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CULTURE

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

There's nothing quite like getting a glimpse into the nation's TV habits to help you understand what makes them tick. Here's what Germans like to tune in to.

Tatort to Temptation Island: What do Germans like to watch on TV?
The presenters of the RTL jungle camp, Daniel Hartwich and Sonja Zietlow. Photo: picture alliance/dpa | Stefan Gregorowius

Crime shows

Germans are big fans of crime dramas and millions of viewers regularly tune in to shows like der Staatsanwalt (the Attorney General) on ZDF and Alarm für Cobra a long-running series about a two-man team of motorway police on RTL.

By far and away the most popular crime show, however, is Tatort. The show – meaning “Crime Scene” is a runaway hit and regularly tops the country’s viewing figures. 

One of Tatort’s most popular characters – Commissioner Frank Thiel (Axel Prahl). Photo: picture-alliance/ obs | Ndr_Wdr_Michael_Böhme

The show is a crime investigation series that has been running on ARD’s Das Erste channel for over 50 years – since 1970 – and has since become a cultural phenomenon. Many bars and venues host special Tatort screenings when the show airs on Sunday evenings at 8.15pm.

READ ALSO: Why you should watch German TV on a Sunday evening

Celebrity reality shows

Renata Lusin and Christian Polanc dance on the RTL dance show “Let’s Dance Profi Challenge”. Photo: picture alliance/dpa | Henning Kaiser

When you’re queuing at your local supermarket you may notice the shiny celebrity magazines boasting scandalous stories about people you’ve never heard of.

READ ALSO: Quiz: How well do you know German TV culture?

That’s because, much like the Brits and Americans, the Germans love their celebrities and this is a fact that quickly becomes clear when flicking through the German TV channels.

Germany has its own version of Celebrity Big Brother, and according to Welt, RTL’s Ich bin ein Star – holt mich hier raus! (the German version of “I’m a Celebrity, Get Me Out of Here”) is the fifth most popular show on TV.

RTL’s dance show “Let’s Dance,” which sees celebrities compete on the dance floor, is also very popular with German viewers.

Football 

It’s no secret that football is a big deal in Germany – and this is a fact which is strongly reflected in the viewing figures. 

Football is big business too – the sale of TV broadcasting rights for the forthcoming Bundesliga season is expected to exceed €1 billion. 

The pitch before the World Cup Qualification Europe, Romania v Germany, Romania 2021. Photo: picture alliance/dpa | Stefan Constantin

But it’s not just their local teams that Germans like to watch on TV – with four World Cups and three European Championships to their name, the German national team always draws a lot of viewers. 

More than 27 million people tuned in to see Germany play England in the Quarter final of the European Championship in 2021 – and it was the most viewed programme that year. 

The final of the Women’s European Championship also brought ARD a record audience rating this year – with nearly 18 million viewers watching the German team’s defeat on TV.

Game shows

Germans, it seems, enjoy a competitive element to their entertainment. Quiz shows are very popular, and the German version of “Who wants to be a millionaire?” (Wer wird Millionär), for example, has been bringing in large audiences since 1999. 

But no article about German TV shows would be complete without mentioning the nation’s favourite: Wetten, dass…(bet that). 

The show “Wetten, dass” and its most beloved host, Thomas Gottschalk. Photo: picture alliance/dpa | Daniel Karmann

The game show, which includes celebrity guests, involves contestants betting on whether or not challengers can perform a particular – usually very difficult – task. The show, which has been running since 1981, airs on Saturday evenings and regularly tops viewing figures.

Some notable tasks that have been performed over the years include parking an 8.8-ton truck on four beer glasses, removal men building a pyramid of 55 washing machines within five minutes, and a dog able to remember 77 words. 

The News

Presenter Linda Zervakis on the ARD news programme “Taggeschau”. Photo: picture alliance/dpa/ARD |

Germans like to be kept well informed and ARD’s Tagesschau is one of the most consistently successful news programmes. The 8pm main edition of Taggesschau appeals to a wide range of age groups and is regularly watched by at least 11 million viewers. 

Dating shows

Farmer Herbert Niehus and his wife Karin Niehus standing who met on the tv show “Bauer sucht Frau”. Photo: picture-alliance/ dpa | Rtl/Menne

German TV is also not short of dating shows.

One show that shows Germany’s, erm, not-so-progressive side is the dating show Bauer Sucht Frau, (Farmer Wants a Wife) in which farmers from all over Germany search for love.The show is one of the most popular and long-running German reality TV shows, and has been shown on RTL since 2005.

READ ALSO: OPINION: Germany, we need to talk about sexism

Another reality dating show, which has sparked a lot of controversy, is the show Milf oder Missy (Milf or Missy) on streaming channel Joyn. The show pits a group of seven “Missies” (young women) against a group of seven “Milfs” (best you look that one up for yourselves) in a battle to win the heart of one of the two men – a “Senior” and a “Junior”. 

There is a host of imported dating shows on German TV too which are particularly popular with younger viewers. These include “Temptation Island”, “First Dates” and “Love Island”.

READ ALSO: Love Island: The unlikely tool that helped me learn German

Cooking shows

Though Germany may not be famous for having the best cuisine in the world, Germans enjoy watching people cook.

Star chef Steffen Henssler poses in Cologne before the taping of the cooking show “Grill den Henssler”. Photo: picture alliance / dpa | Henning Kaiser

Favourites include Das perfekte Dinner (“the perfect dinner” – similar to the British show “Come dine with me”), the prominent chef battle Grill den Henssler (“grill Henssler”) and die Küchenschlacht (“kitchen battle”) which is similar in format to the MasterChef series.

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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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