Michael Otto – A Life between Bangladesh and Blankenese
NDR Typical!
A film by Frank Sieren
30 minute documentary
First broadcast: Thursday 27.09.2018 at 18.15 on NDR
How is one able to combine business with a sense of social commitment? What is a fulfilled life? How do we need to treat our world? Michael Otto who stems from Hamburg has often asked himself these questions during his lifetime. There is not one other of the great German entrepreneurs of his generation who places such importance on the balance of profit and sustainable development, as well as of entrepreneurial success and social commitment, as he does. For a long time he was derided for this. Nowadays he is regarded as a pioneer in his line of business. And he did just manage to transform his father’s long-standing catalogue venture into one of the leading online retailers in the world. Neckerman and Quelle on the other hand went under.
This year the modest entrepreneur turned 75. It is the first time that Otto has taken a film crew in order to visit the most important places in his life. We travel from Hamburg to Hong Kong, over China and Bangladesh to Tanzania and then back again to the banks of the Elbe. Never before has Otto justified himself so explicitly in front of a camera. Candidly he looks back on his colourful life. A life spent in a continuous balancing act between the pursuit of profit and sustainable development, between celebrity and privacy and between tradition and innovation. It is long period of time that has not gone by without setbacks. Up until now he struggles every day with a stance that he finds appropriate. It ranges from the perspective of the big picture to the concern about the small one. It happens to him in old age more than ever.
Laura of Arabia – Alone among Men
WDR ‘Worldwide’
A film by Frank Sieren
30 minute documentary
First broadcast: Wednesday, 16.11.2016, 22.55 on WDR
In the emirate of Qatar with its 2.5 million inhabitants she is by far the best known female foreigner, but also the most controversial. She shares the greatest passion of the men of Qatar: Laura Wrede hunts with falcons. In a completely male dominated sport she is the only woman. Strictly speaking it is impossible, “But’, says the Munich natively self-consciously, ‘this rule I broke a little seriously.” She has also already been spat on, but she reassures that this rarely happens. Also the turban that she wears is technically only for men. However her only reply to a sheik who severely reprimanded her for this was: “Yes but now I am also wearing one.”
The thirty year old has been living in Qatar for five years and manages the office of an international marketing agency. Early in the morning at 4.00 a.m., long before the working day begins, she trains her falcons Rahmat and Shekat. Her main goal is to compete in Al Galayel which is the biggest falcon hunt on the Arabian half-island – of course as the only, and above all, as the first woman ever. Will she succeed in doing so? Will the sheiks give her the permission to do this? Will she be able to prove that she can hunt just as well as the men? WDR Worldwide accompanies ‘Laura of Arabia’ in a country that unrelentingly struggles between tradition and modernity.

My Mother, the Manchurian Princess
WDR documentary
A film by Frank Sieren, Martin Gronemeyer and Anke Redl
45 minute documentary
First broadcast: Saturday, 31.05.2014, 00.00 on WDR
At New Year he had to perform the ritualistic kotow in front of his own mother, in the privileged colonial mansion he learned of Chinese ghost stories from the nanny, and being a ‘non-Arian’, he could only associate with the Hitler Youth Group of his school as ‘a guest’. Theodore Heinrichsohn, who everyone just calls Teddy is the oldest, living Chinese-German. The son of a Manchurian Princess and a German missionary is born in north China in 1930. The son does not matter so much to his aristocratic mother. Therefore, but also to learn about western customs, he is enrolled at the German boarding school in Shanghai in 1941.
There he experiences how global politics has shaped and influenced his personal life. The Nazi ideology of distant Germany also reached parts of the German community, and Teddy followed how Shanghai was increasingly being caught up in the maelstrom of the World War II. In 1949 when he was taking his school leaving examinations in Shanghai, Mao’s communist troops marched into the city as victors. Due to the fact that he did not have Chinese nationality he was expelled in 1955 as an ‘unwanted foreigner’ – one year after his father. His mother was not allowed to leave the country; Theodor Heinrichson never got to see her again up until the day she died. For one last time he travels to Shanghai in 2012 for a class reunion. In this film Theodor Heinrichson shows us his Shanghai, whilst being pulled back and forth between the cultures.
The film was so well received that it was once again screened at the German Film Museum in the autumn of 2014.
Departure Denied – Locked up in China
WDR ‘People at first hand’
A film by Frank Sieren
45 minute documentary
First broadcast: Thursday 15.05.2014, 22.30 on WDR

