West Germany produces a soap opera success

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It was a week in which Fallon vanished and Alexis was accused of murder. But the burning question for German television viewers was whether Dr. Brinkmann would propose to Nurse Christa. Brinkmann and Christa are two leading characters in a soap opera called Schwarzwaldklinik (The Black Forest Clinic). It has established itself as a runaway success in just seven weeks.

The program has been roundly lambasted as visual kitsch by the critics. But over 20 million fans are hooked to this tale set deep in the woods of southern Germany.

In its first week Schwarzwaldklinik broke all audience records in this country, attracting 24.6 million viewers. In comparison, US imports such as Dynasty and Dallas are watched by about 17 million people.

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A book of the series has just been published and a second is being printed. The Black Forest rest home where location scenes are shot has become a place of pilgrimage for viewers.

The influential news magazine Der Spiegel attacked the $4.3 million series, transmitted at prime time on Sunday night, dubbing it ``Operation Kitsch.'' Der Spiegel accused Schwarzwaldklinik of being a throwback to the ``Heimat films'' popular during the Nazi period. These movies were set in rural Germany and glorified the traditional way of life.

But West German television's publicly owned second channel ZDF, which shows Schwarzwaldklinik, is pleased enough with its success to commission 11 new 45-minute episodes for next year.

The urge to make a successful soap opera has spread to ZDF's main opponent, ARD. ARD's new show -- Lindenstrasse (Linden Street) depicts daily life on a suburban street in Cologne.

Billed by its scriptwriters as West Germany's answer to Britain's long-running Coronation Street, Lindenstrasse contains such staple soap opera characters as a nosy cleaning woman, a young couple, and a few members of ethnic minorities.

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