Graham Ulkins: German TV and Überraschungseier

German television news is radically different than what we're used to in America, both in structure and style. The fundamental difference is that all households are required to pay a monthly fee of about 18 Euro ($24) that goes into a public television pot. Regardless if you have two TVs, 20 TVs or no TVs, everyone pays the same amount. The two main public networks (always channels 1 and 2 on the dial) get 90% of their funding from this fee, so there's less competition for both viewers and advertisers.

Stylistically the evening newscasts here are a lot less flashy, e.g. no constant "breaking news" alerts, and not nearly as many crime stories. Germany is obviously much smaller than the US (it's about the size of Montana), so a big network of local affiliates is not necessary, but there are a handful of regional stations. We visited the Berlin studios of ZDF, one of those public networks. Because they get that monthly fee, they are – as anchor Thomas Walde told us – "rolling in the money." Those Germans who don't watch TV are not too keen on paying the fee, but it's generally accepted. And those public channels seem to leave the population more informed and engaged.

Kids love seeing commercials for Überraschungseier ("surprise eggs"). They're delicious chocolate eggs with a little toy inside. A favorite among elementary age kids, naturally I'm obsessed with them too, mainly because the toys are so interesting! Assembling the tiny plastic pieces may as well be a primer for assembling IKEA furniture. Many of them have moving parts and decals, and it's amazing to think they fit it all in a tiny egg. When I lived in Germany in 2002 and 2004 I collected hundreds of these toys … but I didn't always eat the chocolate! Ok, I rarely didn't eat the chocolate. My latest toy ended up being a Lufthansa model airplane. This one wasn't too hard to put together, but I should probably leave plane construction to the professionals. Überraschungseier can sometimes be found at World Market.

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