The case of the young freight forwarder Nils Jennrich made the headlines. The German was innocently sitting in jail in China. After the completion of his studies Neils Jennrich is looking for a great challenge in a faraway place. In Beijing the freight forwarder finds a job and the great love of his life. However the Chinese adventure becomes a nightmare in March 2012. He is arrested. The accusation is smuggling art. Nils thinks that a Chinese competitor wants to push his company out of the market. For 127 days, almost for four months, Nils will have to remain in custody in an overcrowded four person cell with thirteen others, in which nobody speaks English, the light never goes out, and which he can only leave for rare interrogations. His family is not allowed to visit him. His lawyer is not allowed to talk to him about the case. But he is also not indicted and therefore is unable to defend himself.
Only after the personal intervention of the former Minister of Justice Leutheusser-Schnarrenberger, is Nils Jennrich released in August 2012. But it will still be a tough, months-long battle, with the repeated pressure of the Federal Government until Nils is finally allowed to depart. In this documentary Nils, his family, friends, his pregnant fiancé, the German ambassador and senior politicians recount how they fought for Nil’s freedom.
Tibet – In the Valley of the Golden Monkeys
Countries -People –Adventures
A film by Frank Sieren
45 minute documentary
First broadcast: Sunday, 19.01.2014, 17.15 on SWR
Ziri and Zhadui, who have both just turned twenty, live in the far reaches of Tibet’s mountains in a remote mountain village. Their families are simple farmers and earn their living through traditional agriculture: just like their predecessors they grow apples, grapes and walnuts. In the spring the friends herd their shaggy yaks onto the pastures which lie at an altitude of more than 5000 meters. The role models of the two friends are traditionally Tibetan and fashionably western: the Dalai Lama and Justin Bieber. Their pride and joy is a clattering, old motorbike. Together they take this motorbike on expeditions – as long as there is enough fuel in the tank. When the fuel runs out they collect rare mushrooms, sell these and then are able to afford to fill the tank.
However progress is catching up with this idyllic scene: in the neighbouring valley the Chinese are already blasting motorways through the rocks. This is putting their friendship to a serious test, because Ziri and Zhadui have different goals in life: Ziri wants to stay in his mountain village and take over his parent’s farm, whilst his buddy Zhadui is learning Chinese and is already dreaming about the big city.
Green Tomatoes for Mao’s Heirs – A German Eco-pioneer in China
WDR Worldwide
A film by Frank Sieren
30 minute documentary
First broadcast: Tuesday 02.04.2013 22.00 on WDR
Biological farming and species appropriate animal husbandry – in China? After all the country epitomizes pesticides, plastic toys with poisonous additives and a not exactly prissy handling of animals. The German organic pioneer Klaus Griesbach knows that things can be done differently. At the beginning of the 1970s he opened one of the first health food stores in Germany. Today the by now 70 year old works as a consultant in China’s fast growing organic sector. The visions of the German of the old school left and those of the new Chinese capitalists are on an unstoppable collision course.
For Griesbach it is a great adventure. Global author Frank Sieren accompanies the German on an inspection tour of an organic farm in the picturesque southern Chinese province of Yunan and to the customers in the shops in Beijing. Jute instead of plastic is certainly not an issue for them. With a Louis-Vuitton bag on the shoulder they load up their sport utility vehicles with organic apples. The new organic reality of China is sometimes even too much for Griesbach: he would never have dreamed that the alternative Muesli culture would one day evolve into an Asian luxury. His youngest employer is even listed on the New York stock exchange.

In the Currents of the Steppes - Nuomin He, the Flying Mongolian Photographer
Countries -People –Adventures
A film by Frank Sieren
45 minute documentary
First broadcast: 19.02.2012 on SWR
The fuselage of his aircraft reminds you of a bathtub and the wings are covered with canvas. His pilot’s helmet is decorated with a red star. Nuomin He is a flying landscape photographer. He steers the ultra-light aircraft with the left, and with his other hand he operates his Hasselblad camera. For many years he was a successful businessman, until one day he asked himself “What do I really want?” The answer was: flying and taking pictures. He started to live his dream.
Meanwhile, throughout the world he is the only professional aerial photographer who always sits behind the joystick himself in order to take his pictures. Every summer he flies over the never-ending expanses of Inner Mongolia in northern China. His impressive photos feature meandering rivers, as well as rolling and green shimmering grasslands. The landscape of Inner Mongolia is filled with natural wonders, but it is changing dramatically. During his stopovers Nuomin He learns about the hardships and the hopes of his fellow countrymen. The economic boom has left drag marks in the previously untouched landscape. Every day they experience the contradiction between Mongolian traditions and the Chinese economic miracle.

Sew until you Drop? On the Road with German Inspectors in Asia
A film by Frank Sieren
45 minute documentary
First broadcast: 08.12.2010
Under pressure from the media and non-governmental organisations, suppliers like the Otto Group, the biggest mail order business in Europe and C&A, one of Europe’s largest retailers have in the meantime developed an inspection system, in order to reduce the exploitation of workers in Asian factories. Is the work of the inspectors’ only company PR or do they actually improve the conditions of the seamstresses and weavers?
The Asia specialist and best-selling author (The China Shock) Frank Sieren visited just under twenty factories in China, Bangladesh and India. He reveals the inspectors’ conflict between commerce and minimum social standards, between local circumstances and German benchmarks. However Sieren also reveals the consequences of the customers’ desire to have the cheapest possible products. Sometimes the inspectors who are under enormous pressure are no longer able to control their emotions. They get enraged or even burst into tears. With this film one is able to see how exciting, entertaining and investigative it can be to just simply show the world as it is. A world in which good and bad cannot so simply be separated.

