Series / Tatort
("Crime Scene") is a German Police Procedural
series. Even after more than 900 episodes, having started in 1970
(making it the oldest still going crime show in the world), it's still one of the most popular German TV series and regularly wins the battle for the highest Ratings
An especially noteworthy feature of the series is the fact that there isn't just one single core cast of protagonists. Instead, it features many different teams of police investigators who take turns from episode to episode. Imagine CSI
, CSI: Miami
and CSI: NY
, but with a lot more teams, different locations and less Hollywood Science
Each team is based in a different city, representing many different settings
all across Germany, Austria
(since 1971), and German-speaking Switzerland
(since 1990). Of the current teams, these five have been active the longest time:
- Ludwigshafen (Lena Odenthal and Mario Kopper) since 1989
- Munich (Ivo Batic and Franz Leitmayr) since 1991
- Cologne (Max Ballauf and Freddy Schenk) since 1997
- Bremen (Inga Lürsen and Nils Stedefreund) since 1997
- Vienna (Moritz Eisner and Bibi Fellner) since 1999
The series is usually broadcast on Sundays during Prime Time
on the German channel Das Erste
, the Austrian channel ORF 2
, and SF1
in German-speaking Switzerland. You can expect to see reruns of older episodes on some of the regional tv stations about every other day.
The series is described as "the last great campfire of television"note
and has a cult following in German-speaking countries. In many cities, groups of people will gather in a bar every Sunday at 8:15 p.m. to watch the screening of the latest episode together. One particularly bizarre aspect of Tatort fandom is that despite the self contained nature of the individual episodes (you can really watch any given Tatort on its own), there are almost no casual viewers. People usually watch (and love) every single one of them or don't watch any at all. Some people have switched from the former to the latter within mere weeks. To fans missing "even one episode" is Serious Business
Tatort provides examples of:
- Alternate Company Equivalent: Polizeiruf 110 was launched by the television of the GDR to provide a socialist alternative to the West German blockbuster Tatort. The format is similar, with different investigators in different places. Polizeiruf continues to be produced after German reunification, now produced by a number of the regional stations of the ARD both East and West of the former Iron Curtain. The two series share a time slot in The Berlin Republic, and produced a crossover episode in October 1990, "Unter Brüdern", to celebrate the reunification.
- Always Murder: Nearly every case involves a murder, often also more than one. Suicide is less common. Justified, because the cops are practically always from the homicide divisionnote .
- Amazingly Embarrassing Parents: Hauptkommissar Frank Thiel's father Herbert (Claus Dieter Clausnitzer), an old "68er" who grows his own weed and occasionally gets involved in slightly illegal activities, although most of the time he works as a taxi driver - which often comes in handy because Thiel does not have a driver's license, being from Hamburg and a transplant to famously bike-friendly Münster.
- Amicably Divorced: One of the early Tatort investigators, Essen Kommissar Heinz Haferkamp (Hansjörg Felmy), would often discuss cases he was working on with his ex-wife Ingrid (Karin Eickelbaum), and it was implied that the two occasionally still slept with each other. The Leipzig team of Hauptkommissare Eva Saalfeld (Simone Thomalla) and Andreas Keppler (Martin Wuttke) used to be married to each other, but got divorced a few years before their first episode.
- Badass: Duisburg-based Kommissar Horst "Schimmi" Schimanski (Götz George) tries to be this, and is at least good enough for his episodes only being shown at late night.
- Belligerent Sexual Tension: Subverted with forensic pathologist Professor Karl-Friedrich Boerne (Jan Josef Liefers) and his assistant Silke "Alberich" Haller (ChrisTine Urspruch), who actually not romantically interested in one another. Although they did once meet anonymously on an internet dating forum and became interested. Then they fixed a date in a restaurant, discovered who they were dealing with, and that was the end of that.
- Big Fancy House: The murders often take place in the milieu of the middle to upper class, resulting in the witnesses/culprits/victims inhabiting accordingly spacious places.
- The Cameo: Numerous celebrities already have had small parts in Tatort.
- In the Kommissar Stoever episode Habgier (Greed) 1999, football legend Berti Vogts holds a rabbit and saves a family from being killed in a gas explosion.
- Roger Moore was seen starting a six-days cycle race in the Bremen episode Schatten (2002).
