Their albums dominate the charts, bought by fans who make a Songs of Praise audience look youthful. This is schlager, Germany's most embarrassing musical genre
Anyone who looked at the German album charts in recent months was probably pretty surprised. Aside from the usual imports from the big pop-producing nations (the US, UK, Sweden), homegrown schlager records dominated the listings.
Schlager, a strange genre of music, emerged after the second world war. It was an encapsulation of all things German and a backlash against American rock'n'roll. Ever since its early days, schlager has used simple patterns of music (just like Eurodance, Germany's other mega-genre) while its lyrics are rarely political, often concerning romantic themes. Whole subgenres are dedicated to niche topics such as being on holiday, country living, life on the Autobahn, living with animals and living with animals on the Autobahn.
Nearly half the albums in the charts are by schlager artists, among them the highly successful Helene Fischer and Andrea Berg. The former has hooked up with TV presenter Florian Silbereisen to become the dream couple of new German schlager.
Berg, a 45-year-old former nurse, sings songs with titles such as Give Me a Star and Hold My Heart in Your Hand. She "loves sexy outfits" and, according to the tabloid Bild, looks like a "hot rock chick" dressed either in a leather suit, or a scantily clad butterfly. With 10 million sales under her belt, she is the most popular German artist of all time. Her best-of album has been in the top 100 for 342 weeks. When the average German wants to switch off after a hard day at the office, they are more likely to play an Andrea Berg album than open a beer.
To understand the late chart success of schlager, you need to think less about whether German booze is getting worse, and more about the age of the record buyers. Schlager fans know so little about technology that they think a torrent is an Afghan cave system. They don't just download schlager songs ? they buy the CDs over the petrol station counter, too.
Despite its commercial success, schlager suffers from a lack of credibility. Most radio and TV stations ignore the sales figures and plug their own, highly selective schlager-free charts. Media Control, a marketing research company that monitors German music, omits schlager entirely from its charts.
As a result, the influence of "chart music" is on the wane, which is where, off the chart and away from the musical mainstream, comes a new wave of German punk bands. These bands represent the complete opposite of everything schlager. Top of the pile are Ja, Panic ? five unbelievably skinny, camp and phlegmatic Austrians who live in Berlin, write manifestos, love champagne, divide YouTube commenters, avoid ever explaining themselves and have faces that only a mother (or Malcolm McLaren) could love.
April will see the release of their new album, DMD KIU LIDT, which apparently includes more English lyrics than before. Their last record, The Angst and the Money, is the best and most substantial work to come from the German music scene in a decade: "Ohne geld keine angst ... Ohne angst kein geld" (No money, no fear ... No fear, no money).