Happy Birthday to Mouse TV (Sendung mit der Maus) in Germany

Statue of the Orange Mouse- The Star of the Show that is 50 years old. Source: Steffen Prößdorf, CC BY-SA 3.0 DE https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/3.0/de/deed.en, via Wikimedia Commons

COLOGNE, GERMANY- March 7, 2021 marks the 50th anniversary of the German-speaking children’s show „Die Sendung mit der Maus“ (in English: Mouse TV), which is officially presented as „Lach- und Sachgeschichte“ (in English: Stories for Laughing and Learning). On this day in 1971, the first episode of the Mouse was introduced on public TV through the West-German channel WDR, located in the city of Cologne.

Featuring the Orange Mouse, the TV show runs along the same pattern as our American counterpart, Sesame Street, which debuted two years earlier. Unlike the Muppet characters, like Big Bird, Kermit, Elmo, the Count and the Cookie Monster, who take up most oft he show’s time through conversation and lessons, the Mouse features only three characters- the Mouse himself, the Blue Elephant and the Yellow Duck, yet the show features various cartoon clips from other shows but half the time is spent showing the viewers how things are built and how certain devices work- in live time. Like in Sesame Street, the Mouse is televised in many languages and can be seen even on American TV.

The Mouse has garnered dozens of awards, some of which have gone to two of the moderators who have been with the mouse for as long as the show: Armin Maiwald and Christoph Bienmann. While we’re talking about how things are being built in live time, I stumbled across some films that featured the bridge, while I was finding some older series to be presented in another commentary in my other column, the Flensburg Files. Some were quite funny and even if they are over 30 years old, some people will get a laugh out of them. Yet there are some that educational and quite useful for everyone to watch. We’re going to show the Chronicles‘ greatest bridge hits that were presented by the Mouse over the years. While the target language is German, the videos presented here speak more volumes than what is spoken in any language. 🙂

In the first video shown above, there are the many attempts of Christoph trying to cross the river All of the attempts were worth the laughs. Yet given the fact he was an exchange student in the United States prior to joining the Mouse in 1972, he added some American flair to the film, which was released in 1982.

The next bridge video was the first to show the actual bridge building process. This two-part series, released in 1994 takes you through a step-by-step process from planning to the actual building of the viaduct that now spans a road, river and railroad tracks.

Then there’s the bridge replacement aspect with a focus on replacing the motorway bridge in Leverkusen. Started in 2014, the series is ongoing and there will be much more to come as the project progresses, for the bridge replacement is expected to take a decade to complete.

And lastly, we have the newest among the bunch, the slide-in replacement of a railroad bridge near Cologne and the process that took a full weekend to complete, yet the filming was enough for one episode.

Especially in the past decade, the videos on building bridges have become more popular for people of all ages for much of the infrastructure is getting older and becoming unable to handle today’s traffic in terms of volume and weight. Nevertheless, they are interesting to watch as each structure is inspected and when it is concluded that replacement is inevitable, the planning, design and construction is carried out.

Even if one is not interested in bridges, the Mouse presents virtually every aspect of manufacturing or making the basics for every day life with the purpose of making it entertaining but most importantly, educational.  I started watching the Mouse when my daughter was born in 2008 and since then, it has become a cornerstone to our Sunday ritual: Mouse TV with pancakes for breakfast, all on the sofa in the living room, something that many of us in Germany enjoy doing on a Sunday morning when the show is televised on TV, either on ARD or KIKA.

And therefore, the bridge community and this columnist of the Bridgehunter’s Chronicles would like to wish the Mouse a happy golden birthday and many thanks to Armin, Christoph and crew many thanks for making the show a „bridge building“ experience for all ages, especially those who wish to become engineers in the future.

Alles Gute zum Geburtstag/ Happy Birthday!

How to teach Infrastructural History in School

Waddell Truss Bridge at Volga State Preserve. Photo taken in August 2011

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Joint Article with Sister Column:

 In connection with Files’ series on In School in Germany. More on the series can be found here.

History- a subject that goes beyond borders and looks at things that we never knew about, getting us to think about them, putting them in the context of our own lives and the environment we are living in. It goes beyond the borders of geography and how the countries were developed. It goes beyond arena of sports events and looks at the development of each kind and how the men and women contributed to it. It digs deeper into how the country was mapped out in terms of landscape, networks of infrastructure and the social aspects which led to revolution and redesign by reformists and those who wanted to make their place better than before.  In other words, one has to dig deeper to find the truth and challenge what had been written in the past but was now rebuked because of new evidence.

