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Reality TV, Black Forest Style

In Germany's latest foray into reality TV, a Berlin family volunteers to go back 100 years and live in conditions on a farm akin to life in 1902.


The Boro family was allowed to travel wherever it wanted -- on foot.

German public TV network ARD is going back to the roots. Not its own, but to those of a German family in the year 1902. In a four-part series airing in Germany this week, it will show how a modern-day Berlin family lived according to conditions 100 years ago.

The SWR branch of ARD chose the idyllic Black Forest as a setting for this travel back in time. The Boro family lived on a sprawling farm for 10 weeks, eight during the summer and two during the winter. In order to make it look realistic, the TV station transformed the farm into a state conforming with life in 1902.

No underwear

That meant no running water and electricity, with the family dependent on water from a nearby stream and making fires to cook meals. The network made sure everything was original from the toothbrush made from pig's bristle right down to the clothing of the time. The Boros quickly discovered that their ancestors didn't have the luxury of underwear.

The only concession to modern times was a red telephone hidden away in a sealed box to be used only in case of emergency.

Leben wie vor hundert Jahren Fernsehserie Schwarzwaldhaus 1902

Life as it was in 1902

The rules were simple: The family could move around as it pleased, but only on foot. Their meals were made from whatever they could harvest on the fields and their vegetable gardens. They had to earn money by selling their produce on the market. Their working day, which started at 5 a.m, usually lasted 18 hours.

Rotting potatoes

In one scene, the Boro family daughters are seen practicing their milking techniques on fake udders. But on the farm they had to struggle to get any milk from the cow because its udder was infected. And the farm's chicken refused to lay eggs because the content of its feed was wrong. Then a potato rot claimed half of the harvest.

Still, the family overcame all the minor and not-so-minor disasters and made it through the 10 weeks in one piece. Their farm neighbors were full of admiration for them. "It's a great achievement, I thought their chances of making it were zero," one said.

And how does the family look back on the experience? The children are glad to be back in the real world, while their mother is seriously considering retiring on a farm. Her husband says he misses the tranquility of life on a farm.

The four-part series will be broadcast in Germany on Dec. 2, 4, 6, and 9 at 9.45 p.m. on ARD. You can also check out German TV's Web site http://www.germantv.info for a schedule of future broadcasts via satellite to North America.

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