On May 10, 1981, the French discovered the face of their new President of the Republic, François Mitterrand, on a piece of music by the German electronics group Kraftwerk.
And the Germans, who love to eat asparagus in spring (to the point of having invented the invaluable machine to peel asparagus), discovered this fabulous vegetable thanks to the French Huguenots.
These two examples testify to the extraordinary richness of the Franco-German relationship. For stories of this type, there are dozens for those interested in both countries. All this means that, in the end, each country is for the other at once curiously familiar and vaguely foreign.
That said, do the French know Germany well? Not so sure. It is this observation which presided over the birth of Karambolage, in 2004.
In fifteen years, the show, which celebrates its 500e episode, so had the infinite merit to teach them that the German Nutella is stronger than the French Nutella; that a good Erkältungsbad is an excellent remedy for colds; that the assassination of the young Benno Ohnesorg by a police officer in 1967 is the prelude to May 1968 in Germany. The Germans were able to listen to Johnny Hallyday's tunes; to try to understand our French love for snails; hear about the typical Huma Festival.
Totemic program of Arte, Karambolage is short: it is eleven minutes, punctuated by several topics, and an angle, always the same: French and German decrypted. In its specifications, the creator of the program, Claire Doutriaux, did not want a show "Which reinforces stereotypes". French, this documentarian who describes himself as "A child of the Elysée Treaty" (she was nine years old in 1963), lived and worked in both countries. She imagined the show as a bridge, while avoiding too openly addressing insiders; she did not want that Karambolage becomes "A program for French-speaking Germans and Germanophiles of France". Another guideline: "The harmless is relevant". Thus, everything is told by details, anecdotes. The story by the little end of the spyglass.
The program broadcast 1500 subjects in fifteen years. We talk about snowmen, latte coffee or Adenauer. From "Yards" to develop: the subjects revolving around the cultural contributions of the populations resulting from the immigrations, that it is in France and in Germany. So we have already seen in Karambolage the story of the Kolonya, the fluted glass bottle of Cologne water that the German Turks lavishly shower their guests' hands to welcome them.
A consolation: if the French are less familiar with Germany than the Germans do not know France, they are however more numerous to watch Karambolage The program brings together 700,000 viewers in France, compared with around 250,000 in Germany.
Times change: when it started Karambolage in 2004, says Claire Doutriaux, "The French were quite ignorant, and stereotypes about Germany. There was no Berlin effect, there was no Merkel effect. From now on, the French come on holiday in the German capital. It has become New York of Europe in a few years.
Johanna Luyssen correspondent in Berlin