Tis the season to laze about with loved ones, perhaps in front of the Flimmerkiste (flicker box, i.e. TV). While some may indulge in Hallmark mush, nostalgic tales of love and redemption, or that one classic featuring an abandoned child who booby-traps his parents’ home, the ambitious Metropolitan might do more. Those looking to improve their German and learn more about their new home need look no further: Here are five Austrian TV shows that will provide an instant deep-dive into local culture (and dialect). Good luck!
This series, written and produced by David Schalko, takes you to the (fictional) village of Braunschlag in the countryside of Lower Austria. Mayor Gerri Tschach, having bankrupted the municipality with his shady business projects, finds himself in hot water. Together with his childhood friend Pfeisinger, a washed-up nightclub owner, he comes up with a brilliant idea to save the day: They orchestrate a fake apparition of the Virgin Mary, attracting pious tourists from all over the world to their sleepy village. But this miracle – both spiritual and economic – soon turns into a nightmare, as Braunschlag is shaken by a series of uncanny events…
With a phenomenal ensemble cast, the show perfectly captures life on the countryside: the entrenched routine of family life and extramarital adventures, the dubious horse-trading of local politics, and a general ennui that covers the entire village like a blanket, both detested and cherished by its inhabitants. Since its debut in 2012 Braunschlag has spawned a considerable cult following, and the American broadcaster ABC even has a remake in the works.
The six episodes are available on Netflix, but there is no English dubbing – so plunge yourself into the dialect and snappy Schmäh of rural Austria! (The German subtitles might help a bit.)
How can pets provide comfort and emotional support in dealing with loneliness during lockdown? Why is the contested field of alternative medicine experiencing such a boom at the time of a pandemic? These are questions pursued in the latest episodes of Am Schauplatz, a documentary series produced by public broadcaster ORF. The show delves into unusual phenomena and curious court cases, but also larger trends and developments in our society.
Every week, they offer an intimate glimpse into the everyday lives of people from Vienna and all over the country. Recent episodes are available in the ORF media library – and you could also take a look at the similar format Die Reportage by ATV. These are both in German only.
Our next series takes you back to the late 19th century, plunging you into the sombre beauty of the moribund empire’s capital. Vienna Blood follows Max Liebermann, a doctor and disciple of Freud, as he teams up with detective Oskar Rheinhardt to investigate bizarre crimes. In this psychological thriller reminiscent of Sherlock, we discover a portrait of Vienna at the and of an era: torn between the golden decor and the intellectual grandeur of its coffee houses, and an increasingly violent current of antisemitism and xenophobia.
And if you cannot get enough of bloody crimes set in fin-de-siècle Vienna, you might want to check out Netflix’s Freud, which follows a young and cocaine-driven Sigmund investigating a series of supernatural murders. Although criticised for the liberties it takes with regards to historical accuracy, the show is surely entertaining as we encounter famous figures such as the novelist Arthur Schnitzler, emperor Franz Joseph and his troubled son Rudolf.
While the show is currently not available in the ORF media library, it can be found on its BBC and ZDF counterparts (although regional restrictions may apply). Since Vienna Blood is a British-Austrian co-production, you can choose between the English original and the German sync. Freud, on the other hand, can be watched on Netflix and has been dubbed in English.
Ein echter Wiener geht nicht unter
If you want to discover a true milestone of Austrian TV history, look no further than Ein echter Wiener geht nicht unter (“a real Viennese does not give up”). Running from 1975 to 1979, it follows the choleric electrician Edmund “Mundl” Sackbauer who lives in a Gemeindebau in the working-class district of Favoriten with his family. The show illustrates the local mentality (including the famous dialect and Schmäh) as the protagonists confront the challenges of everyday life – from family quarrels and marital crises to class issues and problems with debt.
While this ORF production caused a national controversy at the time of its release and was criticised for its (supposed) stereotypical portrayal of the working class, it has since become a beloved cult series for many. It is not available via Netflix and co., but you can watch this show (and many other Austrian classics) on the Viennese VOD platform Flimmit. Furthermore, true aficionados can also find a number of DVDs and anniversary box sets.
Since the adventures of “Mundl” are only available in their original synchronisation, you are guaranteed to learn a lot about the Viennese dialect while watching – including an enormous variety of insults and swear words…
Die Ibiza Affäre
This recent miniseries portrays an event that has profoundly shaken Austrian politics: the Ibiza affair. We discover the story behind the infamous video of far-right politician Heinz-Christian Strache (FPÖ) meeting with a (supposed) Russian oligarch to discuss, among other things, a ruthless quid pro quo – exchanging positive press coverage for government contracts. This corruption scandal ultimately led to the collapse of the turquoise-blue coalition in May 2019.
Masterfully, the four episodes recount the affair in all of its complexity: the unlikely couple of a Viennese lawyer and a shady private detective who set up the trap, the mechanisms behind the video’s publication and its dramatic fallout. A gripping watch that reveals a lot about Austria’s political culture which, as even more recent events have shown, remains unchanged.
As the show was produced by Sky, you can watch it via the company’s services. Again, there is only the Austrian original available (with German subtitles, optionally). Viel Spaß!