The German Fernsehkrimi … and a lovely milestone

I’m a couple of weeks into my research leave, and am thoroughly enjoying sinking my teeth into German crime. 5000 words are in the bag, mostly on the Fernsehkrimi (TV crime series) for the Crime Fiction in German volume, which has involved watching episodes from series such as Der Kommissar (The Inspector; a very traditional West German police series), Polizeiruf 110 (Police – Dial 110; a relatively progressive East German series that featured the first female German investigator, Lieutenant Vera Arndt, a working mother, in 1971), and of course, the iconic Tatort (Crime Scene).

Vera Arndt (played by Sigrid Göhler) in the East German series Polizeiruf 110

Tatort has been running for over 40 years and is a national institution. It’s a really interesting series, due to its distinctive regional focus (there are over 20 versions set in various cities and regions – the model for CSI, perhaps), and its strong engagement with social issues, such as right-wing extremism, the effects of reunification, and sex trafficking from the east.

In 2008, it was the first German crime series to feature a leading Turkish-German investigator, the Hamburg undercover cop Cenk Batu (played by Mehmet Kurtuluş). His depiction was hailed as ‘ein Quantensprung’ (a quantum leap) in terms of overturning ethnic stereotypes, and I’d argue is indebted in a many ways to a literary predecessor, Jakob Arjouni’s urban private eye Kemal Kayankaya. The first Batu episode, ‘Auf der Sonnenseite’ (‘On the Sunny Side’) is currently on YouTube. It’s in German, but for those who don’t speak the language, even five-minutes will give a sense of Batu’s ground-breaking characterisation and the episode’s high-quality production – aside from the endearingly naff original opening sequence, that is. Around 4 minutes and 40 seconds in, which shows Batu coming off-duty after a stressful job, is a good place to start.

Mehmet Kurtuluş with the famous Tatort logo

And the milestone? Well! Mrs. Peabody Investigates has just reached 250,000 hits. While the most important thing has always been the interaction between Mrs. Pea and the blog’s readers, there’s a certain roundness to that figure that’s rather pleasing. Thanks so much for visiting!

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35 Responses to The German Fernsehkrimi … and a lovely milestone

  1. MarinaSofia says:

    Sounds like my kind of research! How lovely to dig up these old TV series. Derrick used be our family favourite, although both Tatort and Der Kommissar (Falco, anyone?) were also part of our regular Friday night viewing (at 20:15, I remember clearly). The East German series sounds interesting – wonder if any politics had to go into the making of it? I also have to admit a certain fondness for Kommissar Rex, the one with the dog, childish though it tends to be at times.

    • Mrs P. says:

      Yes, it’s proving to be lots of fun, and I’m learning a lot too. Polizeiruf 110 was a second-wave GDR crime series. Its forerunner was called Blaulicht (Blue Light), and like its West German equivalent, Stahlnetz (Steel Net), supposedly drew on real criminal cases. Blaulicht spent a lot of time showing East German viewers how dangerous the West was (the perpetrators tended to be West Germans or GDR citizens seduced by western capitalism). Polizeiruf had a lighter touch and focused more on the everyday (while still holding the party line). The focus tended not to be murder (the main crime depicted in West German crime series), but social problems such as theft, rape and juvenile crime.

      Kommissar Rex! I’ve heard of it, but haven’t had the pleasure as yet!

      • Lauren says:

        I suspect large numbers of Australians got all their knowledge of Austria from Rex, since it had a prime timeslot on SBS for many years. I do have a soft spot for the series, and can spend ages arguing about who was the better human Kommissar alongside the dog!

        I must confess that while I’m a Tatort fan, Batu was never one of my favourite cops, but the concept was quite interesting as an alterative. With Polizeiruf, I go back and forth. Some of the older episodes have held up better than others. (Have you seen the ‘banned’ episode that was remastered and broadcast for the first time in the last couple of years? It is, sadly, as relevant as ever.) And some of the newer post-Wende teams are very good. I’m a particular fan of Rostock, there.

        Must stop, since I can talk about Tatort and co for hours!

      • Mrs P. says:

        ‘I suspect large numbers of Australians got all their knowledge of Austria from Rex’: that sounds frankly scary, Lauren!

        So which of the Tatort versions is your favourite? I’m really keen to get some views on which are the best/most interesting ones.

        Polizeiruf 110: no, I hadn’t heard about the banned episode – what was the theme? I haven’t seen any of the post-Wende episodes yet either, and this is something that I need to do, to get a sense of the present-day series. I’ll check out the Rostock one, thanks very much for the tip!

