Who's been using my olive oil? Germany's Silver Girls get bitchy in hit flatshare show

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The Independent Online

It's another day in a Berlin flatshare and there's another row. "I just wanted to borrow a tiny bit of Ilka's olive oil," explodes Mechthild. "But, oh no, I can't, can I? No, that's her special olive oil." No change in the land of communal living, then. Except that these flatmates are not students, they're pensioners.

It's another day in a Berlin flatshare and there's another row. "I just wanted to borrow a tiny bit of Ilka's olive oil," explodes Mechthild. "But, oh no, I can't, can I? No, that's her special olive oil." No change in the land of communal living, then. Except that these flatmates are not students, they're pensioners.

They are the stars of a brand new German docu-soap which asks: could sharing a flat in your declining years be the solution to the isolation faced by the country's increasingly aged population? Silver Girls, by German film-maker Alice Agneskirchner, sees five women aged between 60 and 70 leave their homes to move in together in a rambling, seven-room apartment in east Berlin. Like their US screen-sakes, Golden Girls Dorothy, Blanche, Rose and Sophia, the Silver Girls Ursula, Mechthild, Roswitha, Ilka and Herta are all divorced or widowed but defiantly young at heart and determined not to grow old alone or rely on their families for support. The result: compulsive, often hilarious, viewing.

"To a successful flat share!" the Silver Girls declare, downing champagne and getting off to a typically idealistic start. The new room-mates bond: going power-walking in the park, having late-night chats about potential boyfriends and enjoying an open-air concert by ageing east German rockers The Puhdys. Predictably, though, it's not long before collective domestic bliss degenerates into all-out war.

The girls have a particularly spectacular row in Ikea over which kitchen shelves to buy. Mechthild, 67, a posh, orderly art historian from Hamburg starts having daily clashes with 69-year-old Ursula, a chaotic Berlin artist and leftist campaigner. Herta, a student protester in her younger years, now prefers listening to opera at such deafening volume it drives the others mad. And Bavarian Ilka, who also moved in her scatty pet dog, Daisy, starts hiding her food to stop the others stealing it. The flatmates eventually call in a group therapist to help them solve their issues, but by programme four, the bitchiness has got so bad Ursula moves out.

If the Silver Girls project appears to suggest the contrary, German experts maintain oldie flatshares are a practical solution for Germany's almost 20 million pensioners. As in other European countries, Germans are living longer and more actively than ever before. The overwhelming majority, 90 per cent according to some surveys, say they don't want to be forced into nursing homes.

"Communal living in shared apartments and houses is definitely the model for the future," says Richard Palm, co-founder of the Berlin-based Communal Living Forum. Indeed, Germany appears to be leading the way with an innovative and liberal approach to ageing. Along with a "rent-a-granny" child-minding scheme launched to help single mothers, in Berlin a GDR-era tower block is currently being converted into the city's first pensioner and child day centre.

Ms Agneskirchner, motivated to make Silver Girls following her fruitless search for a new, company-filled home for her elderly father, maintains she is not put off by the tumultuous experiences of her Silver Girls. "I think it all depends on having the right-shaped and -sized apartment. You definitely need more space in which to retreat," she said. "I see the Silver Girls as our pioneers".

The Silver Girls, though, aren't convinced. By the time the two-month-long pilot project was up, the remaining four admitted their relief at being allowed to return home. "I felt so liberated," Mechthild told Die Tageszeitung. "It was just too stressful in there."

Ursula agreed. "I heard from the others that they'd rather be damned than live in a flat-share in their declining years," she said. "Give me my own apartment any day."

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