Welcome to Six Damn Fine Degrees. These instalments will be inspired by the idea of six degrees of separation in the loosest sense. The only rule: it connects – in some way – to the previous instalment. So come join us on our weekly foray into interconnectedness!
As someone who is always trying to improve their German, without actually doing the hard slog of sitting down with an exercise book and learning all the correct genders for nouns or what on Earth is going on with prepositions (seriously – what is going on there?), I have discovered a dubious easier alternative: popular culture.
Or more specifically, popular culture dubbed into German. If there’s a big movie coming out that looks not brilliant, just a bit meh – then I try to watch it first in German. Actual complicated drama series are beyond my talents. I won’t understand enough to follow the plot. But Godzilla: King of The Monsters? I’m there! (Ich bin dort?)
There’s a problem with this, though, in that the actual German speakers I know speak English so well that they do not – definitely not, under no circumstances, absolutely never, Alan, stop looking at us like that – want to watch Hollywood blockbusters dubbed into German. So I have ended up either buying the stuff to watch at home or – as was the case with the aforementioned Godzilla movie, head to a Swiss cinema to see the German dub of the film in the middle of a gloriously sunny afternoon alone. And in this case I was literally alone. The only person watching in their largest theatre. I felt like Howard Hughes in my own private giant auditorium. Only without the long fingernails and nearby dubious bottles of liquid. (That was Rivella. Honest!)
My quest to watch German dubbed entertainment ultimately led me to DVD boxsets, German dubs of classic TV shows. I would binge watch series that I had maybe watched bits of, but had never actually watched all the way through. And that led me to the original Star Trek. Sorry – I mean:
I mean, as a kid I had watched the show. Just never consistently. I knew enough to know the characters, some of the more famous aliens, the general vibe of the programme. But I’d never watched all of it, and certainly not in any sort of order. Thanks to a German DVD boxset this would not be rectified. I’d be watching classic Star Trek. Just with all the wrong voices.
It took a while to get over my disappointment that the guy who dubbed Scotty didn’t even attempt to speak German with a strong Scottish accent. There was little of the fun, exasperated weariness to Bones, who just sounded like generic German Doctor. The guy dubbing Spock though clearly attempted to mimic the way Leonard Nimoy delivered his lines, and managed to recreate that impressively.
And then there was Kirk. Having seen the originals, I was well aware of William Shatner’s iconic performance. The brilliantly… distinctive way of… speaking. None of which was to affect or influence Gert Günther Hoffmann, the actor who dubbed him into German. He had clearly seen the title of the character he was playing – Captain – and decided to go all in on that alone – give him a serious, commanding voice that would obviously be the person in charge in any room. And – crucially – absolutely nothing like William Shatner.
And yet, here’s the thing. As I watched the series, I grew to really love this performance. It wasn’t Shatner, but something that in many respects fitted the role as originally imagined so much better. One that would not be so easily parodied or affectionately mocked. But one that really worked. A True Captain. Well worth exploring brave new dubs for.