  2. MarinaSofia says:

    Oh, and of course, forgot most important thing of all: Congratulations on such a high number of hits! Well deserved, I absolutely love your blog.

  3. Mrs. P. – Congratulations and well-done on having so many hits. Richly deserved! And it sounds as though you’re making such excellent progress on your research too. Interesting isn’t it how crime fiction, whether it’s on the box or in a book, reflects the distinctiveness of culture. I’ll be really interested in your next update.

    • Mrs P. says:

      Thanks very much, Margot! Yes, that question – what makes German-language crime fiction distinctively German, or Swiss or Austrian – is one that we’re really interested in exploring in the volume. I’m getting very excited about the project now, as there’s so much excellent material out there. The volume will be the first comprehensive guide to German-language crime in English, so it’s a great chance to get the word out to a wider audience about German crime :)

  4. Tracey Hinton says:

    Is German going to be the new Nordic? As ever, I will be guided by Mrs P, Congratulations on your 250,000th hit, Mrs P, that’s a mind bogglingly big number!

    • Lauren says:

      Would be interesting to see, though from my armchair in Germany I’m not completely sure where I see the breakout hit coming from. At least in matters TV, there are a lot of serial concepts that would be hard to start broadcasting abroad mid-run, even if they are really good. And it seems you need a series to get attention these days, rather than a one-off, no matter how good.

      As far as books go, the authors most available/popular in translation don’t seem to be the sort to start a trend (few series, for a start), and the series I can think of don’t seem to be heading for translation in a hurry. But who knows? No-one saw the Scandi wave coming!

      (Disclaimer: Mrs P is obviously much better qualified to comment than me: this is more a ‘from your foreign correspondent’ post.)

      • Mrs P. says:

        One contender on the literary front is Jan Costin Wagner’s Kimmo Joentaa series, which ironically is set in Finland. It’s a really strong series, already in English translation, and is doing extremely well with very positive reader reviews. There’s already a film of The Silence (German production), which has been shown subtitled on British TV, and I think the novels have excellent potential for a quality Wallander-type series.

        As for existing TV series: I agree, Lauren, that it might be hard to take something like Tatort and translate it to British screens, particularly given its regional flavour. But perhaps one of the big city ones, starting with the introduction of a new police inspector? Nothing quite like The Killing at present though…

        No need for a disclaimer either :) You’re closer to it all than I am, and that most definitely makes you an expert! Look forward to hearing more.

    • Mrs P. says:

      Thanks very much, Tracey, and see my comment under Lauren’s. Could be…. ! :)

  5. First off, congrats on the gigantic milestone – well done Mrs P – secondly, it would be great to know if any of these shows are available on home video with English (subtitles (well, in my case Italian would be great!).

    • Mrs P. says:

      Thanks, Cavershamragu! I haven’t seen any of these being offered subtitled as yet, which is a shame as I’m sure there would be some interest. I’ll have a little dig and will let you know if I find anything.

  6. kathy d. says:

    Congratulations on reaching 1/4 of a million hits on your blog! Impressive and well-deserved, one of the most interesting and informative crime fiction blogs and always good discussion.
    I would love to see the East German series, but doubt that it’s available in my environs, including the library. If it comes my way, I’ll see it.
    And I would be very interested in learning what makes German crime fiction distinctive? A good question.
    Glad you are enjoying your research.

    • Mrs P. says:

      Thanks very much for your very kind words, kathy d – they’re much appreciated, as is your enthusiasm for this blog!

      I will definitely keep an eye out for subtitled versions of the East German series. It’s a bit of a niche market, I fear, but you never know…

      What makes German crime distinctive? I will certainly look into this in more depth and let you know what we come up with collectively.

  7. kathy.p says:

    Congrats Mrs P on getting to a humungous 1/4 million blogs, it’s well deserved. And I’m also glad you’re enjoying your research leave too. Would love to see some of these German series on the TV. Perhaps if BBC4 was given a dig in the right direction, they might pick up the option and let us crime geeks have more of the oh so excellent continental crime series. Hoo roo.

    • Mrs P. says:

      Thanks very much, kathy.p! And yes, I’m very much enjoying; it’s a lovely change from the normal routine.

      Well, I shall do my very best to lobby any BBC4 commissioning editors that come into my orbit. I’m sure we could find something suitable that would appeal to the discerning viewers of the Saturday 9pm slot. Incidentally, the first Swedish Wallander series was a Swedish/German co-production, so in a way we’ve had a bit of German crime on already…

  8. Claire says:

    Congratulations on your milestone – that is amazing!! And 5000 words in the bag isn’t too shabby either ;-) I love the sound of Tatort – definitely going to try to track it down…

    • Mrs P. says:

      Thanks, Claire. Keen to keep up the word tally – will just keep pumping it out and worry about the quality later! Hope you can find some Tatort in English (and please let me know if you do :)).

