How can young people be won over to a topic like the history of democracy? As a YouTuber, Mirko Drotschmann conveys history to a young audience of millions – with success. The 37-year-old, who also works as a moderator for ZDF, is convinced: “Young people are more interested in history than you might think.”
Mirko Drotschmann, father of two small daughters, studied history and cultural studies in Karlsruhe. As a “digital native”, he also relied on digital formats early on in his subsequent career as a journalist. In his “MrWissen2Go” films, the former “Logo” children’s news moderator explains the world to an audience of millions on the Internet. He particularly likes to convey historical topics. Like hardly any other journalist, Drotschmann works at the interface between young and old media, because he is also present as a presenter on the classic television format “Terra X History”. The 90-minute documentary “Fight for Freedom: Five Attempts to Democracy” (Tuesday, June 13, 8:15 p.m.) about German democratic history is also shown there. Is it possible to reach young people with something like this – and if so, in what way?
Mirko Drotschmann: “Young people are more interested in history than you might think”
teleshow: Are young people interested in history?
Mirko Drotschmann: They care more about it than you might think. The prerequisite, however, is that you manage to establish a connection to the living environment of the young people. It should also become clear why events that happened decades or centuries ago are still relevant today. If you keep these two points in mind, you can get young people excited pretty quickly. I think young people have a growing interest in understanding the present. Especially to better understand conflicts.
teleshow: Can you give an example?
Drotschmann: The Russian war of aggression in Ukraine is a good example. Putin justifies his war with history. Among other things, it is about the Tsarist Empire. If you know history, you can understand why Ukraine has long been afraid of being attacked, and then you can also understand why many Russians still follow Putin in what he does – because for many Ukraine and also Belarus are part of a Russian empire. Those who know history can better understand war.
“Terra X History” documentary also available as a shortened YouTube version
teleshow: Your “MrWissen2Go” films about history for young people like to last 15 minutes and are surprisingly mature in their speech. They largely do without video gimmicks. Are we underestimating young people?
Drotschmann (laughs): You could also describe the whole thing as frontal teaching, which is garnished with a few animations and pictures. I think that when it comes to imparting knowledge to young people, you have to take your audience seriously. For me it starts with the speech. Anyone who comes along as a fairy tale uncle or – what is even worse – coaxing young people and making a cut every three seconds will be detected relatively quickly as fake. You can do something like that on TikTok, but then YouTube works differently again. They wouldn’t believe the TikTok speech either. I worked for the children’s news “Logo” for a long time. We followed the same concept there – take the children seriously and don’t see them as clientele that you have to treat with kid gloves.
teleshow: Now you are moderating a 90-minute documentary on the history of German democracy. It runs under the label “Terra X History” on ZDF, but there is also a YouTube version here. Can you reach young people with this abstract topic?
Drotschmann: Absolutely, because it is understandable what effects what happened then has on our lives today. We take democracy for granted today. But that in the past courageous people died again and again for the fact that it is like this in Germany today, we try to tell about five historical locations in 90 minutes. Some formulations of the constitution of 1848 can be found almost verbatim in the Basic Law. From this we can see the great, fascinating arcs of history – and how enduring it is.
teleshow: But the “Terra X History” documentary isn’t explicitly aimed at young people…
Drotschmann: No, it is not explicitly young, but can also be understood by boys. Even 30-year-olds who grew up in the area of the former GDR no longer remember the division of Germany or the GDR system. But there is also a YouTube version of the documentary, which is written slightly differently. It’s a little more explanatory at one point or another – and a little more focused. Its length is 20 minutes.
“Democracy is popular with young people, it just needs an update”
teleshow: Your videos are often used in school lessons – or used by students at home. Isn’t that a kind of special praise?
Drotschmann: Yes, yes. But ZDF regularly provides additional historical documentaries for teachers to download in the ZDF media library. This is done in cooperation with the Association of History Teachers in Germany eV With the YouTube channel “MrWissen2Go History” we also look explicitly at what is in German curricula so that we can go into it. We want to create intersections and thought that our films could be viewed as a supplement after class. Of course, if they are even part of today’s school lessons, that is a great compliment.
teleshow: How threatened do today’s youth see our democracy?
