German army creates ‘reality show’ to boost popularity, critics warn of distortions

The German army (Bundeswehr) is set to launch a new reality show covering the daily life of fresh recruits. The project, aimed at boosting the popularity of the military, faces mounting criticism from politicians, the public and activists.

The reality show, titled ‘The Recruits’, depicts the daily lives of 12 army newcomers during their basic training. The show is split into 90 episodes of about five minutes each and will be put on the Bundeswehr YouTube channel every day, starting from November 1. The project is part of a larger campaign by the government to fill the ranks of the Bundeswehr with new recruits. 

Yet following the release of a trailer almost a week ahead of the launch, the project has already caused quite a stir. While generally approving of the idea of increasing the army’s appeal among recruits, Bundeswehr PR adviser and former military officer Sascha Stoltenow warns of painting a false picture of reality. 

“Unfortunately, the campaigns of the Bundeswehr do not necessarily represent the image of an army in which one must also fight and kill," Stoltenow is  by Die Welt as saying. He added that the show creates the feeling that the army is a huge “adventure playground.”

Stoltenow’s concerns are echoed by communication expert Thomas Koch, who said the army “very clearly focuses on certain topics and values, such as sports, adventure, comradeship, [and] technology.”

The show, which according to German media cost €1.7 million (US$1.86 million) in production and some €6.2 million in additional expenditures, has also seen a mixed reaction on social media. While some backed the project, others mocked its high price.

“How to get rid of 8 mn €? Just go to the @bundeswehrInfo and spend it on a low budget web series,” one person wrote. 


Another person even went as far as to allege that Nazi Germany propaganda chief Joseph Goebbels would have envied the Bundeswehr’s strategy. “Goebbels would be jealous of the marketing of the Bundeswehr,” the  said. 

In July, the German army introduced its new roadmap to the national parliament, stating that the country has “a responsibility to help shape the world order.” In May, German Defense Minister Ursula von der Leyen announced the country's first army expansion since the Cold War.

Over the next seven years some 7,000 new troops will be recruited with approximately 4,400 new civilian personnel hired as well. The Bundeswehr has also rolled out a broader PR strategy to attract more recruits, with the government allocating some €35 million in 2015 for the plans.

The latest attempts by the Bundeswehr to attract more servicemen and servicewomen did not sit well with some of the country’s lawmakers either.

"As long as the equipment of the Bundeswehr is so poor, the most expensive advertising clips will be of no use,” defense expert and lawmaker of the Green Party Tobias Lindner is  by NTV as saying. 

In a recent interview with Die Welt, the head of the Association of the German Armed Forces, Andre Wuestner, noted the country’s military is far from being in a perfect shape.

“There are still enormous gaps in the German armed forces, whether with reference to the weapons systems or the personnel situation,” Wuestner

“No one needs advertising films for dying abroad," a politician from the Left party (Die Linke) said, criticizing the army clip.

"There would have been more meaningful ways to use these millions," Agnieszka Brugger from the Green Party concluded, as  by Tagesschau.