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Culture

First German TV Soap Celebrates 20 Years

When it began in 1985, the soap opera "Lindenstrasse" got miserable reviews and many predicted a short life for the series. But this week the show, with its people-next-door characters, aired its 1,000th episode.

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Some of cast of the long-running "Lindenstrasse"

Many of them aren't all that sexy, hardly any are rich, and they're usually never confronted with amnesia, alien abductions, evil twins or any of the other outlandish situations that have become part and parcel of many of the world's serial dramas.

Instead, up and down Lindenstrasse, the fictional street in a Munich suburb where the series of the same name is set, fairly ordinary people meet the triumphs and tragedies that many experience in real life: infidelity, failing marriages, first love, parental disapproval, new careers or youth violence. The characters are like the neighbors next door and the German public has been tuning in faithfully to find out where their on-screen lives are taking them for 20 years or 1,000 episodes.

For many Germans, Sunday evening from 6:40 to 7:10 p.m. is "Lindenstrasse" time, and woe to the person who calls or shows up unannounced at the door of a fan during that period.

Borrowed from the Brits

The show's premise was borrowed from the BBC's "Coronation Street," Britain's longest-running television soap opera, which is set in a gritty industrial suburb of Manchester. The "Lindenstrasse" crowd has less coal dust to contend with, but like their British cousins, the characters on the outskirts of Munich are overwhelmingly midway or slightly lower on the socio-economic scale. Instead of super models, oil barons or jet-setting cosmetic company heads, the folks who live or work on Lindenstrasse are housewives, taxi drivers, travel agents or hair stylists.

Lindenstraße Straßenschild

Lindenstrasse street sign

The concerns of the Beimer, Kling, Zenker or Sarikaki families are generally the concerns of average people. They complain about high taxes, unemployment or like to share the latest gossip about the super's wife. Frau Beimer's husband has left her for a younger woman. A Greek family is thrown into turmoil when the oldest son wants to marry a German woman.

Controversial issues

But Lindenstrasse has not been afraid to tackle more controversial issues and has been on the forefront regarding several topics other shows have been reluctant to touch. The daughter of one of the central families once suffered from bulimia; another son was born with Down's syndrome.

An HIV-positive woman passed on the virus to her son and a gay couple took care of the boy after his mother's death from the disease. Lesbian storylines have been running for years and, in 1990, the show featured the first gay kiss on German primetime TV.

Marie-Luise Marjan und Hans W. Geißendörfer

Actress Marie-Luise Marjan and Hans W. Geißendörfer, the series producer

The characters' responses to many controversial issues have led some to complain that the creator and producer of the show, Hans Geissendörfer (photo), uses the show to present his own left-of-center political opinions. Critics say other views are represented as being odd or out of touch with the times. That, they say, is problematic since the show airs on German public broadcasting and, due to its station's charter, has a duty to remain politically neutral.

Millions watch every week

For the 1,000th episode, more than seven million tuned in for a special 45-minute broadcast. While "Lindenstrasse" has lost some its audience to "younger" shows with a strong teen element, such as "Good Times and Bad" and "Forbidden Love," the show still attracts on average 4.8 million viewers on Sunday evenings.

Its current contract with West German Broadcasting, which produces the show in a suburb of Cologne, runs through 2008 and fans are guaranteed at least another 219 episodes.

Annemarie Wendl aus der Lindenstraße

Annemarie Wendl as Else Kling

What fans won't be seeing much more of is likely Germany's most famous concierge, Else Kling, who has been a feature on the show since the beginning. Annemarie Wendl, the 90-year-old actress who has played the part for 20 years, says she will step down sometime in 2005. But she doesn't want to die peacefully in her sleep surrounded by loved ones and flowers.


"I want to be murdered, not have some boring death in bed," she told Germany's Bild am Sonntag newspaper. "I want to walk out of the house and get hit by a bullet -- then it's over!"

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