News Digest Do Germans Like to Watch?
By David Hudson
Reality TV hits Germany in a big way with "Big Brother". Interior Minister Schily calls for a boycott. Also: The Holocaust "is all around us."
"The dignity of man is inviolable," reads the official translation of the first line of Article One of the German Constitution. According to Germany's interior minister, Otto Schily, a program premiering on Wednesday night on German television is a "massive violation" of this basic law. Joining Schily's call for a nationwide boycott of the show are Hesse's state premier Roland Koch, Thuringia's economics minister and former candidate for president Dagmar Schipanski and Bishop Hermann Josef Spital. Stefan Vesper, general secretary of the Central Committee of German Catholics, calls the show "a merciless attempt to cash in at the cost of human beings."
The fuss is about the ominously named "Big Brother", the latest, one of the most expensive and surely not the last program in the ongoing series of experiments in reality television. On Monday night, ten silver limousines escorted by a police motorcade, drove five men and five women to an enclosed 153 square meter "living container" near Cologne outfitted with 28 cameras and 47 microphones, all strategically placed to record their every move, 24 hours a day, 100 days in a row.
Obvious precursors are MTV's "The Real World" and "An American Family" in 1973. German programmers for Premiere first flirted with the format in 1994 by adapting the MTV model for "Das wahre Leben" ("Real Life"). Back then, three women and four men shared an apartment in Berlin. But they weren't competing. "Big Brother's" candidates are.
Those who missed the introductions to the ten candidates in the German tabloids will get their chance on Wednesday evening to get to know them as they get to know each other. Candidates viewers don't like will get voted out. That's the object of the game. The last candidate standing wins 250,000 marks (about $125,000).
The show proved to be tremendously popular in The Netherlands, turning Bart, the winner, into an instant celebrity. Will it work in Germany? RTL2, the station that has promoted the show intensively over the past few weeks with the slogan "You are not alone" popping up on billboards, in newspapers and magazines and in bizarrely threatening TV spots, certainly hopes so. The gamble is a relatively safe one. Even films critical of reality television, such as "Ed TV" and "The Truman Show", take as their basic premise that most people can't resist watching other "real" people, especially if their shows snowball into required viewing for the next day's chat around the watercooler.
There's less at stake for Endemol, the production company, than for RTL2, a relatively minor sister station in Europe's successful privately owned RTL network. Endemol is already preparing versions of "Big Brother" for CBS in the US, for England and Portugal. Even if German viewers side with their interior minister and religious leaders and opt out of the voyeurism marathon, Endemol, which made its first big splash in Germany with a program that had couples competing for the chance to get married on television, will not only have its international options open, it will return with "The Bus" - which it claims is going to be a lot rougher. On participants or viewers, Endemol hasn't yet said.
Germany and Europe on the Web today:
"She's sitting on this couch or chair and reading her favorite book, Goethe or Bret Easton Ellis' American Psycho, and she is wearing her favorite T-shirt. Then you can click on any of those things and it says, 'Add to shopping cart.'" For "Wired News", Steve Kettmann talks to the developer of "Big Brother's" flashy Web site, Robert Erb, project manager for Munich-based Aigner Media and Entertainment. Also: Kettmann and Ayla Jean Yackley both talk to CeBIT visitors overwhelmed by the world's largest tech fair in Hanover.
Kio Stark's excellent history of reality programming in "Feed".
"It is 60 years away, but feels closer than ever. The Holocaust is on the front page, at the cinema and in the bookshop. It busies governments and divides nations. It is all around us." And so it is, as we'll see in the next several pointers. In the "Guardian", Jonathan Feedland asks, "why is this happening - and can it be good for us?"
Adolf Eichmann, whom the "Guardian" calls "the architect of the Holocaust," wrote a 1,300-page memoir as he awaited sentencing for crimes against humanity in an Israeli court in 1962. Lawyers for Deborah Lipstadt, author of Denying the Holocaust: The Growing Assault on Truth and Memory, and her publisher, Penguin Books, requested that the manuscript, kept locked away for nearly 40 years, be released so that they might use it in their defense in the libel case brought by controversial British historian David Irving. The Israeli Justice Ministry agreed. Suzanne Goldenberg describes the look and feel - and the contents - of Eichmann's memoir. Also: Excerpts, a chronology of Eichmann's life, and David Cesarani on why we might not learn much of anything new from the memoir.
"The abduction, trial and execution of Adolf Eichmann was the most sensational chapter in one of the most dramatic news stories of the 20th century... His case was the first time since the Nuremberg tribunal in 1946 that the world's attention was focused on what then became known as the Holocaust." Daniel Johnson, who also reviews Diary of a Man in Despair by Friedrich Reck-Malleczewen, in the "Telegraph". Also: Alan Philips on the release of the document and links to Eichmann-related resources on the Web.
One of the most valuable of these is surely The Nizkor Project, collecting documentation on all aspects of the Holocaust.
More on the significance of the Eichmann trial from Eric Silver in the "Independent": "In his dock, a bullet-proof glass box, he personified what the political philosopher, Hannah Arendt, branded in her book Eichmann in Jerusalem as the 'banality of evil'." Phil Reeves on the manuscript. And more from Joel Greenberg in the "New York Times" and Lee Hockstader in the "Washington Post".
