Deutscher Fernsehfunk in Focus
21 Dec 21–25 Mar 22
Thirty years ago, on 31 December 1991, the Deutsche Fernsehfunk (DFF, German Television Broadcasting) concluded its broadcasting service. To commemorate this anniversary marking the end of an era, the Deutsche Kinemathek has extensively expanded its collection on ‟Television in the German Democratic Republic”. We are showing a curated selection of broadcasts related to six aspects of the Deutsche Fernsehfunk network’s programming until April 2022.
The DFF launched its test program on 21 December 1952; four years later, the state broadcasting system went into regular operation. Despite limited technical coverage, the programming was aimed at audiences on both sides of Germany ‒ in East and West. Simultaneously, the programs broadcast by the FRG’s Deutsche Fernsehen network could also be watched on the other side of the inner-German border. Both networks were in constant competition with each other for viewer attention. The construction of the Berlin Wall in 1961 intensified the ideological confrontation in words and images.
In 1969, the DFF offered a second channel, oriented more towards cultural topics, and selected programs were also broadcast in color. As part of a comprehensive programming reform, which sought to take greater account of viewers’ interest in entertainment, the Deutsche Fernsehfunk was renamed the ‟Fernsehen der DDR” (Television of the GDR) in 1972. Its centralist monopoly on opinion was first abandoned with the political upheavals and transformations in 1989, which also allowed regional studios to provide more independent coverage. The broadcasting network briefly returned to the name ‟Deutscher Fernsehfunk” in March 1990, before the program ceased operations at the end of the year and the broadcasting company was dissolved in accordance with Unification Treaty agreements.
Children and teens
Children’s broadcasts were quite popular and were known far beyond the borders of the GDR. First and foremost among them was ‘Der Sandmann’, which still delights viewers today with its enormous fleet of vehicles and lovingly made animation. By contrast, young people found the programs tailored to them much less appealing. The dogmatic bias was too obvious and did not correspond to their attitudes toward life. With the end of GDR television, specific themes for young adults became more colorful and democratic.
DFF entertainment broadcasts are still fondly remembered by older viewers and are occasionally rerun on MDR. Their choices of words and wit appealed to the taste of the majority. Focuses on laughter, singing, and advice were perceived and accepted as ideology-free niches, which allowed a comparison with the West German competition. This was also true for television ballet.
Documentary films were mainly commissioned productions for the DEFA-Studio ‒ produced as long as they were about stories outside the scope of current reporting. However, subliminally the focus was often about the realization of plans and the victory of socialism. But alongside this programmatic mandate, issues of everyday life were also taken up, which are now valuable resources of collective memory.
The ‘Aktuelle Kamera’ was the first newscast in Germany after World War II. It almost seems as if the program was designed around formats communicating ideology. ‘Der Schwarze Kanal’ was the second mainstay in the polemical network competition between the two German states, making Karl-Eduard von Schnitzler well-known in the FRG.
Sports, games, information
The range of advice shows was quite diverse and corresponded to the international canon. The health program ‘Visite’ attained an impressive audience quota of 20%. Recipes by television cook Kurt Drummer were recreated throughout the GDR, and the winning numbers from ‘Tele-Lotto 5 aus 35’ were announced on Sundays. Regular coverage was provided on football (soccer) and medal-winning sports.
Teleplays and multipart series
Like virtually everywhere else in the world, television in the GDR could also attract large audiences through its entertainment series and multipart broadcasts. What is still widely unknown: ‘Zur See’ was one of the precursors of ZDF’s ‘Traumschiff’, featuring ships carrying viewers away to exotic realms. Viewers stayed home to watch the neighborly ‘Geschichten übern Gartenzaun’ and the family saga ‘Aber Vati’. The popular crime series ‘Polizeiruf 110’ was conceived in Berlin-Adlershof as a response to ‘Tatort’, and the complex history painting of Saxony and Prussia, ‘Sachsens Glanz und Preußens Gloria’, was also watched on the other side of the Wall.
Curated by Dr. Holger Theuerkauf