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Dr. John Goodyear
Dr. John Goodyear at the Friedland transit camp, near Göttingen, Niedersachsen (Photo - Zentralfim 2021)

University of Birmingham lecturer Dr. John Goodyear is presenting a flagship German TV documentary celebrating the 75th anniversary of the founding of the federal state of Niedersachsen (Lower Saxony).

German public television broadcaster NDR will broadcast Happy Birthday Niedersachsen, a 45-minute documentary presented in German by the University of Birmingham academic.

The initial 45-minute version of the documentary airs on Wednesday, 2 June 2021, 9:00-9:45pm (CET time) and will be repeated the next day with a longer 90-minute version televised on NDR in October 2021.

The University of Birmingham’s Institute for German and European Studies (IGES) is planning an on-campus showing of the documentary at the end of this year.

Dr. Goodyear embarks on a journey across Germany’s second-largest state - covering hundreds of kilometres from the German North Sea coast to the Harz Mountains. Presenting in fluent German, the West Bromwich-born academic discovers what makes Niedersachsen with its eight million people the state that it is today.

His connections to Niedersachsen date back over a decade, arriving in its capital, Hanover, in 2009 to complete his doctoral degree in German. Since then, he has made Oldenburg his home and works between the Department of Modern Languages at the University of Birmingham and the Jade University of Applied Sciences in Oldenburg.

Dr. Goodyear commented: “It was this engagement with Niedersachsen, as well as my story of learning German, that was definitive in the production company Zentralfilm choosing me to front what is a flagship German documentary to mark this important milestone anniversary.”

A recurring theme throughout the documentary is the role that the British played in shaping the state and making it the economic success it has become today. On talking to historian Simon Benne in Hanover’s Town Hall, John learns of the British military role in drawing Niedersachsen’s borders and creating the state, as well as its importance in revitalising the economy with the Hanover Trade Fair.

Meanwhile, in Friedland near Göttingen, the British Army established and oversaw a transit camp which processed half-a-million refugees in a three-month period after the war, as the Academic Lead of the Friedland Museum, Dr. Anna Haut, vividly reports to Dr. Goodyear.

At the end of the documentary, former British Army Officer, Hugh Pierson, reflects on how the British helped Niedersachsen get back on its feet after the war. Suspicion and scepticism would give way to enduring bonds of affection and friendship with some, such as Hugh, even deciding to make Niedersachsen their home.

Film director Sascha Schmidt commented: “In searching for a presenter, we sought someone who brings a passion for Niedersachsen and an objective outsider’s view to the documentary – and John fit the bill very well indeed.

“Having John with his German-British profile also supported the story and history we wanted to tell to our audience: what events shaped our 75-year history and to what extent did the British influence and impact life in Niedersachsen.”

Located in north western Germany, Niedersachsen brought together the former Prussian province of Hanover with the states of Braunschweig, Oldenburg, and Schaumburg-Lippe in 1946. Its capital of Hanover, the pristine coastline of the East Frisian island of Norderney, the extensive low-lying rural agricultural moor regions of the Emsland, the undulating hills of the Harz region and the heathlands of the Lüneburger Heide form some of the different backdrops of Dr Goodyear’s journey.

Though regional to Niedersachsen, the impact of events depicted in the documentary were felt well beyond its borders, reverberating across Germany and beyond. Among those events are the opening of the Hanover Trade Fair in 1947, the continuation of Volkswagen car production in Wolfsburg 1945/6, and the tearing down of the Inner German Border in 1989, the longest stretch of which actually ran through Niedersachsen in former West Germany.

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