Deutschland Über Us

How’s it going over in the last bastion of liberal democracy?

Image: [martin]

Guten Tag, friends, and Willkommen to a thing in which I investigate everything that’s happening in and around the Federal Republic of Germany, where the Earth’s last remaining sentinel against widespread nuclear armageddon, Angela Merkel, offers us a full Pantone array of sensible suits, ruthless punctuality, and a foreign and domestic policy that made her a close ally of Barack Obama, but unapologetically “center-right” in a political landscape that also includes the Pirate Party.

We Americans might feel a a whiff of Gewissensbiß, as Nietzsche would say (the “bite of conscience”), that Germans of all people get to lord their comparatively progressive, inclusive worldview over us for the next possibly-four years. After all, how bad did it have to get for the Volk who brought us the Holocaust to feel fully justified in putting this bad boy on the cover of Der Spiegel?

Oof.

Der Spiegel, by the way, means “the mirror,” as in, Germans are supposed to see themselves reflected in it — and what they see is a metric fuck-ton of superiority to the nation who, only a few decades ago, had to chop their best city into four pieces because they couldn’t even be trusted to do that themselves.

Yes, Germans must be feeling pretty good about themselves these days, because if there is one thing they love more than passive-aggressively ringing their bicycle bells at pedestrians, it’s being right all the time. That’s why last week’s mortifying moment at a Fed Cup tennis match — when a singer belted out the wrong version of the German national anthem, the Nazi version, the Deutschland über alles version, and not the current one, that begins Einigkeit und Recht und Freiheit, or “unity, justice and freedom”—is the best thing to happen to the Fatherland since Knight Rider started streaming.

Because suddenly they’re not the bad guys for having the Nazi anthem (and the Nazis) in the first place. No, we’re the doofuses who are so illiterate in other languages that we can’t Wikipedia Deutschlandlied, and apparently also (at least unconsciously) so insecure in the shadow of our own little Dorito Führer that we have to remind Germany what they did so that we won’t look so bad. (Hint: It didn’t work.)

Well, Germans, I’m here to take you down a Kerbe. We may have recently ruined our democracy (something you know nothing about), but you recently ruined the best thing about your television. Germans will attempt to tell you that the best show on German television is something called “Tatort (“Crime Scene,” literally “place of the deed”), a program that’s been running for 47 years, and is sort of “CSI” with bad lighting, dramatic pauses that are much too long, and intermittent nudity, that even the most cynical citizen of the Federal Republic will halt the entirety of his Sunday evening to watch.

(The Germans don’t seem to care what we do with “Tatort” here, so you can watch entire episodes on YouTube. Here’s one. It’s got at least one naked butt.)

Intermittent nudity!!!

Other Germans will attempt to tell you that they only watch American television, and this can mean one of two things: That they illegally stream our good shows in English, or that they watch our terrible shows dubbed. (Germans love “The King of Queens:” Fact.) But what only the most self-aware will admit is that the true treasures of the Teutonic Fernseher (literally, “far-seer,” as in, zis contreption lets you see ze sings zat are far away) are the scores of cheaply produced reality shows, which go by the most German word possible, by which I mean it is a compound of two English words used incorrectly: Doku-Soaps.

It’s not that our own docu-soaps aren’t ridiculous. Clearly they are. But every show in the U.S. at least has a gimmick to suck viewers in to the banality of its particular brand of evil: This family has twenty-five children! These people have been stranded on an island with only a television crew and plenty of food and water a slight distance away! These women all married rich guys at one point or another! These women are all little people — but they’re ALSO bitches! To be featured on American unscripted television, a person or situation must be extraordinary in some way, either enviable or pitiable.

In Germany, the more normal the situation, the more likely it is to be televised. I think the most popular reality show in the history of German television would be a crew filming a random 55-year-old couple while they go to the grocery store and complain to the cashier that the box of chocolate breakfast cereal they always get has decreased a gram in volume but increased three cents in price.

Case in point: An entire show called “Versicherungsdetektive (“Insurance Detectives”) that follows the exploits of two dudes who go around investigating the middling instances of fraud that may or may not occur when a nation insures every single possession it owns. In one episode, the Insurance Detectives ran an iPhone over with a car (and it was unscathed) just to prove that a guy lied when he claimed his grandmother dropped his and cracked the screen. (They eventually discovered that he’d whacked the screen with a hammer in order to get his insurance to pay for a new model.)

But even the Insurance Detectives pale in comparison to a series called mieten, kaufen, wohnen (rent, buy, live), which is sort of like our “HouseHunters,” except the properties are unremarkable three-room walk-ups, and every potential tenant, being German, is chronically unimpressed.

I subtitled this myself! And they say my doctorate in German would never come to any use.

It’s masterful. Or, at any rate, it was. I’m sorry to say that one month and three days before the election of Donald Trump, the show ended its eight-year-run in a shameful rubble-heap of its former might.

For reasons I cannot begin to fathom other than that apparently Germans enjoy ruining perfect things, in its later years the producers of mieten, kaufen, wohnen decided to add a level of intrigue by creating false conflicts between the Makler and the client. Aki is a vegan, but agent Peter loves to eat Hackfleisch, a.k.a. chopped up bits of raw meat spread onto bread that no German under the age of 112 eats in earnest. How’s that going to go?????? Unwatchably, like this scene with a schoolteacher made to wait for twos of minutes for a Makler named Hanka, who apologizes unconvincingly about traffic.

The “academic quarter hour” is a tradition in German-speaking countries where every university class begins 15 minutes late.

Mieten, kaufen, wohnen was once a nominally unwatchable show that I somehow couldn’t stop watching. In its new incarnation, both the agents and the potential clients—nary a professional or even amateur actor among them—spent the episodes playing out scripted conflicts.

The unbridled genius of mieten, kaufen, wohnen was that it took the German propensity for literalism to its most delightful apex, and made a reality television show that actually depicted reality — which, being reality, is unremarkable. And now it’s destroyed. Nice job, Germans. (Note: For any Germans out there, I do not mean “nice job” literally. I am being sarcastic. That is when you say a thing that is the opposite of what you mean in a mocking voice. It’s a form of something called “humor.”)

The good news, I suppose, is that this means the Germans aren’t kicking our asses at everything nonstop. Sure, they still have a functioning democracy for now. But the shame of what they did to the best show on their television will outlive them all.