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Primetime in East Germany

November 14, 2014

This month marks the 25th anniversary of the fall of the Berlin Wall, which was a major step towards the eventual reunification of Germany in 1990. These landmark events helped make life (and TV) a lot better for half of the country. Here are a few East German TV shows from behind the Iron Curtain.

East German TV ShowsDer Schwarze Kanal

Government officials in East Germany hated that many TV stations from West Germany could be viewed by their citizens. Over the years, they employed a variety of methods to discourage or prevent these “subversive” western broadcasts from being viewed across the border. They considered jamming the airwaves and even encouraged members of the country’s youth movement to damage any TV antennas they spotted pointing west. When their various schemes proved ineffective, the government debuted Der Schwarze Kanal (“The Black Channel”) in 1961. This weekly propaganda program typically consisted of western broadcasts re-edited with Communist commentary by host Karl-Eduard von Schnitzler. Der Schwarze Kanal was incredibly unpopular and a widely circulated urban myth claimed that a power surge was once caused by a bunch of East Germans all turning off their TV sets one night as the show began. Nevertheless, it stayed on the air for over 30 years. Der Schwarze Kanal’s last episode was broadcast mere days before the fall of the Berlin Wall.

Unser Sandmännchen

Every night at 6:50, this children’s show aired on one of East Germany’s state-run television stations. Hosted by an adorable stop-motion puppet named Sandmännchen (“The Little Sandman”), an average episode ran about 10 minutes and featured a family-friendly story. Afterward, Sandmännchen would wish all the kids at home “good night” and urge them to go to bed….even though it was barely 7 p.m. The character was beloved by multiple generations of East Germans and aired for decades, even after the country’s reunification; there was even a Western German version of the show.

Ein Kessel Buntes

This somewhat strange variety program was broadcast from 1972 to 1992. Unlike many of East Germany’s TV shows, it was noted for its somewhat high production values. Among other things, it actually aired in color (the title means “A Kettle of Color” in English), in order to compete with similar shows drifting over from West Germany. The program was never as popular as its western competitors, but the show’s producers did manage to convince an up and coming Swedish band called ABBA to perform on a 1974 episode.


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