40 Years of Sesamstraße – Now Appearing at the Museum für Film und Fernsehen
13 Dec 12–5 May 13
“Der, die, das / wer, wie, was / wieso, weshalb, warum? Wer nicht fragt, bleibt dumm.” (This, this and that / who, how, what / why, why and why? Those who don’t ask stay dumb.)
The German version of Sesamstraße (Sesame Street) was broadcast with this title song for the first time on January 8, 1973. However, the program was created in the USA by the Children’s Television Workshop, a nonprofit organization. At that time, a team of psychologists, educationalists, advertisers, doctors and television editors had examined what especially fascinates children about television. The result: Animals, dolls, cartoons, slapstick comedy, speed, jokes and prominent personalities as mediators of knowledge. Sesame Street was developed on the basis of these findings. The primarily target groups were children from the underprivileged classes of society, who were intended to be fostered as preschoolers.
The introduction of the innovative series was controversial in Germany. In the early years, NDR and the other third programs broadcast synchronized versions of the American original series. Americanisms were renounced and individual German contributions were inserted into the series more and more frequently – on the subject of the alphabet, for example.
A new era of Sesamstraße began in 1978, when a new street was created with residential buildings and a market stand as scenery for the background story. Puppets developed especially for the German market, like Samson and Tiffy, acted together with well-known actors, such as Liselotte Pulver, Henning Venske or Horst Janson. The concept and the characters of Sesamstraße have changed repeatedly since then. After a four-year break, Studio Hamburg produced a new season of the series in 2012, where the lively Elmo is now its main focus.
The main characters of Sesamstraße, Ernie and Bert, the Krümelmonster (Cookie Monster), Oskar (Oscar the Grouch) and other Muppets, were invented and realized by the American puppeteer and director Jim Henson (1936–1990) and his collaborators. The Museum für Film und Fernsehen presents seven of the original puppets in the area devoted to the permanent exhibition (3rd upper level): Krümelmonster, Tiffy, Rumpel, Feli Filu, Anything Muppet and the photo puppets Ernie and Bert, as well as an over life-sized Samson.
In addition, a selection of highly imaginative costumes that prominent German actors have worn during their guest appearances on Sesamstraße are exhibited on the 3rd upper level.
In the Program Gallery (4th upper level) visitors can watch a selection of 22 films dating from the last 40 years, as well as documentaries about Sesamstraße.
A presentation in cooperation with the Norddeutscher Rundfunk (NDR).
The success of Sesamstraße – 2,669 episodes have been broadcast in Germany to date – is based, above all, on the unusual characters that can be seen in the series: The Muppets. They all originate from the legendary studio of the American puppeteer, director and film producer Jim Henson (1936–1990).
The size of the puppets was particularly innovative: When Henson freed himself from common, small, one-hand puppets and created large to over life-size characters, he was no longer dependent on a stage for performing with them; instead the Muppets could be staged in the studio and even in the open.
Another unusual feature of the Muppets is their so-called “magical triangle”: the positioning of the eyes in proportion to the mouth and nose. The position of the eyes, through which a puppet only really takes on its character, is especially important. The perfect handcrafted workmanship of the Muppets with almost invisible seams (the “Henson stitch”) also contributes to the illusion of their vitality.
Sesamstraße is broadcast in more than 140 countries today. It is part of the concept of the series that additional puppets and versions should be developed, which are tailored to the cultural experiences of the children living in each of the various countries.
Nearly all of the Muppets of the German Sesamstraße – whether Samson, Tiffy, Rumpel, Feli Filu or Wolle and Pferd – were designed at the Jim Henson Studios. Peter Röder, who also functioned as the puppet actor for Samson until 1983, created Herr (Mr.) von Bödefeld.
There has also been a spinoff series in Germany since 2009: Sesamstraße präsentiert: Eine Möhre für Zwei.
