City that came in from the cold

6th December 1996 at 00:00
HALLO AUS BERLIN BBC2

Resource pack, including teachers' notes, transcripts, photocopiable masters, audio and video, Pounds 57.50. From BBC Educational Publishing, PO Box 234, Wetherby, West Yorks LS23 7EU

Age range: 11-14

What kind of city is Berlin then Miss?" Now what kind of a question is that to pose to the 30-something German teacher.

It's exciting, attractive and fun. It was unique. In the Seventies, it provided the perfect backdrop for a wee dabble into the chilly thrill of cold war politics. However, since 1989 Berlin's image has changed for good.

The 10 programmes of Hallo aus Berlin introduce an integrated multicultural European city of the Nineties, which provides an essentially comfortable home town for a group of six young Berliners.

It is indicative of Berlin's reintegration into European urban normality that a presentation of its amazing historical legacy takes a back seat to a presentation of ordinary life. It's as much about the mundane and predictable side of adolescent life - getting socks from Granny or moaning about homework - as it is about quietly showing those aspects of life which give German society the distinctive edge so often admired and envied by young people in this country.

The programme on school in particular, leads to spirited debate among British pupils. Differences are tangible: Klassensprecher democracy, low-key "bing-bong" school bells and even a Raucherecke allowing freedom of choice for post-16 smokers.

While there's certainly a comfort factor in recognising similarities there's nothing like a good look at basic differences to maintain interest and enjoyment in the classroom.

Lasting only 15 minutes, these programmes work at a lively pace and leave little scope for loss of interest in pupils of all abilities. Apart from initial introductions straight to camera, the six young Berliners do not "speak" directly to the viewer and are, instead, observed in a predictable but comfortable variety of everyday situations: in cafes, at school, at the doctor's, etc.

While obviously set up for camera and with a consequently rather squeaky-clean image, these mini-dramas are ideal for passive understanding. The now inevitable vox pop interviews allow for more class interaction - predicting responses and commenting on ideas and opinions with useful inclusion of the printed question text on screen and regular use of the Sie form of address. Ironically the third section, and very lynch-pin of the programmes, caused me the most initial scepticism.

Rolli and Rita are computer graphic characters who embark on simple mini cartoon-style adventures. They also provide a concluding musical interlude to each programme with action songs of the "heads, shoulders, knees and toes" variety. The scepticism about the popularity of these was quite misplaced. Even quasi-sophisticated 14-year-olds were both impressed with the graphics and dead keen to engage in the sing-along sessions.

It's interesting to note that the resource pack includes an audiocassette with music-only versions of the same songs. Enthusiasm for musical participation could be maximised by including karaoke sessions on dull Monday afternoons.

Hallo aus Berlin is an orderly and clearly-structured series of programmes in which language is sharply defined, the young Germans are attractive characters and the cartoons bring out the happy primary pupil in all ages and abilities.

The lifespan of the television series is necessarily short. German teachers need to cash in now on the slick contemporary feel of Hallo aus Berlin and allow the black and white archive footage of Berlin's fascinating post-war history to explain that enduring look of nostalgic fascination in a teacher's eye.

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