GDR history

Fernsehlorbeeren – the television award in the GDR

The television laurels were the most prestigious award of GDR television. In this blog post, you can find out how the winners were determined and which GDR television stars won the prize. by Dr. Stefan Wolle (12 Apr 2023)

The television laurels were the highest award of GDR television, which was called »Deutscher Fernsehfunk« (DFF) until 1972, then »Fernsehen der DDR«. The golden, silver and bronze laurels were awarded at irregular intervals by the television directorate to persons or collectives who had rendered outstanding services to television. These figures could be actors, directors, television journalists, scientists or public figures. The award was presented ceremoniously, usually by the director Heinz Adameck or his deputy. The television laurels were not endowed. Much more lucrative were the national prizes, which were often distributed after successful »screen events«.

GDR Television Award »Fernsehlorbeer« in blue case

In 1964, the prize winners were chosen for the first time by the readers of the »Berliner Zeitung«. The television laurels were presented at the inaugural meeting of the DFF's Scientific and Artistic Advisory Board (Berliner Zeitung, 23.02.1964).

Real voting results in the awarding of prizes

What was remarkable about the awarding of these prizes was the fact that they apparently followed the real voting results. Thus, among others, the immensely popular Willi Schwabe, whose »Rumpelkammer« was a big hit at the time, the sports reporter Heinz Florian Oertel and the actor Eckart Friedrichson, known as »Meister Nadelöhr«, received the Golden Laurels, but not the chief commentator Karl-Eduard von Schnitzler, who distinguished himself as an SED propagandist. This caused trouble behind the scenes, as was heard at the time. The award to »Sudel-Ede« (Schnitzler's nickname) was handed over in 1966 (ND 02.12.1966). But even the party press did not initially have the presumption to claim that »Schni...« had been chosen by the public. A »Schni...« was the unit of measurement for the time it took to change the channel when Schnitzler appeared on the screen – according to one of the Schnitzler jokes told at the time.

In 1968, he was then allegedly voted number one in the reader poll of the »Berliner Zeitung« and the television newspaper »FF dabei«, and was pictured on the front page together with Manfred Krug on the occasion of the award ceremony (Berliner Zeitung, 01.03.1970). Otherwise, the award ceremony was only reported under the heading »mixed news« on the culture page.

Special television laurels

That being said, the television laurels were by no means linked to the choice of television favourites, but could be distributed at will as well. 

In 1966, for example, the screenwriters of the DEFA film »The Mother and the Silence«, Ursula and Michael Tschesno-Hell, received the Golden Laurels. The Silver Laurels were awarded to the leading actress of the film, Erika Dunkelmann, and the director Wolfgang Luderer (ND 05.03.1966).

GDR Television Award »Fernsehlorbeer« reverse side

The prize could also be awarded collectively. In 1966, for example, the DEFA Studio for Documentary Films received the prize on the occasion of its 20th anniversary (Berliner Zeitung, 25.05.1966).

In the same year, the chairman of the State Broadcasting Committee, Prof. Gerhart Eisler, also received the gold award on his 69th birthday (Berliner Zeitung, 21.02.1966), in 1976 the television critic of the »Berliner Zeitung« Gisela Hermann (Berliner Zeitung, 10.11.1976), and in 1984 the Gewandhaus orchestral director Prof. Kurt Masur (Berliner Zeitung, 06.03.1984).

Television laurels abroad and in the Church

Occasionally, foreign personalities also received the television laurels, such as a delegation from the television of the United Arab Republic (UAR), i.e. Egypt and Syria, in 1965 (Berliner Zeitung, 31.7.1965).

Particularly exciting was the awarding of the television prize on Easter Sunday, 29 March 1986, to the editorial staff of the television station responsible for church programmes, which had been broadcast in the 2nd programme since 1978 (Berliner Zeitung, 15.04.1986). In view of the growing tensions between state and church, the SED leadership obviously wanted to point to its liberality, which made it possible for a church programme to exist in the GDR at all, even if its content was more than tame.

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