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Last Updated: Monday, 7 March, 2005, 08:57 GMT
German Big Brother to run and run
By Damien McGuinness
In Berlin

German Big Brother
The new series of Big Brother in Germany attracted 26000 applicants
For Germany's latest and sixth series of Big Brother, TV channel RTL II has gone one step further than a house and built an entire village just outside Cologne. And with no set end date, contestants could well find themselves living in it forever.

Eleven young hopefuls have moved into the new village, which covers an area of 5000 square metres and includes a bar, a gym, and a market square.

In the show, which began at the beginning of March, rather than sit around on sofas, the contestants also have to do some work. Either in a farmyard, a car workshop or a fashion atelier.

And, whereas the winner of season five walked away with one million euros, in this series prize money will be given out bit by bit.

The money, which is paid into Big Brother bank accounts as a reward for challenges successfully carried out, will be lost if the contestant leaves the village voluntarily.

German Big Brother
The "poor" living quarters will test the contestants' stamina

Those taking part are divided into three social classes: rich, poor and average. The bosses give the orders and the lower ranks carry out more menial duties.

Even the accommodation reflects each contestant's social standing in the village.

"It seems to be a bit like a social experiment," says Katrin Brinkhoff, a Berlin-based media psychologist.

"And I find it especially interesting to have class distinctions in the programme in times likes these, when a seventh of all Germans are now defined as living in poverty."

'Soap opera'

But, according to Dr Joachim Huber, who writes about the media for the Berlin newspaper Der Tagespiegel, it's exactly because of the country's economic problems that around 26000 people applied to be on the show.

"I think it is rather an ironic coincidence that the new Big Brother started on the same day that record figures of 5.2 million unemployed were announced," he says.

German Big Brother
Contestants in the luxury quarters give orders to the lower ranks

"Out of the 11 contestants, five or six of them are unemployed. They have obviously seen this as a chance of doing something.

"Faced with having no work, this new form of media celebrity, living in a sort of TV Truman show, is certainly another option."

RTL II is calling the Big Brother Village "the world's first real-ife soap opera". They aim to build on the massive ratings Big Brother has attracted so far.

The four-hour finale episode of the fifth series, which was broadcast after 365 days on 1 March, had by far the highest ratings for that slot and was watched by almost 30% of its target 14-29 year-old audience.

Pulling power

Not everyone however is so impressed. "I find the people who go on Big Brother a little bit ridiculous," says one viewer.

"Their whole goal is to do something outrageous simply in order to become famous.

"It's not like it's fame based on anything they have actually achieved."

Despite mixed reactions, critics agree that Big Brother - The Village looks as if it will have no difficulty pulling in viewers.

No doubt helped by the fact that, for 15 euros a month, fans can now even watch the series round-the-clock via an online livestream or on the dedicated 24-hour Big Brother TV channel.

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