Lifestyle & Belief

Eurovision becomes cool again in Germany


John and Edward Grimes of the Irish band Jedward celebrate after qualifying for the finals of the Eurovision Song Contest on May 12, 2011 in Dusseldorf, Germany.


Sean Gallup

BERLIN, Germany — Berliner Katya Boerna has either hosted or attended a Eurovision Song Contest house party every year she can remember.

When her home country hosts this year’s final on Saturday night, an unavoidable visit to her in-laws’ house means this will be the first year in many that Boerna, a 40-year-old office administrator, hasn’t crowded around a TV with a dozen or more friends to enjoy the great spectacle of camp.

“I’ll still be watching it with one eye. Normally I’d have a party but this time I might just have to excuse myself and disappear into another room with a TV,” she said.

Boerna is unabashed about her long-term love of Eurovision which, with an estimated TV audience of 125 million, is said to be the most-watched non-sporting event in the world.

And increasingly, her compatriots feel the same. Long maligned as an exercise in what Germans call “schlager” — or cheesy pop — Eurovision has been reinvented in the country that will serve as host on Saturday night, perhaps even gaining a modicum of coolness.

“Before, people didn’t have the guts to say, ‘Yes I watch it.’ It was for old people," Boerna said. "But it’s become cool again and people aren’t afraid of saying they’re watching it.”

The reasons for Eurovision's redemption might say as much about Germany as it does about the music and the costumes. Saturday night will be as musically patchy and frequently bewildering as the 54 contests that came before it. But Germany, which will host the event in the Rhineland city of Dusseldorf, has become more relaxed and self-assured in its outlook on this unique mix of entertainment and politics.

For years, according to Klaus Woryna, a Munich lawyer who heads the German branch of the international Eurovision Fanclub Network, Germans took their dismal performances as yet more evidence that the rest of Europe disliked them. Bloc-voting became the pattern, with Scandinavians always giving one another the full 12 points allotted to each participating nation, and the former Soviet states often doing the same. Germany never had a bloc.

“For a long time, Germans thought, ‘Nobody likes us, nobody votes for us, why should we bother?’” Woryna said. “Of course, we are a complicated nation. We had a bad attitude toward Eurovision. Now it’s a cool event, especially after Lena won.”

Lena Meyer-Landrut, the perky teenager from Hanover, last year snatched the first German victory at Eurovision in 28 years — to the genuine surprise of many of her compatriots. Armed with just the right amount of attitude, an amateurish charm, a fake British accent and a birth date after the fall of the Berlin Wall, Meyer-Landrut personified the new, young Germany that was unencumbered by 20th-century history.

Her arrival came four years after Germany experienced a watershed when it hosted the football World Cup and people discovered they could fly the German flag and display their national pride un-selfconsciously for the first time since World War II.

My friend Walter, a German civil servant who’ll be enthusiastically hosting a Eurovision party on Saturday night, put it this way: “Lena won partly because she represented that period after the World Cup. She represented this new attitude. Before her, Germany’s contestants had either taken it very seriously ... or they were being completely ironic. But Lena was right in the middle.”

Meyer-Landrut has gone on to moderate success in her home country, helped along by her mentor, the German comedian and impresario Stefan Raab — a kind of German David Letterman — who has been instrumental in reviving Eurovision here.

Flushed with their success, Germany under the influence of Raab decided right away to re-enter Meyer-Landrut in this year’s competition. It’s a move that looks almost certain to fail, given Eurovision winners, with exceptions of Abba and Celine Dion, tend to have a shelf life measurable in nanoseconds.

Last year, Meyer-Landrut’s awkward dance moves and slight goofiness charmed the rest of "Europe," from Ireland to Azerbaijan to Israel. Now she is in danger of looking too mature and sure of herself — precisely the way Germany has started to look with its stellar economic growth and its persistent lecturing of its neighbors to get their finances straight.

The contest favorite, ironically, is Ireland, which last year found itself in the opposite corner from Germany in the protracted dispute over the former’s financial bailout. Ireland’s entry is Jedward, a pair of identical 19-year-old twin boys singing a whooping, upbeat number, “Lipstick,” which has all the characteristics of a Eurovision classic. They are the bookies’ tip and also the most searched contestants on Google outside their home country, a statistic that has accurately predicted the last few winners.

Countries in the economic doldrums historically perform well — either because they put more effort in to boost morale or because they garner sympathy votes. While it may seem to be about the sequins and the strobe lights, the political undercurrents are always present.

At a time when Greece is rumored to be considering pulling out of the euro zone and Denmark is talking about scaling back the cherished Schengen agreement allowing freedom of movement, Eurovision is a reminder of everything the old continent has been through together.

“After more than half a century, it still shows the diversity of Europe,” said Walter, whose wife happens to be Irish. “Despite all these differences, you still have something together after all these years.”