German expat couple Peter and Anne Kirchhoff were the stars of the small screen last month when they spent five days being followed around by a film crew for German TV show, Pensioners Under Palm Trees, which was filming in Temple Town for its third season.
Part of a daily program on ZDF called Hello Germany, the strand follows the fortunes of retirees who have given it all up for a life in the sun.
The Kirchhoffs relocated from Germany to Sihanoukville a year ago, but decided to move to Siem Reap following an offer from Terrasse des Eléphants Hotel to open an in-house German bakery and café next month.
ZDF director Ole Apitius says he was interested in filming the couple as theirs was such an unusual story.
“It’s very unusual for people of such an age to leave Germany and go to a country which is – for German thinking – very far,” he says.
“If they went to Thailand or Spain or the US it would be a different story, but Cambodia – it’s really unknown in Germany. And at this age, to say, ‘We’ll go to this unknown land because we like to have a good standard of living for not much money.’
“Also it’s about their characters. She’s very outgoing and open-minded.”
This is the third time Apitius has filmed the duo, having documented their story from the start.
“We’ve been following them from the beginning – they started in April last year,” he says. “They came here for two weeks to check it out, to see if they could imagine living here, and then decided to come here.
“We returned after a few months to see how they were living, but they went to Sihanoukville, then they had the offer to open a coffee shop in this hotel.
“Peter is 72 and Anne is in her late 50s – she has a lot of energy and is the sort of person who needs to keep busy. That’s one of the reasons they left Sihanoukville, because they had a concrete offer to do something.”
The bakery is still in the planning stages with a view to opening in August, but in the meantime, Apitius and his crew followed the couple about their daily business filming in various locations including the hotel, their apartment and the Old Market.
“We filmed some situations in the market and things like that to try to show how their life is here,” he says. “The most spectacular thing was riding an elephant at Angkor Wat – it was very funny because the crew was also on two elephants and Ralph the camera operator was filming from an elephant, but it worked very well.
“I have to say all the shooting in Cambodia was very good because we have a very good translator, Tumlus Ho. This is the fourth time we’ve filmed with him and he’s nearly fluent in German. He’s a really good guy because he knows what we want which makes everything much easier – it takes a lot less time to get things done.”
Apitius says there are some challenges to filming in the tropics, but generally he finds Cambodia a trouble-free place to shoot.
“The climate is a factor in that you can’t work as in Europe. You can’t work for ten hours because you need more breaks and you need more water,” he says.
“But I like Cambodia very much because it’s really very easy. You go into a shop, ask if you can film, you go into a restaurant, you ask, and everything will work. We only had to get official permits for Angkor Wat. It’s much better than in Europe. And everybody is happy, it’s a very easy atmosphere here, it’s not aggressive.”