- More football people, including DFB president Theo Zwanziger, men's and women's national team coaches Jogi Löw and Silvia Neid, women's world cup organizer Steffi Jones and international player Célia Okoyino da Mbabi appeared in Im Abseits ("Offside"), a soccer-themed Lena Odenthal episode produced to coincide with the Women's World Cup in 2011.
- Canon Immigrant: Stuttgart-based investigator Ernst Bienzle (Dietz-Werner Steck) was created as the protagonist of a series of crime novels by Felix Huby before being put on the small screen in Tatort.
- Central Theme: Many episodes embed sociopolitical issues into the plot, e.g. the waste export to Africa or wage dumping at discount stores. The two investigators occasionally have opposing opinions regarding said issue, and discuss them.
- Chekhov's Skill: As the regular cast of the Münster Tatort contains not one, but two ace pathologists — Professor Dr. Karl-Friedrich Boerne and his assistant Silke Haller — and one of them is one of the two main protagonists, it is not surprising that episodes set in Münster involve murders by poisoning, questions of paternity, missing bodies or old cases where only the bones of a victim are left more frequently than others. Boerne's skills in riding and fencing have also proved useful in at least one episode each.
- Clear My Name: The plot of some episodes.
- Cluster F-Bomb: Schimmi's most frequently used word seems to be Scheisse ("shit"). It is also the last word he says in a Tatort.
- The Coroner: Prof. Dr. Karl-Friedrich Boerne (Jan Josef Liefers) from Münster is one half of the investigator duo, even though Kommissar Thiel doesn't like this very much; Dr. Joseph Roth (played by Joe Bausch, who is a physician in a German prison in real life) can often be seen in the Cologne Tatort.
- As part of the celebration of Germany's re-unification in 1990, Tatort crossed over with its East German counterpart series, Polizeiruf 110, for the episode "Unter Brüdern" ("Among Brothers"). In this episode, a dead man is fished out of the river in Duisburg and is found to have a tattoo marking him as a former Stasi officer, leading to a joint investigation between the Duisburg team, led by Kriminalhauptkommissare Horst Schimanski (Götz George) and Christian Thanner (Eberhard Feik), and their East Berlin opposite numbers, led by Kriminalhauptkommissar Peter Fuchs (Peter Borgelt) and Kriminaloberkommissar Thomas Grawe (Andreas Schmidt-Schaller).
- To celebrate Tatort's 30th anniversary, the special episode Quartett in Leipzig was produced where a case took the Cologne team of Kriminalhauptkommissare Max Ballauf (Klaus J. Behrendt) and Alfred "Freddy" Schenk (Dietmar Bär) to Leipzig, where they got to solve it in conjunction with the local team of Hauptkommissare Bruno Ehrlicher (Peter Sodann) and Kain (Bernd Michael Lade), who had become involved in the same case from another incident. Two years later in the episode Rückspiel ("Return Game"), Kain and Ehrlicher traveled to Cologne for another joint investigation.
- In the Münster episode Der doppelte Lott Professor Boerne does some investigative work in Cologne and interacts with Ballauf and Schenk, as well as with his Cologne counterpart Josef Roth. It emerges they know each other from university.
- The only two-part story (so far), Kinderland and Ihr Kinderlein kommet (2012), was another Cologne/Leipzig crossover, teaming up Ballauf and Schenk with the new Leipzig team of Hauptkommissare Eva Saalfeld (Simone Thomalla) and Andreas Keppler (Martin Wuttke).
- Deadpan Snarker: Most protagonists in the Münster Tatort are this to some extent, but nobody does it with more flair than Professor Boerne.
- Eiffel Tower Effect: No matter where a Münster episode is set, even if it is in the suburbs or a village in the environs, there will always be a sequence involving the Prinzipalmarkt and the church St. Lamberti, and often Thiel or Boerne will also pass the cathedral. Episodes set in Cologne will usually show Cologne cathedral; here it helps that Ballauf and Schenk are regular customers at a fast-food trailer directly across the river from the cathedral.
- This may in part be due to the fact that many of the Tatort episodes are only partially shot in the city they are set in (Munich being the one big exception) and thus local landmarks have to be shown to throw less attentive watchers of the scent of the California Doubling.