Drotschmann: I think young people see our democracy as stable. But you also have criticism of the system. If you want to say it with Willy Brandt, it goes in the direction of “dare more democracy”. Federal referendums are something many young people are asking for. They want to make democratic decisions more open and don’t really know what to do with the party system. Many young people would like to get involved in politics, but do not want to join a political party. Democracy is quite popular with young people. You just need an “update” for them.
“The young people are not at all disinterested”
teleshow: What other changes do the boys suggest?
Drotschmann: Of course they want the voting age to be lowered. This is also provided for in the coalition agreement, but has not yet been implemented. And then of course there are always current topics in which young people are very involved. Currently, cannabis legalization is important. I notice that again and again when I make videos about it, because it gets a lot of response. I can tell from this that the willingness to get involved is great, but people don’t want to get involved on a permanent basis – like in a political party. For me, getting involved is a current trend. It can also be seen in almost all youth studies: young people are not at all disinterested. They want to get involved in politics, but in a slightly different way than previous generations.
“For a few years we have noticed that young people find conflicts very exciting”
teleshow: Are there specific historical topics that interest young people – if you look at the clicks on your videos?
Drotschmann: Topics that are of interest hardly differ from those that older people find important. The boys are very interested in the subject of National Socialism. Although there is always criticism that this is too often chewed through in school lessons. Maybe there are special aspects that don’t come up in the classroom that are of interest. For example, for our three-part ZDF documentary “Hitler’s Power” we produced two extra pieces for the media library and social media, which were particularly well received by the younger generation, with a slightly different question: “Why Hitler would have loved social media” and “The Psychology of Followers”. They were very popular. For a few years now we have noticed that the young people find conflicts very exciting: in addition to Russia/Ukraine, there are also China/Taiwan, India/Pakistan and of course the Middle East. Domestic conflicts like the one in Turkey are also of interest to the boys.
teleshow: Do you have a theory as to why these topics are so interesting? Do the boys compare them to the conflicts they have themselves, or do you just want to understand how the world works?
Drotschmann: The latter is the case I believe. You realize that there are many wars and conflicts in the world and you want to know what you are dealing with. People may also want some perspective on how these conflicts might end. When the war against Ukraine started, many young people were very afraid of a nuclear war. At that time, for example, there was a strong interest in a video about the Cuban Missile Crisis.
teleshow: You work at the interface between old and new television by moderating “Terra X History”, equipping the public service youth program “funk” and thus also being present on YouTube …
Drotschmann: I think funk is something that can and should last because it’s a good way for public service to reach young people. It’s difficult to do that on traditional television and it may only work to a certain extent on the young radio programmes. But what will happen – and “Terra X History” is a good example of this: The approach to topics is becoming more and more homogeneous. You have content and will play it out on different platforms. Maybe slightly adapted, but also not completely different. The democracy film is the best example of this. There we have the 20-minute film for YouTube and the 90-minute one for television. We will also do a three-part podcast about it.
Classic TV ‘will go on for a while’
teleshow: How long will traditional television be around?
Drotschmann: I think it’s going to continue for quite some time. Maybe in a slightly different way than it is now, but I see a longer future. Those who produce good content do not have to worry about their existence. “Terra X History” does a very good job in this respect, I think.
teleshow: How do you see the relationship between YouTube and TikTok?
Drotschmann: If you look at media usage studies or ask around in the classroom, you can already see that TikTok is increasingly outperforming YouTube and even Instagram. However, only in relation to the duration that you use this platform. YouTube is still very consciously used by young people to get more detailed information. Even 12 to 14 year olds see it that way. You hear statements like “I only use YouTube for school”. Something seems to be shifting. YouTube is used like a media library, while Instagram and TikTok are used for entertainment.
teleshow: If you want to be successful at TikTok, you have to be very short. That makes it difficult for history, doesn’t it?
Drotschmann: Oh, I wouldn’t say that at all. There is very good history content on TikTok, but of course much less can be conveyed in a 60-second video. You have to know what you can achieve on which platform, then many channels can be used to convey history.