Wednesday, November 30, 2011

Weihnachten in der Sesamstraße

During the '50s and '60s, an Austrian actor/singer named Peter Alexander became a huge star in Germany. By the '70s, Alexander (like many popular entertainers) began hosting many television shows, events, and specials. During this decade he hosted a variety show known as Peter Alexander präsentiert Spezialitäten or Peter Alexander presents Specialities. In 1975, one of those "specialities" included a yuletide visit to everyone's favorite inner city neighborhood Sesame Street, effectively making this the world's first Sesame Street Christmas special.

Peter Alexander reveals Santa Claus's secret.

Alexander explains to his German audience that he will be traveling to a magical place for the holidays and invites them to come along as he steps through his personal wormhole that leads directly out of the apartment building at 123 Sesame Street.  This trip only lasts fifteen minutes, but it allows the host ample time to interact with the famous characters, sing a few songs, and exchange gifts.  Oh, and the whole thing is in German.

Willkommen bei Sesamstraße!  Where everybody wears lederhosen now!

Our usual crew of Muppeteers were present to film the scenes, but their voices were dubbed over by their German equivalents.  It is a little jarring to hear these new voices coming out of their mouths, but this is what the German audience was familiar with.  Even if you cannot speak the language, you can still notice the sense of glee Peter Alexander has as he cavorts around the set with these iconic characters.  You can even tell where the corny jokes are placed, if you pay close attention.

Part One

Part Two

Very little occurs in terms of plot, and Alexander does not interview the characters or present anything new about their lifestyles.  It's as if he just decided to drop in and become a part of their family for a bit.  In addition to Christmas carols, he also gets a chance to sing the Sesame Street theme song as well as the classic song "Sing."  And, to be honest, isn't that exactly what you'd do if you visited Sesame Street?

Living the good life.

Even though Peter Alexander is a star in his homeland and was living the life of fame and fortune, this was his one opportunity to visit Sesame Street.  He was going to have fun with it.  Like a giddy child, he flits about, going from puppet to puppet just having a blast interacting with them.  When else would you have the chance to play jokes on Bert and Ernie, have a philosophical discussion/duet with Kermit the Frog, or get yelled at by Oscar the Grouch?

He hates me!  I feel so blessed!

To me, the most fascinating aspect of this special is not what happens when he comes to the street.  It is what happens when he returns home.  Clearly the Sesame Street segments were filmed in advance, over in America, before he made his show.  So it is not until he returns to the live portions of his program that we can see the audience whom we've heard laughing this entire time.

They are all adults.  Not a single child is in the audience.  While variety shows are usually targeted to families as a whole, it is amazing to see a giant audience filled with grown-ups enjoying the antics of children's show fare.  And I am not referring to the cases we see often where adults enjoy the shows of their youth and can easily look past the fact that the material was original marketed towards children.  Nor am I referring to shows that act like children's shows but secretly try to establish an adult fanbase as well.  This was 1975.  Sesame Street was a show just for kids.  It was an intelligently put together show, but still, it was not intended solely for adults.

Yet, here are many people who are not only enjoying it, but are very familiar with it.  A kids show from a foreign country, no less!  Name any other international kids show that could have warranted such a television event.  The German dub of the show had only been in existence for two years at this point, and, already, the nation was in love with it.

The original cast, on a break from spreading merriment throughout the world.

What better time than Christmas to become a child again?  To forget about the year's troubles and just celebrate togetherness and fun?  It is a rare treat to visit that street, but it is certainly a gift that would never be forgotten.

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