- Fish out of Water: Hauptkommissar Frank Thiel (Axel Prahl) — a lapsed Protestant from Hamburg — in the much smaller and deeply Catholic Münster. Other Tatorts also have such characters, for instance in the new Nuremberg-based one the two leading investigators are Paula Ringelhahn (Dagmar Manzel) from Guben in East Germany and North German Felix Voss (Fabian Hinrichs).
- Grey and Gray Morality: The episode "Weil sie böse sind". ("Because They're Evil")
- How Unscientific!: The Ludwigshafen Tatort episodes usually focus on realism, sociopolitical issues and psychology, which makes the 1997 episode Tod im All ("Death in Space") stand out all the more. Here Odenthal and Kopper had to investigate the murder of a ufologist, and were fed information from a mysterious source, apparently the aliens with which the ufologist had communicated. The episode ended with a special-effects scene where a watertower transformed into a spaceship and took off!
- Iconic Outfit: Schimmi's beige-grey M-1965 field jacket.
- Identification by Dental Records: In a Münster episode a man faked his death in a house fire in South Africa by having his dentist tamper with his dental records. Since Professor Boerne was the one thus fooled into signing a false death certificate he took this personally and went to the extra trouble and expense of reconstructing the face from the skull found in the burned-down house to identify the victim's real identity.
- I Didn't Mean to Kill Him - happens quite often
- An Immigrant's Tale: A number of Tatort investigators have Migrationshintergrund ("migration background), for instance Munich-based Kriminalhauptkommissar Ivo Batic (Miroslav Nemec) was born in Vukovar, Croatia, and for him xenophobia can become a Berserk Button. Mario Kopper (Andreas Hoppe) in Ludwigshafen is the son of a German father and an Italian mother. Nadeshda Krusenstern (Friederike Kempter) is an ethnic German born in Russia who came to Münster with her parents (who find it much harder to assimilate to West German society than her). Hamburg-based Cenk Batu (Mehmet Kurtuluş) is the first leading Tatort investigator with Turkish roots.
- The Infiltration: The mission of undercover investigator Cenk Batu (Mehmet Kurtuluş) from Hamburg; this was the first Tatort franchise not to use a whodunit format.
- Insufferable Genius: Professor Karl Friedrich Boerne oh so much.
- Lady Looks Like a Dude: Or sounds like one. When Kommissar Thiel first spoke on the telephone to Oberstaatsanwältin Wilhelmine Klemm (Mechtild Großmann), her gravelly voice made him think he was dealing with a man. In some episodes the heavily-smoking district attorney approaches Brawn Hilda status.
- Leitmotif: The 1920s song Auf der Reeperbahn nachts um halb eins functions as one for Hauptkommissar Thiel as he uses it has his ringtone and, as a Hamburg tune, it sticks out like a sore thumb in Münster.
- Meaningful Name: The Berlin duo of Till Ritter ("knight", played by Dominic Raacke) and Felix Stark ("strong", played by Boris Aljinovic) as well as the Saxon one of Ehrlicher ("honest one") and Kain (the German spelling of Adam and Eve's son Cain). A bit more veiled, Felix Murot (played by Ulrich Tukur), the family name being an anagram of "tumor". (He had a very plot-relevant brain tumor.)
- Meta Fiction: 2015 episode "Wer bin ich?" Ulrich Tukur plays Ulrich Tukur playing his role just to run into his role going Rage Against the Author...or something like that...If you feel a brick falling on your head, that was the Fourth Wall collapsing over you.
- The Movie: Kommissar Schimanski appeared in two cinema films, Zahn um Zahn ("A Tooth for a Tooth", 1985) and Zabou (1987).
- Naked People Are Funny: In one episode, Schimanski is knocked out (again); when he awkens, he finds himself naked lying in the middle of the playing field of Duisburg's football stadium.
- Named After Somebody Famous / Famous-Named Foreigner: Thiel's assistant Nadeshda Krusenstern (Friederike Kempter) is an ethnic German who immigrated from Russia with her parents. Her surname is that of the Baltic-German admiral who commanded the first Russian circumnavigation of the Earth, Nadezhda ("Hope") was the name of one of his two ships.
- No Name Given: Hauptkommissar Kain's first name was never mentioned.