The concept of Sesamstraße (Sesame Street) was changed once again beginning around 2000. Prominent actors, comedians and entertainers increasingly became a focus. In 2001, Studio Hamburg produced 65 new episodes of the series, in which numerous guest stars played a part, including Dirk Bach (who was a guest on Sesamstraße as the magician Pepe until 2007), Marianne Sägebrecht, Hape Kerkeling, Bastian Pastewka and Esther Schweins. Anke Engelke also appeared on Sesamstraße as a resident with special musical talent. Moreover, in 2003, Mehmet, a new character to the series (played by Mehmet Yilmaz), was introduced to make the series more culturally diverse.
There were also changes to the puppets: Tiffy was taken out of the TV program in 2005, and only Samson was left from the original German version. The Muppets that currently appear alongside him include Grobi (Grover), Pferd and Wolle, the Wolf, Finchen, Elmo – who at one point was female and called Elma – and of course Krümelmonster (Cookie Monster), as well as Ernie and Bert.
For the numerous prominent personalities, who were guests on Sesamstraße until around 2008 – including Olli Dittrich, Jürgen Vogel, Nina Hoger and Ben Becker – the costume designer Sabrina von Allwörden created highly unusual and imaginative garments. She also made the costumes for the German Muppets.
Before the television series Sesamstraße was broadcasted as a preschool program on German television, as a test program, NDR (in April 1971) and WDR (in May 1971) showed five of the original versions of Sesame Street realized by the Children’s Television Workshop (CTW). The 60-minute episodes were only accompanied by a short German explanatory comment and at the end viewers were prompted to inform the stations what they thought of the new American format.
In order to adapt the series’ contents to German conditions, additional individual pieces were filmed in Germany and inserted into the American episodes. The predominant contents of the series - about 70% - came from the USA. However, this was reduced more and more over the years. The TV programs have included only one or two sketches by the contemporary production company Sesame Workshop since 2007. Unlike the original episodes, the German versions were only 30 minutes long from the beginning.
In addition to the five episodes that comprised the test program, the film selection presented here includes twelve episodes of the German Sesamstraße from the past four decades, from 1973 to now. Four documentaries on the subject contain interviews with psychologists, puppet makers, designers and editors, as well as thought-provoking information about the work of the puppeteers. Visitors can also watch a current piece that shows Ernie & Bert’s guest appearance on Krömer – Late Night Show.
Information and Credits
In cooperation with Norddeutscher Rundfunk (NDR)
Künstlerischer Direktor: Rainer Rother
Projektsteuerung: Peter Mänz
Kuratorin: Gerlinde Waz
Mitarbeit: Anna Sudendorf
Texte: Gerlinde Waz, Karin Herbst-Meßlinger, Peter Mänz, Vera Thomas
Lektorat: Karin Herbst-Meßlinger
Koordination beim NDR: Ulrike Ziesemer
Mitarbeit: Anke Robohm (NDR), Dörte Petersen (NDR)
Grafik Ausstellung: Felder Köln Berlin
Scans: Gita Mundry (NDR), Georg Simbeni (SDK)
Medienprogramm: Johannes Büchs (NDR), Gerlinde Waz (SDK)
Presse: Lara Louwien (NDR), Heidi Berit Zapke (SDK)
Kommunikation: Sandra Hollmann, Tatjana Petersen
Grafik: Außenwerbung Pentagram Design, Berlin
Konservatorische Betreuung: Sabrina Fernandez
Einrichtung Kostüme: Sabrina von Allwörden (NDR)
Einrichtung Puppen: Franz Auer (NDR)
Bau Filmset Samson: Wolfgang Kaimonoff (NDR)
Medientechnik: Florian Regel, Stefan Keidel, Stephan Werner
Haustechnik: Roberti Siefert, Frank Koeppke
CPLG Deutschland (Copyright Promotions Licencing Group), München
Institut für angewandte Kindermedienforschung (IfaK), Stuttgart
Matthies Spielprodukte GmbH & Co. KG, Hamburg
Norddeutscher Rundfunk (NDR), Hamburg
Rundfunk Berlin Brandenburg (RBB), Berlin
Sesame Workshop, New York
Sabrina von Allwörden, Hamburg
Westdeutscher Rundfunk (WDR), Köln
Special thanks to
Holger Hermersmeyer (NDR) and Birgit Ponten (NDR)