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Culture

Big-Time Politics Hits the Small Screen

This week, German public television launched a new 12-part series set in the chancellor's office. "Kanzleramt" gives viewers a glimpse inside the world of Berlin's political movers and shakers. But is it entertaining?

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Germany's fictional chancellor (left) with his closest advisor

German television is certainly not lacking in series on the lives of all sorts of people and their professions. Teachers, doctors, preachers, lawyers and policemen are pretty much taken care of. But little is known about the behavior of politicians when they’re out of the public eye.

This is where the new ZDF series "Kanzleramt" is supposed to come in. Storyboard author Hans-Christian Blumenberg is confident that viewers will be glued to the set, hoping to find out how what the political top shots are really like.

On the job pressures

Bundeskanzleramt

Where it all takes place: the Chancellery in Berlin

“It’s meant to be provide a glimpse behind the scenes," Blumenberg said. "What happens when the cameras and microphones are switched off? How do politicians get along with each other? Which pressures do they have to face? And how do they cope with them. It’s also interesting to see how the strains of their job impact their private lives. We’re trying to provide answers to all these questions.”

The protagonists in the series from the chancellor down to under-secretaries are purely fictional and are not designed to remind viewers of real-life figures. Nevertheless, actor Klaus Behrendt who plays the chancellor made a point of spending time with Gerhard Schröder to better understand what his job is all about.

“At the beginning, I had enormous problems identifying with the chancellor," Behrendt said. "But after months of trying to get into the right frame of mind, I feel much better now and can really relate to the man I’m playing.”

Media hype

Given the media hype that had been created around the series in past weeks, the first episode on Wednesday night must have been a grave disappointment for most.

The chancellery came across as an unruly club with the big boss trying to stay on top of various crises. But then, perhaps that comes closer to reality than we all assume.

Viewers were pressed to sympathize with a drug-abusing minister who started a street fight with an innocent passer-by. A hostage-taking crisis in Peru was resolved by an energetic newcomer who needed only to exchange a few words with a member of a revolutionary brigade to sort things out. And at the end of the episode, the chancellor’s wayward daughter showed up in Berlin and tried to force her way into her dad's office.

Kanzleramt vom ZDF

Karoline Teska plays Nina, the chancellor's wayward daughter

Do we really want to see the second episode to find out what she’s up to? It's doubtful.

Wooden performances and bad music aside, the first episode stood out because of its superficiality. And that makes it all the more surprising that real-life government spokesman, Thomas Steg, sees the series in a positive light. “Not everything that we’ve seen is as far-fetched as it seems at first glance," Steg said. "Some things may indeed have happened the way they were shown in the first episode. For the viewers, it’s a constant game of guessing what’s close to reality and what’s not. But you’ll understand that I’m not going to give them any hints.”

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