Saturday, September 19, 2015

Telenovelas in other countries: Germany

I am German, I was born and grew up in Germany and I only came to the United States a litte over a year ago in July of 2014. The first "Telenovela" (that was the way it was advertised) I ever heard of was a show called Verliebt in Berlin, wich was the german adaptation of Yo soy Betty, la fea.
I can't really speak about this telenovela, because I grew up without a television and in 2005 online streaming was not as progressed as it is today. But with the broadcast of this show, German telenovelas began to develop. 
Right in 2005 the most popular/renown telenovela Germany still has, started. It is called Sturm der Liebe (eng: Storm of Love). And although I didn't start to watch it until 2009 (season 4), I got hooked from time to time and my mother and grandmother have never missed an episode until this day.

What is Storm of Love?
Why claim Storm of Love a Telenovela? A show that has been on the air for over 10 years maybe better classified as a soap opera. But SdL (popular short form of the show in Germany), considers itself a Telenovela. That is how the network advertises it and that is how it is perceived in Germany. So let me explain why I think this genre still applies: 
Daily Broadcast - yes!
SdL broadcasts every day Monday to Friday in the afternoon at 3:15pm for about 45 minutes. 
It has an end - kind of
The story centers around a Hotel in the idyllic part of Bavaria, right outside its capital Munich. Bavaria is one of the 16 states of Germany in the Southwest and you might have heard of it in connection with Oktoberfest. 
The show is organized in seasons. These seasons do not adhere to the year like U.S. shows do, but they describe the love story from beginning to wedding of two protagonists. As soon as the protagonist couple leaves (directly after their wedding), the next season begins and a new couple is introduced.

The love stories inside the telenovela
As an example, we are going to look at the first couple. The first protagonists were Laura and Alexander. 
Alexander was the son of the owners of the Hotel and was working alongside his father as the manager --> wealthy, urban, definitely naïve, does this sound familiar?
Laura is heart-broken, basically out of money and is looking for a new beginning --> variation of Cinderella leaving the country coming to the city, she is pretty and has had to struggle a lot in her childhood, not the same socioeconomic level as Alexander

Laura and Alexander

They meet in Munich and have what they show runners call "the magic moment" when they meet. It is always the first encounter. The world basically stops and there is no doubt left, that these two are meant for each other. All protagonists have this moment at their first encounter. In this video you can see theirs. You do not even need to know German for this scene, it is very obvious! 

 She then finds a job in his hotel, only to be confronted with the fact that he is now her boss and on top of it all, is already engaged to Katharina --> very rich, very smart and manipulative, now where have I seen that before...

The story is told over 313 chapters. Like it is to be expected, they fall madly in love and try to be together. They then get separated because - get ready, so surprising - they are made to believe that they are siblings (Ep 92)! Which makes their love impossible. But of course they are not. They only find out they're not related when they both are close to marrying someone else (Ep 268). Everything that could possibly go wrong, goes wrong, but then they finally find one another (Ep 278). In all of the seasons so far, there is a phase of a few weeks when they protagonists have to struggle together (someone gets abducted, the ex-wife fakes pregnancy, the protagonist loses his memory, basically everything you can think of) and then follows the big wedding and the season is over. At the end of every season the dedicated SdL followers start to speculate who the new protagonists are going to be. Because with a maximum of one or two episodes after the wedding, the protagonist couple leaves the hotel to start a new life together in a different part of the world. Funny enough, so far they have always been leaving not only the hotel, but Germany. Alexander and Laura went to Belgium, others to France, Canada, Italy, the Czech Republic, Spain and Kenia. 

Here is a picture of the further protagonists (there are more). In the top left corner you can see Alexander's and Laura's wedding.
Picture Credit:

So where am I going with this?
I wanted to demonstrate that the formal elements of a telenovela are very clearly presented. The show has la entrada that changes according to each couple, here are the first ten couples:

Like you can see there is a row of secondary characters and a lot of them stay on for more then just one season. It is also not unusual that a secondary character becomes a new protagonist. 
During the seasons elements like the following appeared: 
  • twin brothers separated at birth
  • plastic surgery that gave a new face
  • transformation from poor to rich
  • being bound to a wheelchair and learning to walk
  • losing weight/transforming into a prettier person
  • abductions
  • millions of hospital scenes for cancer/car accidents/difficult pregnancies
  • memory loss
  • the fall of the stairs with the consequent loss of a child orchestrated by the antagonist... 
-->the list goes on and on. 

So I think it is safe to say the formal structure and plot elements are a lot like the ones we are used to seeing in Telenovelas, even more to the side of the telenovela rosa spectrum. But there is a central difference. I do not know how many of you actually know a German person (I do not count, I am very atypical in that way). We are generally (and since this is a question of culture this of course cannot be taken as a rule!) reserved and rational people. We do not express our emotions all the time, we do not talk a lot about feelings. That is why in my impression, the tone of the telenovelas, the atmosphere, the interactions, are a lot different and really reflect the cultural differences. 
Look at these two scenes in comparison: 

This is the big reconciliation between Niklas and Julia (protagonists #10). She made him think they were siblings for the whole time and now he found out they are not and he forgave her and they can be together:

This is a Telemundo telenovela called Corazon Valiente. Samantha and Guillermo have been madly in love since they were teenagers and now or about 10 episodes they were made believe that they are siblings. They just found out that they are not:

Both scenes contain a declaration of love and the plea for forgiveness for not having believed in their love despite the difficulties. I think even without understanding German or Spanish you can see the difference in dynamic, atmosphere and emotion. The message is the same, but the German couple uses less words and leaves a lot unspoken I feel. The Latin American couple has this urgency to their dialogue in my opinion. It seems like they are going to run out of breath or simply going to die if the other does not forgive them. 

- broadcast schedule
- the length of the seasons (between 150 and 300 mostly)
- formal plot elements
- characters and arches (protagonist, cinderella stories...)

- keeping the same "main frame of action" and telling the different seasons inside it
- the emotionality and dynamic of the actions

It think this demonstrates well how the genre of the Telenovela got adapted into German culture but I think it can still be called a Telenovela. It is a German telenovela. Emotions are still the center of the story, the love story is the most important and they are definitely more on the Telenovela Rosa side of the spectrum because they seldom touch on social or political issues. SdL is quite isolated in this hotel in a little village outside of Munich. 

I'm curious what you think. Do you think it is still a Telenovela? Do you see the differences I have been talking about?

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