Over Christmas, the British series Downtown Abbey has finally come to German TV.
Now I am very definitely not a fan of the show. Nonetheless, the German public TV channel ZDF has once again proven its track record of buying highly acclaimed TV shows from abroad and then completely wasting them in graveyard slots and/or on “digital only” channels with tiny viewerships. Hence, Downton Abbey, a worldwide success and multiple award winner, gets broadcast in a 5 PM slot on Christmas Eve, i.e. at a time when hardly anybody is watching, while tripe like Traumschiff (the German version of Love Boat, which has gone on for far too long) or the regular stream of Rosamunde Pilcher and Charlotte Link adaptations gets primetime slots. There was also very little promotion, while homegrown nostalgia programmes like Die Adlons (quasi factual saga about a family of luxury hotel owners in Berlin between 1880 and 1945), Die Buddenbrooks (adaption of Thomas Mann’s famous novel) or Die Schatzinsel (adaption of Robert Louis Stevenson’s Treasure Island) got a lot more promotion. I had to go hunting for reviews in the German press, too. Here is one from the weekly Die Zeit.
As a result, nobody I know is watching Downton Abbey this Christmas. Elderly relatives discuss the latest Rosamunde Pilcher adaption (“Well, I heard John Hannah is in it”, I remarked to blank looks all around), but have no idea Downton Abbey exists, though they are the target demographic.
However, if bad scheduling and a lack of promotion weren’t bad enough, the German version of Downton Abbey also suffers from translation mistakes. I watched about fifteen minutes of one episode before the beginning of the news, because I liked what my parents were watching at the time even less than Downton Abbey. And one of the footmen – the good-looking but backstabbing (and gay) one – entered a parlour to announce that the “Countess of Dowager” had arrived, followed by Maggie Smith sweeping into the room.
Now the title of Maggie Smith’s character is the “Dowager Countess of Grantham”. “Dowager” (which they managed to mispronounce as well) is part of her title, not a place. Now “dowager” is one of those English words that don’t have a direct German translation. And I can understand that a translator might not know such a specialized term. But whoever was responsible for translating Downton Abbey should have looked up the term rather than committing a howler like the “Countess of Dowager”.