Le Bureau, La Job or La Ofis – these are the names in French, Canadian French and Chilean of the adaptations of the British TV series The Office. The genre was conceived by comedians Ricky Gervais and Stephen Merchant in 2001 . The German version, Stromberg, quickly gained followers since its own remake in 2004.
The Office in Germany
Stromberg is also the surname of the head of the claims department of an insurance firm, aka David Brent in the original version. Bernd (Christoph Maria Herbst). He leads an office of co-workers who couldn’t be more different: there are, amongst others, Ernie Hesiterkampf (Bjarne Mädel) the mommy’s boy, the bigger-boned and good-hearted Erika Burstedt (Martina Eitner-Acheampong) and the daring but not very intelligentUlf Steinke (Oliver Wnuk). Every seat in the office is occupied by a different stereotype. All are held in equal contempt by the boss – Stromberg – who would play dictator in his own little kingdom of files. Stromberg himself, though, is a first class slacker. So far it's nothing spectacular. Every sitcom is based on a good mix of stereotypes.
So what is the secret recipe of this series? Stromberg, like all remakes of The Office, takes the form of a pseudo-documentary style. The camera is situated between copy-machine and coffee-machine; it wobbles a bit and, as though in a reportage, all the co-workers, above all the boss, comment on the thrills and spills of day-to-day filing. Moments of painful, embarrassed silence are treated no differently to politically incorrect commentary. Generally, Stromberg discriminates indiscriminately: he insults foreigners, gays, women, anyone who is overweight, stupid, blonde, and of course, his colleagues. Statements like 'The Turks can do coffee, Doner kebabs and belly-dancing. Nothing more. That’s not prejudice, that’s proven by history', or 'The boss just has to let off a fart around here, and the worker’s committee demands sound-proof walls!' are standard repertoire. It’s blunt, but staged authenticity - and it’s catching on.
No pay no gain
The Stromberg fan community is big. It’s screened five seasons on television already, with 46 episodes altogether, and dvds sold in the hundred thousands already. Meantime, Stromberg’s catchphrase 'läuft' ('that works', 'okay!') has already slipped into the everyday speech of young Germans. The magnitude of support from fans, who are persistently demanding a sixth season of their favourite series, is obvious: one million euros were donated in the first week alone following an appeal by the production company. They wanted to produce a Stromberg movie, but needed funding for it. The fans put out a plea for support via crowdfunding. Anyone could donate any amount, however big or small. The outcome was incredible.
'Perhaps it’s typical of Germans that this genre is so successful'
What works well in Germany doesn’t always work so well in other countries. At the BBC, where the original was broadcast, there have only been two seasons. In France, even less, with only one. Perhaps it’s typical of Germans that this genre is so successful, because daily life in a dreary insurance department with hard work and routine works well for stereotypes.
Images courtesy of © Brainpool/ Willi Weber