In school, especially on the secondary level, history is a must, and it is important that students know about the history of their country and the rest of the world for two reasons:

1. To help them become acquainted with their own region and country and discover who they are and where they came from and

2. To encourage them to find out more about themselves and where they live, by looking and exploiting the aspects that are seldom mentioned.

As there are certain requirements written by law and because of certain time constraints, only a peck of the history that exists is even taught in the schools, and when it is taught, it is with the traditional social form of teaching: the book and frontal teaching (German: Frontal Unterricht). It is not surprising that the interest in history among youngsters up to 18 is near the bottom of the food chain, in both countries- more so in the US than in Germany because of the strive of educators to have the students achieve high results in the international tests for math, reading and sciences. But as we see in the PISA studies, and which will be discussed in the Files’ article about Frontal Teaching, sometimes student involvement and allowing them to discover something new can encourage a positive education result, even better than the recent studies.

But even with these constraints, the teacher can make some space for some new things that cannot be found in books themselves- at least not yet, that is. And when students are encouraged to do some work on their own, whether it is analysing a text and writing a review about it or presenting about it, then they will benefit from it in a way that they can add the knowledge to what was taught in the past and have fun doing it. This is where the topic of Industrialization and Infrastructure enters the picture.

During my internship at a Gymnasium (EN: High School) in Germany, I had an opportunity to dig deeper into the history of the development of Germany in the 1800s by looking at aspects like the creation of democracy, Otto von Bismarck’s creation of the German state in 1871 and how Germany became a super power and remained so until the end of World War I. At the present time the students are talking about Germany, Europe and the age of industrialization between 1871 and 1914, where several aspects, such as imperialism, socialism, worker’s union and environment are being introduced. Even the expansion of the transportation infrastructure and the landscape made of steel will be mentioned. Believe it or not, this is the topic the author of the Chronicles and Files is about to do.

Talking about the infrastructure and comparing it between Germany and the US does produce their similarities in terms of inventions and the development of materials for the construction of buildings, railroads and bridges, yet how does a teacher present these aspects to the students without boring them.  Let’s look at the topic of bridges, for example. There are two different arguments for and against presenting this topic. The contra part would be the simple fact that a bridge is a bridge, crossing a ravine connecting point A and point B. If it fails or is too old, then it is replaced. The pro part to this topic feature the arguments about unique bridge designs, bridge builders that were common, including those who immigrated to the States from Germany, like Ralph Mojeski, Lawrence Johnson, Albert Fink, and Gustav Lindenthal, to name a few. Then there is the switch from iron to steel mainly because of the Great Chicago Fire of 1871, and lastly the consolidation of 28 bridge builders into the American Bridge Company in 1901 and its competition from other bridge builders in the west, as well as outside the country.

Nathan Holth once presented this topic as a whole during his time as a student teacher (his PPT presentation can be seen here). Some of the unique features, include the builder’s plaque, portal bracing of the truss bridge and ornamental features can enable historians to determine how the development of bridges came about in the US between 1871 and 1914. As I will be the second pontist to present this in a couple weeks time, the topic will be on a wider scale as Germany and US have some similarities with regard to bridge construction. The difference is with regards to the fact that the German concentration seems to be more on canals and railways than with highways, like in the US. Also the full establishment of steel companies, like Thuyssen-Krupp before 1871 enabled Germany to expand the steel-building landscape, constructing bridges and high-rise buildings in large cities, like Berlin and Hamburg, in addition to its fleet of ships.

The question is if one wants to present bridge building in connection with the industrialization- be it in the US, Germany, Europe or when comparing between two countries, what aspects are important and should be presented to the students, keeping in mind that the topic is industrialization, and the time frame is betweenthe 1870s and 1914, the time of World War I?  Which aspects should the students research on in their own spare time? And lastly how should it be taught in high school in comparison to college?

Put your comments here or on the Files’ or Chronicles’ facebook pages as to how you would approach an exotic topic like this, while keeping the topic of Industrialization in mind.  I created a pocket guide to industrial history which includes bridge building as one of the aspects. You can click here to read about it.

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