German idea of reality TV: two cleaning ladies at work
Berlin: The stars of the hottest reality TV show in Germany are not castaways, bachelors or fake millionaires. They are hausfraus-cleaning ladies- who scour the country in search of untidy homes, whip the filthy messes into shape and restore order to the beleaguered homeowners'lives.
Germany Cleans Up, a weekly program hosted by the "Cleaning Commando" Rita Wild and Christel Lutzenkirchen, features the neatly coiffed middle-aged ladies as they drive around Germany, with a duster sticking out of the roof of their red hatchback like a dirt detector, on the lookout for people who have lost -or never had- the cleaning bug.
That the Putzteufel -German for "cleaning devil"- is making a comeback is no surprise to psychologists who say the country's deepening economic woes cause Germans to look for comfort from recession in cleaning.
The passion for cleaning, in other words, has tapped into a national zeitgeist.
"The cleanliness of the house is one thing people can control in times of such uncertainty, and taking care of one's possessions also becomes more important," a recent study by psychologists concluded.
So Germans seem increasingly keen to watch the two hausfraus -mop and bucket in hand- invite themselves into some of the filthiest homes and help people of all walks of life to clean up.
Both know what they are doing. Mrs Wild, chairwoman of the Leverkusen Housewives Association, and Ms. Lutzenkirchen, a former "high-class cleaner," are attracting almost two million viewers an episode, during which they target the "pigsties" of the younger generation who have "never been taught the art of cleaning."
Their "CleaningTimetables"- kitchen on Tuesday and bathroom on Thursday, for example- are being eagerly picked up by a bewildered nation in search of direction.
The candidates are carefully chosen. Most have been nominated by disgusted friends and neighbours. But, say the program's producers, they took care "not to choose psychologically disturbed people and those who take pleasure in being messy."
Ralf was the first victim. The hausfraus examined his apartment, grimaces fixed on their faces as they discovered the half-eaten mouse the cat had left behind the sofa some weeks before, and stumbled over his underpants, "complete with cinnamon stripes!" a horrified Rita declared.
The bathroom was the worst surprise. "I'm not keen on cleaning the lavatory," Ralf said. "That's women's work and not a subject I've dared broach with my girlfriend."
Donning their aprons, the pair got to work, and viewers learned how to clean a mirror with a slice of potato and a piece of paper or how to apply vinegar to lime deposits.
- by Kate Connolly, for The Daily Telegraph, October 30, 2003