German television viewers have chosen Konrad Adenauer, the postwar federal chancellor who sought to erase the legacy of Adolf Hitler, as the greatest German of all time, beating off challenges from Martin Luther and Karl Marx. Voting for Hitler was banned.
That was not the only example of nerves among the producers of Unsere Besten ("Our Best"), modelled on the BBC's Great Britons series which saw Winston Churchill come out top. ZDF, Germany's second public broadcaster, decided Great Germans might sound too insensitive, and changed the title of the three-week contest.
Adenauer, a strict Catholic credited with re-establishing democracy and prosperity in West Germany after the Second World War, received more than 750,000 votes registered by phone, internet and text message on Friday night's final, which had an audience of three million. Luther came second with more than 500,000 votes, closely followed by Marx. Albert Einstein, Johann Sebastian Bach, Bismarck, Goethe and Gutenberg, inventor of the printing press, were all in the last 10.
"Adenauer was a great statesman," said Dr Burkhard Olschowlsly, a modern history lecturer at Berlin's Humboldt University. "I would say there were a lot of older Germans voting in Unsere Besten and I imagine this had a lot to do with the result. Many of them were young in the 1950s and 1960s and have unbelievably good memories of that golden era."
Younger Germans, faced with the country's current 10 per cent unemployment rate and an economy which has dipped in and out of recession for the last three years, were less impressed. "Haven't we got anything better to do?" asked Benny Goerwitz, only half-watching the programme as he struggled to put together some Ikea shelves. A recent graduate, Mr Goerwitz said he had "struggled" to find a job.
Disaffected youth are thought to be behind the strong showing of some trash TV stars and D-list celebrities, including pop producer Dieter Bohlen, the local equivalent of Simon Cowell, and Daniel Küblböck, a floppy-haired 16-year-old who was runner-up in the German version of Pop Idol. The present Chancellor, Gerhard Schröder, whose tax cuts were rejected this month by the upper house, scraped into the top 100 at number 82.
"Are all our best people dead?" lamented Bild, but there was more dispute over who qualified as German. Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart ended up at number 20, even though some argued he should be excluded as an Austrian. If the organisers had agreed, it would at least have given them another way of keeping out Hitler.Reuse content