Weten: The Ohnsorg-Theater

In the section ›Weten we present to you information about the Low German language and associated culture.

Have you ever heard about the Ohnsorg-Theater? If you are not from Germany, you probably have not. Congratulations if you are one of the adepts! Everyone else will hopefully be enlightened by this article.

The Ohnsorg-Theater is an institution in Germany. It's a small theater stage in Hamburg that performs Low German plays since more than a hundred years. The fame of the stage comes from a decision in 1954 of the German TV broadcasting station ARD to air humorous plays from the theater in all of Germany. To appeal to the audience, most of which did not speak nor understand Low German (Low German TV did not exist), they abandoned the Low German language and aired the plays in High German with a Low German accent.

The plays became a great success! The ARD was the only existing broadcasting station in Germany back then. So of course millions of people joined in when the plays went on air. On one side this created fond memories of a likable “Northernness” propagated by personalities like Heidi Kabel. On the other side this put the idea into millions of minds that Low German is just a funny-sounding form of High German. People mistook the “Missingsch” (High German wearing a Low German coat) used in TV with actual Low German. This was boon and bane of the perception of Low German.

By the way: The same fate of being translated into High German hit plays from the Millowitsch-Theater (Cologne) and from the Bavarian Komödienstadel, which started broadcasting after the success of the Ohnsorg shows.

In later years the ARD also began to air Ohnsorg plays in actual Low German, which spooked quite some viewers who suddenly did not understand a word. But this remained the exception. Of almost 300 episodes 22 were in Low German. The first one in 1967, the last one in 1995. In that year Low German Ohnsorg plays were dropped. For cost reasons. You know, the number of publicly-funded broadcasting stations had increased from one to over a dozen in the meantime, but the one programming in the minority language was the costly one.

The Ohnsorg-Theater continues to present Low German plays to this day in its stagehouse right next to the Hamburg central station. Its programming consists of many humorous popular plays, but also of occasional serious highbrow performances or plays for children.