      Good luck with the launch of Life is Swede, by the way! Great stuff!

  9. Please do keep us all informed about your investigations and research. I’m finding these posts about German crime films, etc. fascinating. Thank you for sharing!
    Judith (Reader in the Wilderness)

    • Mrs P. says:

      You’re welcome, Judith, and will do. I’ll probably mix the posts up a little – partly research and partly musings on new crime novels I’ve read – just to keep things lively!

  10. Elena says:

    Congrats on both your words and the milestone! And keep us posted on the good and the bad. If fellow researchers do not support each other, who will?

    • Mrs P. says:

      Thanks, Elena. You’re quite right – that support from fellow researchers is absolutely invaluable :) I’m sure there will be some dodgy moments along the way, but as we say in German, ‘Augen zu und durch’ (just shut your eyes and push on through).

      • Elena says:

        We have similar sayings in Spanish, but not so elegant. There is this simple, yet empowering motto in my family: “it’ll be fine” that I need to remind myself of in certain moments… And it helps so much! So, yes, push through, it’ll be fine :)

      • Mrs P. says:

        That’s lovely! So how do you say that in Spanish?

      • Elena says:

        “Tira p’alante” which means only “go on”. And I’m sure there are other idioms as well, but this literary lady here speaks better English than Spanish, I’m afraid (a fact that shocks people all the time!)

  11. If German Fernsehkrimi includes Austrian, I would suggest that you can’t really miss the krimi-spoof ‘Kottan ermittelt’ (go for the old funny ones, from the 80s). Surreal Austrian humour at its best. I think some of the silliness of Kommissar Rex is a faint echo…. Kottan, however, would probably never have been fit for translation. Not even sure whether it ever ran in Germany.

    • Mrs P. says:

      Thanks very much, Maria – and yes, Austrian and Swiss are definitely included – the focus is German-language crime fiction. Will check out ‘Kottan ermittelt’ – sounds like a very worthy addition to the survey. Will have to pick your brains when I’m back in Swansea for some more tips!

  12. kathy d. says:

    Speaking of German crime fiction, did you ever find out if The Collini Case resulted in any changes in laws that would have led to more prosecutions for war crimes. A blogger just made this point, and I thought that the book instigated a discussion of the laws in those who deal with the criminal justice code. Anything new on this?

    • Mrs P. says:

      Hello Kathy! I’ve had a chance to look into this now, and so far, haven’t found anything that indicates a current-day change in the law. I know that the novel was mentioned by a minister when setting up a Ministry of Justice commission tasked with looking at various aspects of the Nazi past and its legacy, especially from a legal point of view (http://www.uwk-bmj.de/). One focus is the 1968 ‘Dreyer Law’, which the novel criticises because it quietly altered the statute of limitations for war criminals. That meant that former Nazis could no longer as easily be prosecuted. Schirach talks about the law in interview in Die Zeit here: http://www.zeit.de/2011/36/Ferdinand-von-Schirach/seite-2 . Will keep an eye out for any further developments… All the best, Mrs P.

  13. kathy d. says:

    Yes. Thanks for replying while on your sabbatical. I do remember that the novel criticized the change in laws, which changed the statute of limitations for war criminals. That is a major point of the book, and why the crime is committed.
    I found much of the legal issues raised in the book to be shocking, giving war criminals a way of avoiding culpability for mass murder. And the point about those “following orders,” being off the hook. That is horrendous.
    I’ll pass along your information on these legal issues.
    Hope you’re enjoying your research time.

    • Mrs P. says:

      Hi Kathy – here’s a very recent piece that might be of interest to you in relation to Nazi prosecutions in Germany: http://www.theguardian.com/world/2014/feb/20/germany-auschwitz-guards-arrests-raids.

      There’s mention of a 2011 change in the law that is allowing more prosecutions to take place (very much the last wave given the age of the defendants…). This change was brought about by the Demjanjuk case, rather than our novel, but I thought you might like to know about it:

      >> The renewed drive to bring to justice the last surviving perpetrators of the Holocaust follows a 2011 landmark court ruling. For more than 60 years German courts had only prosecuted Nazi war criminals if evidence showed they had personally committed atrocities. But in 2011 a Munich court sentenced John Demjanjuk to five years in prison for complicity in the extermination of Jews at the Sobibor camp, where he had served as a guard, establishing that all former camp guards can be tried. <<

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