One of my favorite German-made TV shows is “Tatort”. In general, I am not a TV kind of person. Most of the time I would just prefer to read a book while my husband zaps through the channels. But Sunday nights at 8:15 (which is when prime-time shows come on here), you will often find me on the couch watching the familiar opening credits roll, which amazingly enough, have not changed since the show began on November 29, 1970. “Tatort” (English: crime scene) is a crime show with an interesting concept. The show is filmed in larger German cities and each city has its own set of criminal investigators. For instance, you know when you are watching the Ludwigshafen (my favorite because it is close to home — Mannheim) episodes because the detectives are Lena Odenthal and Mario Kopper. The Ludwigshafen episodes are always filmed by SWR (Südwestrundfunk), which makes them even more local. Austria and Switzerland also has have their own detectives and the episodes are filmed by local channels.
Another interesting tidbit: in the beginning, the actors in the “Tatort” episodes spoke the local dialect, whatever that was. This means that some shows were almost impossible to understand by viewers not from the area. Now most actors speak standard German, with the exception of the Austrian and Swiss episodes and some actors in the Ludwigshafen shows. One show was even shown with standard German subtitles: episode 902, filmed in 1982 by NDR, Watt Recht is, mutt Recht bliewen, in which they spoke Plattdeutsch or Low German. Luckily, this mistake was never repeated!
So, you ask, what is so cool about “Tatort”? I guess the fact that it is so uncool it has become a bit of a cult show. Old people watch it, young people watch it, and everyone in between. “Tatort” was one of the first German shows I really appreciated when my German became good enough to understand it. One of the reasons I thought German TV was so bad for a long time was that all I could ever find were American TV shows dubbed into German. And we aren’t talking about the best of American TV: yes, they showed “Alf” on regular prime-time TV here until well into the 90s, I think. Or “Quincy M.E.” from 1976? Has anyone even heard of that show? I do have to appreciate that some of my favorite American shows run here now, but I much prefer to watch them in the original, so I wait for the season to come out on DVD. Now if I do watch TV, I tend to watch German shows.
When I was learning German, watching original German shows instead of American ones in German was one of the best ways to see how much I understood and to see the language in action without leaving my couch. Even if you don’t get everything that is going on the first time you watch, it will only get better. And since each “Tatort” episode stands alone, you won’t get lost if you haven’t seen it for a while. Don’t let the opening credits, akin to the opening of a James Bond movie from the seventies, throw you off. Give “Tatort” a chance!