German television show declared winner in existential arm-wrestling match with world

By Eric Kelsey

Perhaps the memory most etched in American minds about German Existentialism isnƒ?TMt Heidegger but rather Dieter from Mike Myerƒ?TMs ƒ?oeSaturday Night Liveƒ?? sketch, ƒ?oeSprockets.ƒ?? Talk show host Myers would sit unnervingly straight, clad in black pants, stiff turtleneck and gold-rim glasses. He would wear the countenance of someone who just sat on a cactus, too embarrassed to admit his fault.Unfortunately for some, Mike Myerƒ?TMs Dieter doesnƒ?TMt exist on German TV. This doesnƒ?TMt mean that German Existential dread hasnƒ?TMt gone quietly into the night by way of ƒ?oeFriendsƒ?? and ƒ?oeThe O.C.ƒ??. For nearly two years, MTV Deutschland has shown the existential wonder that is ƒ?oeUlmens Auftrag.ƒ?? Literally ƒ?oeUlmenƒ?TMs Tasks,ƒ?? ƒ?oeUlmenƒ?TMs Auftragƒ?? fashions itself as a reality show of the service industry.

Hosts Christian Ulmen and Nora Tschirner, don the apparel and responsibilities of chimney sweeps, meat grinders and hostel custodians looking to make some American friends (or, fun of them). For the viewer, part of ƒ?oeAuftragƒ?TMsƒ?? appeal is that you want to be Ulmen and Tschirner. Not simply because theyƒ?TMre on TV but more importantly because theyƒ?TMre so much cooler than you. Ulmen and Tschirner might play parodies of themselves for an audience, but itƒ?TMs clear that they have plumbed the core of the social conditions within Germanyƒ?”or at least have done so incidentally.

Wrapped up in the absurdity of the post-industrial, post-Cold War world, Ulmen and Tschirner perpetually find themselves in an existential mess. In a country with over five million people unemployed and the average age nearing 60 years, to be someone fresh out of high school can often bring a string of jobs working at the likes of a sausage stand or with a moving company. And to those dreading their future, it looks like a career

ƒ?oeAuftragƒ?? does more than just imply meaninglessness while living under the oppressions of absurd work. To the American viewer, Ulmen and Tschirner highlight what it means to be American; that is, living to work and not the other way around. Morality at this point in the circle of jobs, however, would be a contradiction upon the job marketƒ?TMs absurdity. By eschewing any hints of condemnation, Ulmen and Tschirner take a neatly mundane job and glean a ƒ?oerealityƒ?? of journeys that would fill even Buddhaƒ?TMs chest with pride.

On the surface, ƒ?oeAuftragƒ?? seems to deliver comedic relief for its own sake. Upon closer examination, itƒ?TMs usually the painfully boring episodes that underscore the reality of it all. Itƒ?TMs the hellish irony of a trip to a day spa in the middle of winter, complete with a fake beach, forest and tropical entertainment. Itƒ?TMs dull, fake and boring and accidentally one of the most intelligent shows on TV.

Unfortunately, there exists no DVD of ƒ?oeUlmens Auftrag.ƒ?? Fortunately, MTV Deutschlandƒ?TMs website has a few two-minute clips at mtv.de/ulmensauftrag. Iƒ?TMd be more than happy to translate for anyone who wishes.