The Art of Synchronizing Hogan’s Heroes

Wintertime seems to be the season when I spend a bit more time in front of the TV. I end up watching almost anything that is being shown so I can sit under a warm blanket in front of our fireplace. Most of the TV shows here are either take-offs from some successful American show or it is a synchronized version of a sitcom. Don’t get me wrong, I’m not complaining, if you want to chill then an old sitcom or a copy reality show can do the trick.

I remember watching some dubbed films in America, years ago. They were terrible and weren’t at all synchronized. The film-mouth would be finished moving and the voice would continue or vice versa. That is not the case in German. The Germans have pretty much mastered the synchronizing technique to perfection.

Hogan’s Heroes

Almost every sitcom has been synchronized and at some time has run on Swiss or German TV. One that is running at the moment is: Hogan’s Heroes. It originally ran in the States between 1965 – 1971 so it is old and dated. Here’s a quick synopsis for those of you who don’t know what the show was about. It was about a group of allied prisoners running a special operations in a German POW camp in WWII. The prisoners there were clever and inventive. Admittedly I saw the show as a young child but had absolutely no understanding what it was about. And yes, the World War II theme was so watered down that even a child could watch it without having nightmares. Nothing like the shows being aired these days.

There are some things that I find extremely interesting about the show. The show depicts the Germans as a group of bumbling men. Strange that the Germans would even want to watch something like that.

When I saw the names of the actors on the credits I thought, gee, some of them sounds awfully German. I looked them up in the Internet. The actors who played Germans in the Series actually spoke German as their mother tongue. The main actor (Wilhelm Klink, played by Werner Klemperer) in fact fled Germany as a teenager. For his role he had to get back his German accent that he had lost. I have asked myself how difficult it must have been for him and the others to portray officers in the German army. I read somewhere that Klemperer only agreed to play the role if the Germans would never succeed in the series.

English speaking German

What really amazes me is that in the series, the Americans and English are able to speak perfect German. So perfect, in fact, that they impersonated Germans and fooled the Germans in the show. I’m not saying that that is impossible but I’m sure I couldn’t impersonate a Swiss and get away with it for any amount of time. At some point I will get a case wrong or my sentence structure isn’t 100% correct. But this is a sitcom and I guess anything is possible.

I’m sure in the original version that everything was in English with the appropriate accent (German, French or Russian). After all, their target group was Americans and that way all the English speaking people understood what was being said. The fact remains that the actors who were supposed to be speaking German spoke English and in reality could speak German. Still, for the show to be seen in German speaking countries it had to be translated into German. Nonetheless, that is weird having a German speaker dub a English speaking German back into German. In the end, everyone including the Americans, French and English all speak German.

The liberties of Synchronizing

Sometimes the same person will synchronize other people in other sitcoms. After all, it’s a job like other jobs. At the moment the sitcom M*A*S*H* comes on right before Hogan’s Heroes. I’m usually in the kitchen cooking while waiting for Hogan’s Heroes to come on. Once I caught myself looking to see if it had begun and I realized that the voice I heard and thought was Hogan was Hawkeye Pierce!

What I also found out was all the things that can be done or changed while synchronizing a series. These are things that I had no idea were possible, but like I said, Germans have perfected the art of synchronization. To add additional color to the caricatures, the accents of the German actors were carefully selected. Things that the actors say can be slightly changed to make a character more appealing. They gave one English caricature a stutter which he didn’t have in the original series. I believe they did that because they didn’t think the Germans would understand or appreciate English humor.

They also added an additional character, the housekeeper of the camp commander. Imaging writing a character into something that had been filmed years earlier. Of course like Columbo’s wife she is never seen but referred to quite often. It is even insinuated that she and the commander had an ongoing affaire. Other liberties the synchronizers allowed themselves was to change some of the sabotage targets. All the changes they made seem to fit perfectly into the show as if that was the way it was supposed to be. And, all the talking only happens when the actors open their mouths.

A Sitcom is a Sitcom

If you wanted to, you could tear Hogan’s Hereos apart bit for bit. This, that and the other thing were incorrect. The wrong guns, facts that seem to contradict themselves and change. For example, where exactly was Stalag 13?

So be it. I don’t believe that it was meant to be a historically correct presentation of the facts. I just enjoy it for what it is a comfortable way to past the time.

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