On this New Year’s Eve, like every other New Year’s Eve since 1972, nearly every German will find a way to sit in front of a telly to watch a short comedy skit titled Dinner for One. The sketch is funny enough, barely, but the Germans seem to have found something hidden within its few scenes of slapstick, and even fewer lines of dialogue, beyond the reach of almost every other country.
Comment from Michael V. Owens
What do the Germans find so funny? Why do they watch it so religiously, making it the number one television program of all time!? These are serious questions many researchers in myriad fields of academic study have tried to answer.
If you would like to watch the original from 1963, it is right here:
Some have said that it shows Germany finally accepted the first half of the 20th century, and were ready to begin on the second half. Others say that the themes of social class in Britain (Germans feel strongly about some sort of proper socialism), the idea of a ninety year old baroness sleeping with the hired help who is also longer in the teeth, or just the simplicity of British “Benny Hill” style humor suits the Germans’ fancy.
Others researchers focus on the Germans, and their desire to remain stable. The most important line is when the butler asks the Lady, “The same procedure as last year, madam?” Her reply is “The same procedure as every year, James.” This continuity, this desire for stability, can be seen in the management structure at any German car company, Germany’s politics, or the Germans’ love of neo-Classical architecture and art.
Strangely enough, or perhaps not, British humor has evolved into the 21st century and Dinner for One is mostly unknown in the British Isles. A few other countries are aware of the show, with Nordic countries, the Baltic States, and those country which border Germany being influenced the most.
I think there is another reason for Germany’s love affair with the show.
Charles de Gaulle famously quipped “Comment voulez-vous gouverner un pays qui a deux cent quarante-six variétés de fromage?” (How can you govern a country which has two hundred and forty-six varieties of cheese?) In Germany there are over 1200 breweries and an equal number of sausages. The differences between Germans from Chemnitz and Cologne, or Magdeburg and Munich are clear, with the different political and economic systems after the Second World War being two of the major components. The cultures between the East and West were also different in many areas.
As stark as these differences may be, and they are tangible, the differences between Hamburg and Augsburg, or Duisburg and Dachau are even greater. The north-south divide is as wide as the east –west.
Perhaps, Dinner for One, like Die Mannschaft and bread, has become a thing (of only 11 minutes) which can unite a people which has been separated for centuries. It is their joke. Political divides, religious divides, economic divides and culinary divides, are all palpable within the country. A group of Germanic tribes united only by some similarities in language, beer and sausages can all find humor in something which really does not matter.
I suspect, that if one wants to truly understand the Germans, he must understand what it is in a silly skit that attracts all Germans. And like the people themselves, there really is no single answer, like there is no uniform German.