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Culture : Sitcom Pokes Fun (Ouch!) at German Bigotry : Loudmouthed 'Motzki' star attacks easterners. Critics return fire, demanding show be banned.

March 02, 1993|TYLER MARSHALL | TIMES STAFF WRITER

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 all that often, either.

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.

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 very prejudices that politicians here have tried so hard to pretend don't exist--prejudices that are unspoken in polite company but that nevertheless dominate the arduous process of German unification.

Motzki is a western German who hates ossies --slang for 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 employs 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 (westerners), you'd have 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 goddamn wall."

* On German Unification Day: "Oct. 3rd 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 both played by eastern Germans who moved west in the early 1980s--Juergen Holtz, 61, former East Berlin stage actor now with the Frankfurt am Main 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."

Meanwhile, Germans, both east and west, are still in shock.

Rarely, if ever 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.

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

Some have called for candlelight protest marches against the show, such as those mounted in recent months against right-wing extremism.

A lawyer who represented a Berlin Wall victim at the trial of former East German leader Erich Honecker 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 and offered dinner with a mystery guest to the winner.

Western political figures, especially those from Chancellor Helmut Kohl's Christian Democrats, have led the chorus of outrage.

"What we need now between east and west is something that eases our contacts with a bit of humor--not something that drives us apart," said Bundestag President Rita Suessmuth.

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