I once heard Germany described as Europe's Japan, and I go along with that. However you look at it, Germany matters. But the problem is: how do you get a country like Germany into the classroom and in the best German, too? One answer is N-TV, the round-the-clock Berlin news station. It costs nothing and is broadcast unencoded on Astra (Channel 48). N-TV may look as if it comes from a broom cupboard, but its day-by-day chronicling of Germany and the restof the world are a real teacher's friend: relevant, up-to-the-minute and in excellent German.
News from home and abroad comes every hour on the hour, and, until around 2pm (all times given are local time), and other programming is dominated by the business world. These days, the German condition is read from the DAX, not Der Zauberberg, and informed reporting on, for example, Wall Street or household names like Mercedes and BMW brings German economics to life. The vocabulary yield is excellent.
Afternoons tend towards magazine-type programmes. These include n-tv emnid (a constantly updated review of Germany and the Germans in the light of public opinion polls); Reise (a travel magazine); Motor (the Germans' love affair with anything on wheels); and Auslandsreport (mainstream and off-beat reports from N-TV's foreign correspondents). Auslands- report, especially, fosters any number of productive cultural contrasts. The way the Germans see us is typically rosier than the way we see them; and the European Union sheds many, if not all, of the negative stereotypes foisted on it by British insularity.
At 8.15pm and again at 11.15pm comes Das Thema, which consists of either one or two topics of current interest explored in depth by an in-studio moderator and invited experts. The programmes are well thought out, there are few if any argumentative politicians about the place, and the whole thrust of the enterprise is elucidation, not confrontation. Topics vary widely, from international crises to the Berlin marathon, but they generally get efficient treatment and give "deutsche Gruendlichkeit (German thoroughness)" a good name along the way.
When, five-and-a-half years ago, N-TV first went on the air, it was doubtful whether it would last. However, its viewing figures have steadily increased to the point where some 3,000,000 viewers are reckoned to switch on at least once a day, and the financial break-even point is heaving into view earlier than expected. So, the station looks like being around for some time yet. That is definitely a happy prospect for those with an educational interest in Germany, since there are some mega-stories unfolding at the moment that aspiring and established Germanisten will want to keep up with. These include the replacement of the mark by the euro; the general election in Germany next September, which may well see, after 15 years, a change of government and the departure of Chancellor Kohl; the transfer of the seat of national government from Bonn to Berlin; and, of immediate importance to German teachers, the on-going saga of the spelling reform.
N-TV's rudimentary but adequate"Programmschema" is free, and obtainable from: N-TV, Taubenstrasse 1, D-10117 Berlin, Germany Tel: 00 49 3020 1900.Dr Colin Butler is senior Englishmaster at Borden Grammar School Sittingbourne, Kent, and taught German for many years at theUniversity of Toronto, Canada