Remember the era of watercooler TV? Where shared consumption of certain programmes created a sense of togetherness? In Germany, they call this a ‘campfire moment’, when the whole nation is united in front of their TVs watching a popular show, irrespective of age, class or anything else that might divide us. For anyone who was a child or teenager in Germany – or indeed Switzerland and Austria – in the 1980s the hugely popular programme Wetten, dass …? was one such watercooler moment. And for one night only, it came back at the beginning of November, when German public broadcaster ZDF aired a one-off 40th anniversary edition.

For everyone who’s not familiar with the concept (although, as I just learned from Google, the programme also inspired a British show You Bet!, hosted by, among others, Bruce Forsythe), the programme, which ran until 2014, revolved around bets and ordinary people offering to do something unusual, difficult and very often just simply bizarre. To give you an idea of what we’re talking about here, bets included lighting a pocket lighter using an excavator shovel or a blindfolded farmer recognising his cows by the sound they made while chewing apples. Yes, it was glorious. And it made Wetten, dass ..? into Europe’s most successful Saturday night TV show, broadcast live six to eight times a year from different cities in Germany, Austria and Switzerland.

The anniversary show, with the programme’s legendary host Thomas Gottschalk who, at 71, still sports a head full of blonde curly hair and doesn’t look much older than when he first took over presenting from the programme’s inventor Frank Elstner in 1987, turned out to be a resounding success. For one night only, watercooler TV was back, with 13.8 million people watching and a market share of 45.7 per cent. German Twitter was ablaze with many of the 1980s children and teenagers engaging in our 21st century dual screen habit and providing a simultaneously ironic and sentimental commentary on what was happening on screen.

Me, I have my very own Wetten, dass ..? legacy which I carry around with me to this day. When I was about 11 (or around that time), I saw a guy on the show who bet that, when having a text read out to him, he could promptly tell you of how many letters it consisted of right after the last sentence. He did and I was apparently so fascinated that I started practising ‘counting’ the letters of words in my head, too, trying to follow his example. And while I never reached his speed, I can confidently say that I’m faster than anyone I know, having kept up the habit for decades now, and baffling people in my surroundings with this ‘skill’. Which would come in handy if you did crosswords, which I don’t, but hey, it keeps the brain agile, I guess. So, thanks for this, Wetten, dass ..?. You will always have a special place in my – head.

Barbara Geier is a London-based freelance writer, translator and communications consultant. She is also the face behind, a German travel and tourism guide and blog that was set up together with UK travel writer Andrew Eames in 2010.

Disclaimer: The views and opinions expressed in this column are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the official policy or position of Discover Germany, Switzerland & Austria.

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