Things Germans Do: Watch Tatort

I wanted to give myself a kick-start in being German and while I failed to claim control of the parental TV set last week, I am now surrounded by four full-Germans who will join me in the German sunday ritual. If I should list Things Germans Do (TGD), one of the main activities would be Watching Tatort. Every good German immediately recognizes the signature tune at the start of Tatort. (Find it here and germanify instantly!)

Of course this is generalizing and I do not even like Tatort (and my parents downright refuse to watch it with me!), but it is a fact that about a fourth of Germany watches Tatort on Sundays at 8.15 pm. If you consider that a big part of Germany’s 82 million people are too young to watch TV that late, or don’t own one, or might be blind (Gud vad taskigt det lät…), then it is a hell lot of people. Twenty-five percent! I am bad at maths, but as far as I understand, that means every fifth person in the queue at the bakery tomorrow morning will have seen that TV programme. No offense, but in Sweden that can probably can only be said for Melodifestivalen which does air about 6 times a year, not 40 like Tatort. Then again, Melodifestivalen is actually enjoyable. Unlike Tatort.

You must be wondering what Tatort is and if you haven’t googled it by now, let me help you.

Tatort means Crime Scene and is a crime series that has been running since 1970. Think about how long that is. That’s long before most of you were born, that’s when the Berlin Wall had just been built! Not collapsed, been built! Tatort is broadcasted on national television and most regional stations as well as in Austria and Switzerland.

The thing I like most about the Tatort concept is that each regional TV channel produces its own Tatort. A very typical conversation on a Sunday morning in Germany would be, “Which Tatort is on tonight?” “It’s a Hamburg Tatort.” Each city or region has its own inspectors and people choose to watch or not watch the programme according to the place it is filmed at. Münster Tatort is said to be particularly good, and I basically only watch Bremen Tatort because that is where I studied. Since the Tatort story is usually of limited interest, I spend 90 minutes staring at a screen, trying to find that one glimpse of scenery in Bremen I recognize to then burst out into “Oh my God, look it is at UNIVERSITY! I HAVE BEEN THERE!”

Being chosen as a Tatort inspector is almost equal to receive televisionary knighthood. Not only are actors from then on closely associated with their Tatort role, they also have a chance of becoming cultural icons. The programme in itself is not good though. I cannot decide if I think it is more disturbing how bad the dialogues are or how lousy the acting is (we do have really good German actors but it is just like with the good singers that refuse to go to Eurovision for us, the good actors seem to shun Tatort) or if I am mostly irritated by the very obvious political lessons every Tatort tries to teach us. (“It is not good to shoot refugees” or “It is wrong to beat someone to death just because there are rumors on the internet that the person is a pedophile”.) Since social media has made its entry in German society, it has become much more fun to watch Tatort. On Twitter, there are a lot of witty and sharp comments regarding the course of events on the crime scene, and whenever I have been watching Tatort in Sweden with my Germans (yeah, those two times in three years), I sat with my phone updating the rest on what the online community made of the weird proceedings on the screen. I highly recommend this kind of Tatort-watching.

For some reason that I will set out to understand in 15 minutes, Germans hold on to this beloved TV tradition though. Don’t call a German Sunday after 8.15 pm. It won’t be appreciated.

P.S.: Tonight’s Tatort is from Vienna – which makes it even more exciting!

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