04/26/2011 03:38 PM

Behind the Scenes in Düsseldorf

Germany Preparing to Host Perfect Eurovision Song Contest


Germany is finalizing preparations to host its biggest show since the World Cup -- the Eurovision Song Contest, which is expected to attract 100 million TV viewers worldwide. Public broadcaster ARD wants to portray a new, confident Germany that's ready to have a good time. Will it live up to the 2006 event?

Thomas Schreiber, the program organizer of the Eurovision Song Contest for ARD, the German public TV network, is fielding a barrage of questions from a journalist. What is it going to be like for the viewers who still have old television sets without high definition or Dolby Digital? Will they all be able to hear everything? Even the bass in the background of the Belarusian entry?

Schreiber looks at the reporter and asks: "You mean cathode-ray tube televisions?"

Exactly, the journalists says. "Were those viewers thought of as well?"

"The background bass in the Belarusian entry?" Schreiber asks again. He apparently wants to be sure that the question was asked in seriousness.

"Yes, the bass," the journalist says. "Will viewers be able to hear it well on older televisions?"

For the past half hour, Schreiber has been showing reporters around the venue of what will be the biggest TV show on the planet. Since last spring, after a little-known 18-year-old German schoolgirl called Lena Meyer-Landrut won the 2010 contest, Schreiber has been working almost non-stop to prepare the event. He is showing journalists and camera teams around the Düsseldorf Arena, a 55,000-seat stadium which usually plays host to second-division soccer club Fortuna Düsseldorf.

Germany Was Easier to Understand

It's no easy task that Schreiber has undertaken. Germany will host the song contest for the first time in 28 years during the second week of May. The last time it did so, in 1983 in Munich, Helmut Kohl had just been become chancellor of West Germany, and the country's image was somehow easier to grasp.

At the time, the show organizers were, like Germans themselves, cautious and a little insecure. They opted for a steel stage design and chose cabaret dancer Marlène Charell as the presenter. She was pretty, danced well and could speak several languages. She was a little wooden, but her name sounded good. In those days, the Germans weren't especially casual, and -- unlike today -- they had no desire to be.

Behind Schreiber, workers are installing spotlights and cables, and forklift trucks are bringing in heavy stage equipment. Lighting, loudspeakers, generators, stages, video boards -- everything is going according to plan, says Schreiber.

Today's press event is intended to convey that Schreiber has everything under control. Germany won't be embarrassed when the final of the contest is broadcast on May 14.

Perfectly German

Germany will host the Eurovision Song Contest as successfully as it organized the 2006 World Cup, that's Schreiber's message. More than 100 million people are expected to watch the show.

Schreiber is asked again about analog televisions. He opens his mouth but closes it again and decides to answer diplomatically. "We will give every viewer the most optimal picture and sound possible, no matter what kind of television they have," he says.

He leads the group to a long, narrow row of white cabins. They're the participants' dressing rooms. They are small rooms, most of which are completely empty. "One of these will be Lena's," he says.

The photographers and cameramen crowd shoulder to shoulder in an empty dressing room. Schreiber is asked if Lena will get a couch in her dressing room. Schreiber says a couch wasn't intended, it would be too big for the room. It's another criticism he has to fend off.

Foreign Minister Guido Westerwelle has described Lena as "an ambassador for our country, who in a single night disproved so many long-standing prejudices." She's the epitome of a new, more easygoing Germany. Lena's concerts on her new tour aren't sold out and she hasn't been getting very good reviews, but that doesn't matter right now.

A Cosmopolitan Germany

Expectations are higher today than they were in 1983. Germany has to be technically perfect, but also cosmopolitan. Short films will introduce performances by each nation. Each one will be a little advertisement for Germany, depicting people from participating nations who now live here. They will include Austrian climbers who conquer German mountains, and an opera singer from Malta who lives in Frankfurt. The message will be that Germany is an open country where immigrants can feel at home.

Schreiber now leads the group out of the arena. Behind him are several television trucks, the press center, diesel power generators and mobile technical equipment. It's a more impressive sight than what's inside.

They've tried to prepare for all eventualities, even a massive power outage in Düsseldorf on the night. If that were to happen, the show would go on thanks to the generators, Schreiber says.

But someone has another question. It is perhaps very German, says a journalist, but in Japan it was also thought that the generators were safe and then there was a tsunami. Schreiber looks at him, turns and leads the group elsewhere.


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