Guardian column: Prinzessin von Podcasting

I wrote my Guardian column this week about Annik Rubens (aka Larissa Vassilian), the podcaster behind Schlaflos in München and Filme und So, whose voice was a siren call that helped draw me to Munich on my way back home from Europe a week ago. The column is here; an alternate page is here. An excerpt:

I wanted to meet Vassilian to find out whether that voice was indeed authentic – it is – and to learn how she does it. In a Munich cafe, she told me she has loved radio since she was young. Instead of watching German TV, she escaped to her room and listened to the Voice of America because “it seemed wonderfully exotic”. As a result, she learned to speak flawless English and also how to make lively radio – how, in her words, to put laughter in her voice as she speaks into her microphone, imagining that she is simply talking to a friend on the phone. As a teenager, she worked part-time at a Munich radio station. Now, as a 29-year-old journalist, she can be, like any freelancer, chewed up and spat out by various German publications. And so she came to try podcasting.

This is a cautionary tale for media bosses: it’s hard for talent to rise and survive in your institutions. But on the internet, with her podcasts and her thousands of faithful fans, Vassilian has the freedom to be herself. Later, I asked her partner on Filme und So, Timo Hetzel, what he plans to do when he finishes his studies. “Podcast,” he replied, without hesitation. Beware: tomorrow’s stars are no longer necessarily interested in yesterday’s media.

We spent hours in a Schwabing cafe talking about podcasts, journalism, advertising, media, and that night, I got to meet Timo with other bloggers in a restaurant over great wurst (Eamonn Fitzgerald reported).

One tidbit I didn’t put in the Guardian column because it would have been meaningless to a UK audience was that one of the DJs who influenced Vassilian was Shadoe Stevens. See, he was good for something.

She was amused that one of the commenters here wondered, upon learning that I’d meet her, whether she was a “babe.” I’ve never been asked that about meeting bloggers. (Winer’s no babe.) Her smile is every bit as enchanting as her voice and, yes, she is as lovely as she sounds. But she doesn’t look like what you’d expect. And this leads to a funny media story she told me. Vassilian’s mother is Bavarian and her father is Armenian. She has long, curly, and dark hair — which is to say that she doesn’t have the blond hair and blue eyes you’d expect. She said that based on her cohost Timo’s voice, she might have thought in turn that he has blond hair and blue eyes but he, too, doesn’t look like he sounds. Anyway, Larissa said that the German TV magazines (more successful these days than TV Guide) seem to have a rule that they must have a blonde-haired, blue-eyed actress on the cover for every issue and she had to write some of those cover stories. One week, part of her story was how the actress had two different colored eyes and how bizarre that is. But by the time the issue came out, though that anecdote stayed in the cover, the actress’ picture had been Photoshopped so she had two blue eyes. In old media, you have to look the part. On the internet, nobody knows you’re a brunette.

  • Kim Hill

    Thanks for resolving my “babe” question, Jeff! Enquiring minds & all.

    Actually, her manner and speech remind me very much of an ex-girlfriend of mine when I was living in Germany. Ach, damals….

    “Annik” is great if you’re missing daily German language contact, and want to keep more current. In particular, she’s great as a source of current colloquial usage. She’s as good as any textbook source for modern German, and if I were a German teacher here in NYC, I’d insist that my students listen to her. Can’t hear even a hint of Bavaria, though, which is actually good, as far as I’m concerned ;-) Anyway, thanks for the insight, Jeff!

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