What happens when an anti-authoritarian German psychotherapist falls in love with a Turkish policeman? A new German soap opera has the answer: All hell breaks loose.
"Turkish for Beginners" offers a great deal of entertainment disguised as a culture war
"Turkish for Beginners," a new soap opera which premiered on German public broadcaster ARD on Tuesday, is a highly entertaining bonanza of cultural stereotypes. In it, Doris Schneider, an anti-disciplinarian German therapist and mother of two, falls in love with Turkish policeman Metin Öztürk, a father of two as well. To the absolute horror of the children from both sides of the cultural divide, Doris (played by Anna Stieblich) and Metin (Adnan Maral) decide to move in with each other and conduct a risky, cross-cultural family merger.
Yagmur and Cem, Metin's children, are walking and talking cliches of young Turks living in Germany. Yagmur picks her room in the new apartment with a compass so that she can determine the direction of Mecca for her regular prayers. Cem, a quintessential wannabe macho, hangs out with his friends and speaks with a strong Turkish accent in order to sound street-smart and cool. He believes that a woman's place is next to the stove, but he's in for a big surprise when he finds out that his new stepmother can't cook.
Appearances are, nonetheless, deceptive. Behind her stern, anti-Western facade, Yagmur secretly watches music videos on TV. Lena, Doris' daughter, is openly opposed to her mother's intercultural experiment, but deep down she finds her new family to be just whacky enough to have lots of fun with. And Cem, despite wanting to be a tough guy, falls in love with an Asian girl and writes a love letter under the unlikely poetic influence of Celine Dion, the exemplary queen of commercial sap.
"I orient myself on American TV shows, in which the whole ensemble has a chance to develop," soap author Bora Dagtekin said. "These are the stories in which inner conflicts are not only reserved for the leading character."
"Turkish for Beginners" is an exceptional show on German television. There is not a touch of political correctness in it, but it freshens up the usually rather stale TV portraits of foreigners in Germany.
Moving beyond the kebab joint
"I find it highly critical that Turks always only work in kebab joints (on television)," said Michael Mangold, who leads the Institute for Media and Economics at the Karlsruhe Center for Art and Media Technology.
"Integration is the central goal of the current social policy," Mangold said.
But you wouldn't be able to guess that by watching German television. According to the Nuremberg Society for Consumer Research, German TV channels are not particularly interested in targeting their programs for the Turkish audience since Turks in Germany spend half of their television time watching Turkish channels via satellite dishes.
"That is probably because they do not feel they are being addressed by German television," Mangold said.
"Turkish for Beginners," however, offers a humorous and a long overdue peek into multicultural Germany without trying to be too controversial.
"We really watched how far we would go," Dagtekin said. "For me, it was important to approach cultural conflicts on an internal, familiar level without becoming political."