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Aktuelle Kamera logo from the late-1980s
|Starring||See Hosts below|
|Country of origin||East Germany|
|No. of episodes||over 12,000|
|Running time||0:30 minutes (per episode)|
|Original network||Fernsehen der DDR|
|Original release||December 21, 1952 – December 14, 1990|
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Aktuelle Kamera ("Current Camera") was the flagship television newscast of Deutscher Fernsehfunk, the state television broadcaster of the German Democratic Republic (East Germany) (known as Fernsehen der DDR from February 11, 1972 to March 11, 1990). On air from December 21, 1952 (daily broadcasts did not take place until October 11, 1957) to December 14, 1990, Aktuelle Kamera was one of the main propaganda tools of the East German government.
Originally, Aktuelle Kamera was (at least by Eastern Bloc standards) fairly critical of the ruling Socialist Unity Party. This was because television was not considered part of the mass media at the time due to its limited reach. However, this changed when the television service reported accurately on the uprising in East Berlin on 17 June 1953. In the repression following the uprising, DF's director was sacked. Afterwards, DF/DDR-FS's newsroom was directly linked to the SED Politburo, and Aktuelle Kamera took on a similar look to its radio and newspaper counterparts. For most of the next 37 years, it had a marked pro-government bias and typically did not report on news that could potentially fuel anti-government sentiment. With few exceptions, stories promoted socialism and portrayed the West in a negative manner.
Aktuelle Kamera's main edition was originally scheduled at 8pm before being moved to 7:30pm in the 1960s, so as not to coincide with the major West German newscasts, ZDF's Heute at 7pm and the ARD's Tagesschau at 8pm, both of which were widely watched in East Germany. The broadcast lasted 20 minutes until 1972 when it was expanded to a full half-hour.
Starting in the mid-1970s, another 30-minute edition was presented on DDR2 (launched in 1969) around 9:30pm. Prior to that, both channels aired Aktuelle Kamera simultaneously at 7:30pm, then repeated the next morning when DDR1 signed on around 9:30am (later 8:30am), before airing school-oriented programming, co-produced by the DDR-FS and the GDR Education Ministry.
News summaries were added as the transmissions increased during the day. There was a bulletin at the end of the morning programmes (i.e. between 12 noon and 1pm) and another, the afternoon news update, at 5pm on DDR1. DDR2's evening schedule always began with the news at 6:45pm (later 5:45pm and 6:55pm). Late newscasts didn't appear until the 1970s, when DDR1 screened a headline update following the magazine programmes, around 10pm. From the 1980s, Aktuelle Kamera's final round-up was the last scheduled programme at the end of the day.
In fact, television audiences largely ignored Aktuelle Kamera, preferring to watch West German newscasts. The East German authorities adopted the French colour standard SECAM rather than the PAL encoding used in the Federal Republic of Germany. The basic television standard remained the same. It did prevent reception in colour by native East German TV sets though the majority of them were monochrome (black and white) anyway.
East Germans responded by buying PAL decoders for their SECAM TV sets. Eventually the government in East Berlin stopped paying attention to so-called "Republikflucht via Fernsehen", or "defection via television" and from 1977 onwards permitted the sale of dual standard (PAL/SECAM) sets.
Aktuelle Kamera served as an example for the Estonian newscast Aktuaalne Kaamera that was first aired in Eesti Televisioon on March 11, 1956. Aktuaalne Kaamera, after several changes in format, still airs as a daily newscast.
Coverage during the last days of GDR
Starting in October 1989—almost a month before the fall of the Berlin Wall--Aktuelle Kamera loosened its fidelity to the party line and began presenting fair reports about the events transforming East Germany at the time. On October 16, it showed its first pictures of the massive opposition rallies taking place every Monday in Leipzig. Within two days of its historic coverage of the Monday demonstrations in East Germany, AK broadcast highlights of the dramatic October SED plenum that saw the mass removal of the party leadership and of several members of its Central Committee.
On October 30, 1989, Aktuelle Kamera on DDR2 was rebranded as AK Zwo. Three months later, long after the Berlin Wall fell but before German reunification, AK Zwo's theme and graphics were carried over to Aktuelle Kamera versions on the DFF1 (the former DDR1) on March 12, 1990. The 12:50pm newscast was from then known as AK am Mittag ("CC at Midday") and the main broadcast at 7:30pm became AK am Abend ("CC Evening"). News summaries received the generic name of AK-Nachrichten (simply "CC-News") or AK-Kurznachrichten.
The October 2 and 3, 1990 editions featured highlights of the events on the eve of national reunification and on the day itself.
Fate after Reunification
The last AK am Abend was anchored by Wolfgang Meyer on December 14, 1990 at 7:30pm, while the last newscast as Aktuelle Kamera was anchored by Petra Kusch-Lück on 1am the following day on DFF1. The following day, DFF's newscasts were re-titled Aktuell ("Current"). East German television was reduced to one channel, after DFF1 folded, its transmitters becoming part of the Das Erste network.
On January 1, 1992, the former DDR2 was regionalised and incorporated into the ARD as the regional channel ("Dritte Programme" -"Third programme") for the "New Länder" under the names of Mitteldeutscher Rundfunk-Fernsehen (Saxony, Saxony-Anhalt, Thuringia), ORB-Fernsehen (Brandenburg, later merged with Sender Freies Berlin to form Rundfunk Berlin-Brandenburg) and N3 (Mecklenburg-Vorpommern).
In popular culture
The 2003 film Good Bye Lenin!, about a woman who falls into a coma before the Berlin Wall comes down and doesn't emerge until several months hence, features Aktuelle Kamera as a plot point. The film deals with how her children create a "DDR in her bedroom", doing such things as putting food in old jars, wearing old clothes—and showing AK tapes heavily. One of the first things protagonist Alex's friend Denis does is get tapes of old East German shows: "about 30 Aktuelle Kamera, 11 Der schwarze Kanal, six of Ein Kessel Buntes (shown in subtitles as "that variety show you mentioned"), and three or four of Everyday Life in the West." When Alex said that his mother would notice that the news was old, his friend replied that "they're all the same old crap, anyway." Denis, an amateur filmmaker, even goes as far to produce fake newscasts that say that West Germans were streaming into the DDR to avoid neo-Nazi groups and unemployment, not the other way round.
Aktuelle Kamera's principal presenters, 1952-90:
- Herbert Köfer
- Klaus Feldmann
- Elisabeth Süncksen
- Hans-Dieter Lange
- Angelika Unterlauf
- Wolfgang Meyer
- Wolfgang Lippe
- Matthias Schliesing
- Renate Krawielicki
- Anne-Rose Neumann
- Peter Kessel
- Christel Kern
- Klaus Ackermann
- Heidrun Schulz