Have you ever asked a German what she does on Sunday night? Try it! A great deal of my fellow countrypeople will say, ‘Sunday night is Tatort night!’ You (and many Germans) may think of it what you will, but you can’t begin to grasp the German psyche without investigating (pun intended) the Tatort (= crime scene) phenomenon. Let’s embark on a somewhat bumpy journey through German television history.
It’s a mystery: along with Dinner for one, Tatort is one of the shows with the highest TV ratings ever, yet many Germans will admit that they don’t actually enjoy watching it all that much. We just grew up with it.
The first Tatort was broadcasted in 1970. The thing that strikes the unsuspecting viewer is that the opening sequence and music have never been changed. You’ll think you’re stuck in a time warp. It’s like Point Pleasant Police Department, only for real. At least the episodes are recent. The concept is based on twenty-odd changing locations around Germany, and sometimes Austria and Switzerland, with the investigation team in each town or city remaining the same. Each 90-minute episode is thus a separate, self-sufficient unit.
Tatort is often criticised for being overly serious and socio-critical and accused of delivering Betroffenheitsfernsehen. Some viewers miss the light-heartedness and tranquility of Cornwall-set British crime series or the tech-savviness and action of the average US series. However, everyone has one or two favourite Tatorte. The witty Tatort Münster, for example, has evolved into something like a cult, with a rating of just short of 13 million and an expansive following, including a number of fan-fiction writers. One of my personal favourites (although I truly rarely ever watch it at all) is the new Tatort Saarbrücken with the divine Devid Striesow. And, historically, one must mention the roughneck Kommissar Schimanski, played by Götz George, who has gone down in TV history.
As it is so controversial, Tatort is ridiculed, worshipped and modified in many ways (just search on YouTube). Some Germans claim they only watch Tatort to follow the simultaneous live tweets online because it is so much fun making fun of it. And German comedian Michael Kessler calls it Tatort-Terror.
The bottom line is: you have to watch at least three different Tatorte before you’re entitled to dismiss the show. And if you don’t get it, you’ve at least learned that German TV is … different.
Let’s hear about how guys (and some girls) make a difference next week.
The Pommes Buddha says: Murder is the best medicine.
Listen to this text as a podcast episode: