2022’s edition of Anne Will, social psychologist Harald Welzer appeared to lecture Ukrainian Ambassador Andriy Melnyk that 45 percent of Germans were against delivering heavy weapons to Ukraine because of German war history. Many observers criticised Welzer for patronising the Ambassador of a country at war about the need to have weapons for its own self-defense.

The exchange, and a fair few others, lead some experts to wonder whether the roundtable format so many German political talk shows seem to love gives too big a platform to pro-Russian voices or to controversial writers like the aforementioned Thilo Sarrazin.

“If we take Germany and Ukraine as one example, you can get some great guests who come on and really set things straight with facts, data, and plain talk,” says Benjamin Tallis, a Fellow in German Security Policy at the German Council on Foreign Relations.

“But you can get false balance. You’ll get people on with rather fringe opinions given a platform against people who have a lot more experience and evidence. That’s true in a lot of places now, sure, but this talk show format really lends itself to that because of the amount of guests you need on a nightly basis,” says Tallis.

“Unfortunately in Germany, many guests are invited on based on their opinions about an issue rather than the level of their expertise, in order to try and achieve balance,” says Minna Alander, a specialist in German foreign policy who recently joined the Finnish Institute of International Affairs after more than a decade working in Berlin.

“When you start equating opinion with knowledge, it makes it way more difficult to have a fact-based debate. On matters of life and death, like in Ukraine, that can have a polarising effect.”

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