German prime-time bigot stirs outrage

March 05, 1993|By Los Angeles Times

BERLIN -- Cultural events rarely stop a nation in its tracks. But then, serving up a volatile brew of humor, bigotry and reality on prime-time television to a nation totally unprepared for such stuff doesn't happen often.

Since the first of 13 planned episodes of the new sitcom "Motzki" exploded onto German television screens last month, the country has not been quite the same.

Some believe it never will be again.

The show's main character, a crusty, intolerant, foul-mouthed retired driving instructor named Friedhelm Motzki, is Germany's nightmare. He is a loudmouth bigot who, for half an hour each Tuesday night, voices the prejudices that politicians here have tried so hard to pretend don't exist -- prejudices that are unspoken in polite company but nevertheless dominate the arduous process of German unification.

The show has a lot in common with the 1970s CBS-TV sitcom "All in the Family," which revolved around the intolerant dock foreman Archie Bunker and his long-suffering wife, Edith. It took several months for U.S. audiences to adjust to the blunt humor of Archie's denunciations of African-Americans, Puerto Ricans and other minorities. Critics debated whether the program promoted prejudice or countered it by making fun of it. After concern that "All in the Family" might be canceled, the groundbreaking show, produced by Norman Lear, instead rocketed to top ratings and stayed there for five years. It is widely credited with changing the course of television comedy in America.

Motzki is a western German who hates "Ossies" -- those who lived in the former Communist east. And he isn't afraid to say it -- at 140 decibels.

He dispenses his derision, usually brief, withering verbal attacks, on his long-suffering Ossie cousin, Edith, whom he hired after his wife's death to clean his shabby western Berlin apartment. Some examples:

* On East Germany: "Your entire country wasn't worth a damn. You were broke and never knew what real work was. Without us, you'dhave starved to death decades ago."

* On eastern Germans: "That pack is only after our money. . . . They don't even say, 'Thank you.' Just the opposite; they only complain and always want more.

"You Ossies have been German now for nearly three years; when are you finally going to catch on?

"There're a lot of reasons why you'll come to nothing. That's the way the Communists raised you -- as spendthrifts and sponges."

* On his brief euphoria over the collapse of the Berlin Wall: "Who was to know that behind it was one huge wreck, sitting on polluted land and inhabited by a bunch of uncivilized ingrates, every single one of them greedy, envious and lazy. The only thing you Ossies know how to do is bitch. It was a black day in our history when they pulled down that wall."

* On German Unification Day: "Oct. 3 is a day of catastrophe."

Motzki (a play on the German verb "motzen," meaning to grouse) dismisses Ossie fashion as "dyed sugar sacks from Cuba" and says he can spot every Ossie member of Parliament -- "They've all got beards."

Motzki's creator and principal writer Wolfgang Menge -- a westerner -- carefully avoids Germany's other volatile social crisis of hatred toward foreigners. Indeed, Motzki's lone friend in the world is the neighborhood Turkish vegetable dealer.

The show's two main characters are played by eastern Germans who moved west in the early 1980s: Juergen Holtz, 61, a former East Berlin stage actor now with the Frankfurt Schauspielhaus, and Jutta Hoffmann, a highly respected actress expelled by the Communists in 1983 for engaging in political opposition and now a professor of drama in Hamburg.

After three episodes, Edith has yet to return fire, but Menge says she has her day. "Just wait," he said in an interview. "She, not Motzki, is the real key to this production."

Rarely in a Western country has there been such a powerful reaction to a TV sitcom. Newspaper stories about the show catapulted out of the culture section onto the front pages and stayed there for days. Reviews landed on the editorial page.

"Horrible, filthy, awful, obscene, purely destructive, repulsive," sputtered the country's largest circulation daily, Bild Zeitung, a western paper.

"Definitely shocking for all of those who saw German unity as a dream-wish fulfilled," declared the eastern Saechsische Zeitung.

An opinion poll published three days after the first episode found 60 percent of those questioned in the west and more than 67 percent of those in the east agreed that "Motzki" should be stopped immediately. Only 10 percent said it was genuinely funny.

A lawyer filed suit last week against the heads of North and West German Television, the two main TV backers of "Motzki."

"That's not satire. That's the way you stoke hate," said the Berlin attorney, Ekkehard Ploeger.

Meanwhile, an eastern Berlin newspaper has urged its mainly Ossie readers to write in with their own retorts to Motzki's ravings.

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