When it began in 1985, the soap opera “Lindenstrasse” got miserable reviews and many predicted a short life for the series. Fans now mourn the near end of a three-decade-old tradition. Here’s why Germans love it.It became a trending topic on Twitter in Germany within minutes that the news broke on Friday: The long-running TV series Lindenstrasse will be ending in 2020, 35 years after it started in 1985.
In the iconic program, seen as Germany's first soap opera, the characters aren't all that sexy, hardly any are rich, and they're usually never confronted with amnesia, alien abductions, evil twins or any of the other outlandish situations that have become part and parcel of many of the world's serial dramas.
Instead, up and down Lindenstrasse, the fictional street in a Munich suburb where the series of the same name is set, fairly ordinary people meet the triumphs and tragedies that many experience in real life: infidelity, failing marriages, first love, parental disapproval, new careers or youth violence. The characters are like the neighbors next door and the German public has been tuning in faithfully to find out where their on-screen lives are taking them for 20 years or 1,000 episodes.
For many Germans, Sunday evening from 6:50 to 7:20 p.m. is Lindenstrasse time, and woe to the person who calls or shows up unannounced at the door of a fan during that period.
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Borrowed from the Brits
The show's premise was borrowed from the BBC's Coronation Street, Britain's longest-running television soap opera, which is set in a gritty industrial suburb of Manchester.
The Lindenstrasse crowd has less coal dust to contend with, but like their British cousins, the characters on the outskirts of Munich are overwhelmingly midway or slightly lower on the socio-economic scale. Instead of super models, oil barons or jet-setting cosmetic company heads, the folks who live or work on Lindenstrasse are housewives, taxi drivers, travel agents or hair stylists.
The concerns of the Beimer, Kling, Zenker or Sarikaki families are generally the concerns of average people. They complain about high taxes, unemployment or like to share the latest gossip about the super's wife. Frau Beimer's husband has left her for a younger woman. A Greek family is thrown into turmoil when the oldest son wants to marry a German woman.
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But Lindenstrasse has not been afraid to tackle more controversial issues and has been on the forefront regarding several topics other shows have been reluctant to touch. The daughter of one of the central families once suffered from bulimia; another son was born with Down's syndrome.
An HIV-positive woman passed on the virus to her son and a gay couple took care of the boy after his mother's death from the disease. Lesbian storylines have been running for years and, in 1990, the show featured the first gay kiss on German primetime TV.
The series sometimes integrated elements of the day's news. On the Sunday of the 2009 federal election, the first results were revealed within the program and characters commented on them.
In 2012, two characters initiated a flashmob against climate change, asking people to head to the Lindenstrasse of their towns and meet in front of apartment number 3 of that street. The real-life police feared the flashmobs would lead to chaotic parties, and the program had to clarify that it was only a fictional call to action.
The characters' responses to many controversial issues have led some to complain that the creator and producer of the show, Hans W. Geissendörfer, uses the show to present his own left-of-center political opinions. Critics say other views are represented as being odd or out of touch with the times. That, they say, is problematic since the show airs on German public broadcasting and, due to its station's charter, has a duty to remain politically neutral.
Millions watch every week
Lindenstrasse has long lost some of its audience to more "modern" series. While the show still attracted an average 4.8 million viewers on Sunday evenings in 2005, the number of viewers has rarely reached over 3 million in more recent years — still a respectable figure for such a long-running show.
Now German public broadcaster ARD has announced the program would be ending in 2020. The news came two months after a central character, Hans Beimer, died after 33 years in the show.