Chinese in Porsche Fever – Touring the Black Forest with High Fliers
A film by Frank Sieren
30 minute documentary
First broadcast: 07.10.2009 on ARD
Just under a dozen Chinese Porsche owners are traveling to Germany for the first time – to drive Porsche. At 1000 Euro per person they travel in convoy through the Black Forest, then the Swiss Alps over Italy to Munich. They spend the night at the best hotels that Europe can offer. The mostly young, newly rich Chinese cruise on German motorways without speed limits for the first time, and curve along the secluded mountain roads in the Black Forest with droning engines.
The high fliers are doing themselves proud, in the middle of a world-wise crisis, which has even hit Porsche with full force. They are unperturbed: “The financial crisis has affected industry, but it hardly affects a nation with culture”, says Shi Lei in his mid-thirties, a car dealer from Kunming, a city of five million, which lies far down in the south-west of the country on a 2000 meter elevated plateau. We accompany the wealthy Chinese back home and have look around in their area: How did they make it to the top in the most populated country in the world, which is booming like no other despite the crisis? And at whose expense?

Beijing Opera on a Persian Carpet – A Family in the Clash of Cultures
A film by Frank Sieren
30 minute documentary
Premiere: March 8, South by Southwest Film Festival, Texas, USA
First television broadcast: 05.02.2009 on ZDF
The atheistic Chinese and the religious Iranians have already been doing business worth billions for a number of years. The more the USA increases the pressure, the more the Chinese and the Iranians move together politically. Now there is also to be more of a cultural exchange. At the invitation of the Iranian government almost twenty Bejing opera performers are traveling to Iran. Never before has Beijing opera been performed in Iran. Are the Mullahs aware of what they are letting themselves in for? How will the strict Iranian censors react to the plays? How will the Iranians and Chinese get along with one another?
Ghaffar Pourazar stands in the middle of these two worlds. The exiled Iranian has already been living in China for 15 years and is the only western foreigner with a complete Beijing opera certification. He grew up in Iran, went to school in Cambridge, was a computer animator in London and has lived in China for 12 years. Ghaffar has a British passport. His parents are Americans. His family lives in Teheran, Los Angeles and Germany. China and Iran – two nations that are more than 2000 years old share the same pride of their country and over the centuries the same enemies. Today they stand shoulder to shoulder against the west. Ghaffar now gets to meet his Iranian family again after 15 years – with twenty Chinese in tow. His 28 year old cousin Haleh has never left Iran. Visas to the west are rarely granted to Iranians. On the other hand to obtain a visa for China is easy. Will China now become an option for their future instead of the unwelcoming west? Will the Chinese and the Iranians become friends for life? Or are they just forming an alliance of convenience against the west?
And the Oil Entices Forevermore – China’s Grab for Africa
A film by Frank Sieren
45 minute documentary
First broadcast: 06.06.2007 on ZDF
Virtually unnoticed by the world public, a global scramble has begun for Africa’s markets and resources. Whilst the G8 countries struggle with concepts for the long term development of the Dark Continent, China is forcing the old colonial powers out of Africa with investments worth billions and incomparably cheap loans. With dynamic development aid, shrewd political tactics and strategic partnerships the middle kingdom is securing the favour of the poor countries, and tapping into sources of raw materials, future markets and influence. “Now we have the choice between Asia and the West”, says Olusegun Obansanjo, one of the most influential African politicians, who since 1999 has been the democratically elected president of Nigeria, the most heavily populated and oil rich country of the continent.
EU politicians fear that moral standards and democratic achievements could be subverted by the offers of the Chinese. “The acceptance of the best offer is extremely ethnical for the future of our continent”, retorts Obansanjo. The west is bewildered. How should one react? This question is one of the central themes of the G8 summit in Heiligendamm. Not only is the west loosing access to scarce resources. German construction companies for example are experiencing the new competition on a daily basis: for decades they were firmly established on the continent, and now they have to bid against the Chinese, whose state subsidized offers they are unable to compete with. The Chinese are building roads, railway networks and whole cities. Quickly and without the red tape they make funds available and bring along their skilled workers at the same time.
Asiatalk – The New Talk Show from Beijing
Deutsche Welle TV, the station from the heart of Europe is now broadcasting from Asia for Asia. With Asiatalk, the new DW-TV talk show from Beijing everything revolves around the steadily growing challenges of globalization.
DW-TV is hereby directly serving a special target group in Asia. Frank Sieren is in conversation with guests who currently have a distinctive relationship with this region of the world. The new series begins on December 3, 2009, initially with eight German and eight English sequels. It is broadcast on DW-TV ASIEN+ and DW-TV ASIEN.