- N-Word Privileges: Professor Boerne's assistant Silke Haller is a little person (ChrisTine Urspruch, who plays her, is 132 cm tall) and Boerne not only gave her the nickname Alberich, but continually makes short jokes about her. "Alberich" returns the favour and sees his jokes as a sign that he respects her for her competence and does not pity her. But woe to anybody who actually laughs at Boerne's jokes - then Boerne will make him or her feel deeply embarrassed.
- One-Episode Wonder: The format resulted in a number of one-episode wonders as a new investigative team set in a different city was tried out but for one reason or another (often other commitments by the lead actor) was cancelled after just one episode. One such case was Diether Krebs (Michael in Ein Herz und eine Seele) who played the deadly serious Kriminalhauptkommissar Nagel from Hanover in 1979, while Klaus Schubert ("Ekel Alfred" himself) played retired Kriminalhauptkommissar Felber in Frankfurt in 1995. Klaus Löwitsch played two such roles in 1982 and 1985, in the first episode he did his character was killed in the line of duty.
- Platonic Life Partners: On the Ludwigshafen Tatort, Lena Odenthal (Ulrike Folkerts) and her colleague Mario Kopper (Andreas Hoppe) share an apartment.
- Prophetic Name: In the earliest Münster episodes, Hauptkommissar Thiel had a second assistant called Bulle. The word means "bull", but it is also slang for "cop".
- Screen-to-Stage Adaptation: Stuttgart-based Kommissar Ernst Bienzle (Dietz-Werner Steck) appeared in the play Bienzle und der Mord am Neckar (2006). Berlin-based Franz Markowitz (Günter Lamprecht) even appeared in two small-stage plays.
- Screw the Rules, I Have Connections!: "Do you know who I am?" and "I regularly play golf with the Chief of Police" do crop up from time to time.
- The '70s: The opening sequence and theme tune has never been changed.
- Shout-Out: In one Münster episode, Frank Thiel, in order to get a criminal's goat, goes through a lovingly done "Oh, uh, one more thing..." routine (complete with characteristic hand movements) before flourishing the damning piece of evidence.
- Spinoff: After leaving the police force, Horst Schimanski became a private investigator in the series Schimanski (1997-2013).
- Starting in 2008, a monthly series of radio plays, Radio-Tatort is broadcast on ARD radio stations. Episodes last 55 minutes each.
- Teacher/Student Romance: The central plot element of "Reifezeugnis", one of the most controversial episodes to date.
- Temporary Love Interest: As a rule, Tatort investigators are single or divorced, definitely unlucky in love because practically the only kind of romantic subplots they tend to get is with a suspects, which usually does not end well. One of the rare aversions is the Weimar-based team of Kriminaloberkommissare Lessing (Christian Ulmen) and Kira Dorn (Nora Tschirner), who have a child together.
- That Reminds Me of a Song: Starting in 1996, the Hamburg team of Paul Stoever (Manfred Krug) and Peter Brockmöller (Charly Brauer) would sing a jazz standard in the course of each episode, which was loved by the audience as they did it well enough (Krug had been a popular jazz singer in East Germany before leaving for the West). A compilation of the 17 songs was successfully produced as a CD.
- There Is No Kill Like Overkill: "Im Schmerz geboren", where 50 people bite the dust. (More a case of Audience Reactions - in Germany and Tatort such a bodycount is seen as extremely unusual.)
- Trademark Favorite Food: For Heinz Haferkamp (Essen) it was Frikadellen (frikadeller in English), for Horst Schimanski (Duisburg) Currywurst.
- The Unintelligible: Actor Til Schweiger has always been known to deliver his lines in a very mumbling fashion. As Hamburg's Hauptkommissar Nick Tschiller this has become memetic.
- Vitriolic Best Buds: In Münster both the relationship between Professor Karl-Friedrich Boerne and Hauptkommissar Frank Thiel, and that between Boerne and Alberich qualify.
- Waking Up at the Morgue: Subverted. Boerne was once knocked out by a bad guy with a sword (It Makes Sense in Context) and then woke up in his familiar morgue. His assistant Silke Haller had brought him there and put him on a table to stitch his wound and wait until he regained consciousness.
- Working with the Ex: The permanent setup for the Leipzig team of Eva Saalfeld and Andreas Keppler.
- You Didn't Ask