The "Times" of London runs excerpts accompanied by photos.
Heather World in "Salon" on the David Irving trial.
"How has [the Holocaust] become both the object of official homage and a shorthand for atrocity? And what are the sources of the American fascination with this essentially European tragedy? These are some of the questions Peter Novick raises, and controversially answers, in his important new book, The Holocaust in American Life." For the "New York Review of Books", Eva Hoffman examines the issues raised by the book to be released next week in Britain as The Holocaust and Collective Memory .
"Studying the Holocaust... enabled us to spot the danger in Jörg Haider," writes Freedland in the first pointer. On Monday night, Haider resigned as head of Austria's far-right Freedom Party. But as Roger Boyes writes in the "Times", "Haider is preparing a more forceful assault." He wants to be chancellor. Boyes also profiles new Freedom Party leader Susi Riess-Passer, "whose charm can be judged from her nickname: 'Queen Cobra'." Martin Fletcher reports that the world is not impressed with Haider's "gesture", and what's more, "the international glitterati" are boycotting the 123-year-old Vienna Opera Ball.
In a lead editorial, the "Guardian" concurs with the EU: The resignation of "Austria's most notorious non-Nazi" and the retreat to the governorship of the province of Carinthia "is all window-dressing and Tyrolean fairy-lights." Also: Geoffrey Wheatcroft goes in search of the man behind the commotion: "Jörg Haider isn't Adolf Hitler's heir, he is Karl Lueger's."
Riess-Passer "is the closest thing to a Jörg Haider puppet that could be found," write Toby Helm and Michael Leidig in the "Telegraph". Also: Austrian travel agents may sue foreign companies calling for a tourism boycott and Norman Lebrecht on Haider's impact on the Salzburg Festival.
"The Austrian Freedom Party is part of a larger pattern of far-right populism that is gathering strength across Europe," warns Christopher Caldwell in "Atlantic Unbound".
Magali Perrault examines "The Other Austria", the one opposed to Haider, in the "Central Europe Review".
350 paintings in Britain's national collections may have been stolen from their original owners by the Nazis. Dalya Alberge reports in the "Times". Also: An editorial on the difficulty of identifying looted art. Sarah Lyall's story for the "New York Times" is accompanied by seven photos of paintings in question.
"'Deutsche Bank is a lot like Germany,' said an executive at one of its rivals in investment banking. 'It moves slowly for a long time, but when it does decide to change, it moves incredibly quickly.'" Edmund L. Andrews in the "NYT" on how one of the world's biggest banks is straining to modernize itself.
The standoff between the US and Europe over who should succeed Michel Camdessus as head of the International Monetary Fund is intensifying. US President Bill Clinton called Chancellor Schröder to tell him the US would not be supporting Germany's - and Europe's - candidate, Caio Koch-Weser. Joseph Kahn reports in the "NYT" and economist Paul Krugman explains: "To appreciate why the Americans decided to be so ugly, you need to understand that the head of the IMF is one of the most crucial economic officials in the world."
The "European Tech Tour" hit Munich and Berlin in mid-February. Bruno Giussani reports in the "Industry Standard": "Nine out of ten companies in the German Tour said they plan to make public offerings soon. Then again, maybe they won't." Also: Timothy Weeks on Germany's shaky online brokers.
"Friedrich Merz was elected chairman of the parliamentary group of Germany's opposition Christian Democratic Union and Christian Social Union parties on Tuesday, replacing Wolfgang Schäuble, who resigned because of the illicit financing scandal that has battered the party." A report from the "International Herald Tribune".
An editorial in the "Times" of London comes this close to endorsing Angela Merkel as the next CDU party chairman.
Chancellor Schröder warns the CDU not to "lurch to the right," reports Toby Helm in the "Telegraph".
Germany has been shaken by the deaths of two women driving along an autobahn near Darmstadt. Three US teenagers had been hurling rocks from an overpass. Now, murder charges are likely to be brought against them, reports Carol Williams in the "Washington Post". Also: Frank Höfling, Moscow bureau chief for the brand new German all-news station N24, has been fired for claiming to have discovered and videotaped a mass grave in Chechnya. He didn't. The footage that caused an international uproar was pieced together from material Höfling bought from another journalist.
Munich-based EM.TV & Merchandising, Europe's largest distributor of children's TV programming, now owns the Muppets. Karen Lowry Miller in "Newsweek" on how that happened.
On February 27, 1920, "The Cabinet of Dr. Caligari" was shown for the first time in Berlin. Ron Wells celebrates the film's 80th birthday with a primer in "Film Threat" on German Expressionist cinema: "'Caligari' is considered the first real horror film and claims bragging rights for such now common elements as menacing shadows, zombies, the unconscious maiden carried off by the monster, and the stupid white guy who inadvertently volunteers to die first."
Elke de Wit in the "Central Europe Review" on Maren-Kea Freese's film "Zoe": "Freese was one of only three female directors of 24 whose films were shown at the Berlin Film Festival under the Neue Deutsche Filme (New German Films) section."
"Spiritually, it was as if the new Germany had united less with itself than with Planet Hollywood," writes J. Hoberman of the festival in the "Village Voice".
Catch up on last month's Berlinale with SPIEGEL ONLINE's special coverage in English.
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