Don’t Fräulein me!

mdchen und bursche auf feldweg laufend I

Recently, I watched Season 5 of Homeland. (In British English, it used to be “Series 5” – and while people still say this, the American version of Staffel is slowly taking over.) This latest series of Homeland (and in my personal view best one yet) being based in Berlin, I was flummoxed by a few rather striking blunders. Here’s what Homeland doesn’t get quite right about Germany. (Spoiler alert!)

  1. We don’t use Fräulein At all.

Contrary to what American film and TV productions would like the world to think – because it sounds so neat and German or for whatever other reason – in the German language we no longer distinguish between a married and an unmarried woman. Since the 1980s, we have been using “Frau” to address any female person over 16 years of age. (For more details, please read “You can say you to me”.) No exceptions. Fräulein, which Carrie uses referring to her daughter’s teacher, sounds very wrong!

  1. Doctor-patient privilege applies to gunshot wounds as well.

Interestingly, in the extras on the Homeland DVD (yes, my name is Sarah and I’m not a digital native, and I still watch DVDs – Hello Sarah!) the producers say they chose Germany as a setting for their plot specifically for its strict privacy laws. Yet they ignore one of the central privacy laws in Germany which says that it is not only not obligatory but even prosecutable for a doctor to report a gunshot wound. So it is simply unthinkable that a former intelligence officer (Peter Quinn) who knows any country he is in like the back of his hand would refuse medical treatment in Germany if he is shot.

  1. The BND does not have its own police force.

Unlike the CIA, the German intelligence service BND (Bundesnachrichtendienst) has no police force of its own. The national police forces are the Bundespolizei (Federal Police), the Bundeskriminalamt (the Federal Criminal Police Office, where I happen to have worked as a translator at the beginning of my career) and the Polizei beim Bundestag (German Parliament Police).

  1. German legal proceedings do not include video-taping or depositions.

As an interpreter working in patent law, I found this slip quite interesting, especially as I often interpret during depositions, even depositions held on German soil – but they are never part of German proceedings. Also, at no point during German legal proceedings are testimonies or any kinds of statements recorded live, ie on audio or audiovisual media (with possible exceptions when children are heard as witnesses). Usually, we do not even have word-for-word transcripts – these can only be requested in court as an exception.

So despite the fact that the Homeland crew apparently gets high-ranking (former) intelligence-service experts to sit around a table to bounce ideas off them while not thinking to find a person who has lived in Germany in the past decade to double-check basic facts that, if got right, would lend the programme more credence (thanks for staying tuned to the end of this monster subclause) I still consider this latest Homeland series the most exquisite one yet. The plot is just so well-written and the characters are superbly played. Turn a blind eye to some basics, and you will have a nail-biting ball!

More food for series junkies coming soon …

The Pommes Buddha says: No, we don’t all wear lederhosen, thank you very much!

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Magnum in distress

Microphone And Singer

As most of you know, in Germany films are dubbed (see “An mein Ohr kommt nur Wasser und O-Ton”). So on TV and in most cinemas, Daniel Craig and Jennifer Lawrence speak German while their lips form English words. But of course, this being Germany, voice-overs are not services purchased randomly for each film project. No, there is method in this madness. Read on and see for yourself what this entails and why Herr Lehmann is not just a good book.

Each popular American and English actress has her very own German voice, i.e. she is usually dubbed by one and the same voice-over artist in whatever film or series she stars. Voice-over artists may have several actors, but each actor generally has one voice-over artist and thus a recognisable German voice.

Consequently, Germans, unless they are either proper cinema aficionados or interpreters and watch every film in its original version, would never recognise, say, Sean Connery by his real voice.

On the other hand, who’d expect that the unsuspicious-sounding name Manfred Lehmann belongs to the German voice of not only Bruce Willis but also Dolph Lundgren, Gérard Depardieu and Kurt Russell, among others?

As for animated films, the UK, in its own productions, and Germany both make it a crucial part of a film’s PR to use famous actresses and actors for voice-over. For example, the little snowman Olaf in Frozen is spoken by German ‘household-name’ comedian Hape Kerkeling. And UK-produced films such as Arthur Christmas or Flushed Away feature celebs such as Hugh Laurie, James McAvoy, Hugh Jackman and Kate Winslet.

Sometimes, well-known voices can play tricks on you. Do you remember the American TV series Magnum, P.I.? A friend of mine knows a guy who works as a handyman for a film production company. One day, that guy comes home to find an answerphone message by Tom Selleck’s German voice saying, “Hey, Andreas, I have some computer trouble. Could you please give me a ring”? How cool must this Andreas be if Magnum calls him for help!

So voices can definitely leave quite an impression. As an interpreter, I’m very aware of that. Try my podcast to see if you like this text being read to you.

And now get in gear for next week’s road trip.

The Pommes Buddha says: The name is Bond. James Bond.

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The Crime Scene

Fadenkreuz

Have you ever asked a German what she does on Sunday night? Try it! A great deal of my fellow countrypeople will say, ‘Sunday night is Tatort night!’ You (and many Germans) may think of it what you will, but you can’t begin to grasp the German psyche without investigating (pun intended) the Tatort (= crime scene) phenomenon. Let’s embark on a somewhat bumpy journey through German television history.

It’s a mystery: along with Dinner for one, Tatort is one of the shows with the highest TV ratings ever, yet many Germans will admit that they don’t actually enjoy watching it all that much. We just grew up with it.

The first Tatort was broadcasted in 1970. The thing that strikes the unsuspecting viewer is that the opening sequence and music have never been changed. You’ll think you’re stuck in a time warp. It’s like Point Pleasant Police Department, only for real. At least the episodes are recent. The concept is based on twenty-odd changing locations around Germany, and sometimes Austria and Switzerland, with the investigation team in each town or city remaining the same. Each 90-minute episode is thus a separate, self-sufficient unit.

Tatort is often criticised for being overly serious and socio-critical and accused of delivering Betroffenheitsfernsehen. Some viewers miss the light-heartedness and tranquility of Cornwall-set British crime series or the tech-savviness and action of the average US series. However, everyone has one or two favourite Tatorte. The witty Tatort Münster, for example, has evolved into something like a cult, with a rating of just short of 13 million and an expansive following, including a number of fan-fiction writers. One of my personal favourites (although I truly rarely ever watch it at all) is the new Tatort Saarbrücken with the divine Devid Striesow. And, historically, one must mention the roughneck Kommissar Schimanski, played by Götz George, who has gone down in TV history.

As it is so controversial, Tatort is ridiculed, worshipped and modified in many ways (just search on YouTube). Some Germans claim they only watch Tatort to follow the simultaneous live tweets online because it is so much fun making fun of it. And German comedian Michael Kessler calls it Tatort-Terror.

The bottom line is: you have to watch at least three different Tatorte before you’re entitled to dismiss the show. And if you don’t get it, you’ve at least learned that German TV is … different.

Let’s hear about how guys (and some girls) make a difference next week.

The Pommes Buddha says: Murder is the best medicine.

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