"Want to buy an eight?": When Sesame Street came to Germany

“Want to buy an eight?”
When Sesame Street came to Germany

When the first dubbed episode of “Sesame Street” aired on German television, there were protests: some parents, educators and scientists felt that the New York street with its smoking drains and rattling garbage cans was too American. Five years later, “Sesame Street” became German.

Ernie dreamily hums “My hat has three corners” and looks around. Suddenly a mysterious looking man in a trench coat comes by. “Hey you!” he whispers to Ernie and looks around conspiratorially. He asks Ernie if he wants to buy something. “What are you selling?” Ernie replies happily and the mysterious salesman furtively opens his coat and shows him an eight, whispering “Psst!” over and over again. and “Exactly!”. “Why should I buy an eight?” Ernie thinks, but the man doesn’t give up: Then he always knows how many arms an octopus has, when breakfast is served, how many rowers an eight has.

Kermit the Frog and the Cookie Monster.

(Photo: picture alliance / dpa)

Millions of people who have grown up with “Sesame Street” since the 1970s probably have to think of this clip and many others – such as the clumsy Grobi as a waiter, Kermit as a raging reporter or the cookie-eating Cookie Monster. On January 8, 2023, the classic will have its 50th birthday in Germany. “The, the, that, why, why, why?”: 6.30 p.m. was “Sesame Street” time for many years.

“What an anarchic TV happiness!”

“I loved Sesame Street and waited for my striped pop stars Ernie and Bert every night – in front of the TV in their pajamas, which were also striped. What an anarchic television luck!”, The 53-year-old “Daily Topics” presenter Caren Miosga recalled when recording the anniversary broadcast.

“Sesame Street”, the original title, was first broadcast on November 10, 1969 on US television. American television producer Joan Ganz Cooney came up with the idea of ​​making a program specifically for preschool children. She was able to win the legendary puppeteer Jim Henson for the show. “He hated the idea of ​​being a toddler star, but then he thought about his own kids and said yes,” Cooney recalled. The new children’s show was aimed at socially disadvantaged families and was set on a fictional street in the middle of New York, with smoking drains and rattling garbage cans.

Protest against US flair on German TV


The dubbed original “Sesame Street” was too American for some.

(Photo: imago images/Everett Collection)

When dubbed original episodes were broadcast in Germany from January 1973, an alliance of parents, educators and scientists protested against the flair of the American street scenes, which had nothing in common with the everyday life of German children. On January 2, 1978, a “German Sesame Street” started as a background story, which the North German Broadcasting Corporation (NDR) was responsible for producing. In addition to a new backdrop, there were also two new dolls: the gullible bear Samson (“uiuiuiuiui”) and the precocious Tiffy, who appeared together with acting stars such as Henning Venske, Liselotte Pulver, Uwe Friedrichsen and Horst Janson.


The team of the German edition of “Sesame Street”: Uwe Friedrichsen, Tiffy, Ilse Biberti, Samson, Liselotte Pulver and Horst Janson (from left).

(Photo: picture alliance/United Archives)

“The perception and strengthening of personal competence, a positive transmission of values ​​and a direct reference to the life and experiences of preschool children in this country have been the basis of all Sesame Street stories for 50 years,” says NDR editor Holger Hermesmeyer. In order to keep the offer up to date, the NDR has developed the “Sesame Street” many times. Examples are the series “One carrot for two” with the dolls wool and horse, as well as the Ernie & Bert songs with celebrities – from Herbert Grönemeyer to Helene Fischer to Jan Delay.

From numbers and letters to feelings and social behavior

While numbers and letters used to be in the foreground, today the program is more about social and emotional learning. “Key questions are, for example: How do I deal with myself and my fellow human beings? Or: Who am I? What feelings do I have?” says Hermesmeyer. Topics such as nature and environmental protection, climate change, nutrition, diversity, life with disabilities or illness are also prepared appropriately for the target group of three to six year olds.

The NDR received a number of protests when in 2003 it moved the show from its traditional early-evening slot to the morning program. “Sesame Street teaches you the basics: the counting thing, what’s far away, what’s near, all those things,” remembers comedian Torsten Sträter. “I particularly liked Oskar from the garbage can. I loved him very much,” says the 56-year-old.

Actress Meltem Kaptan learned more than just the German language with the show: “Sesame Street was educationally valuable and we were commissioned to learn good German as immigrant children,” recalls the 42-year-old. “That was the kind of life you wished for as a migrant child: everyone is colourful, everyone is different, but it works – everyone lives together without arguments.”

(This article was first published on Sunday, January 08, 2023.)

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