Tatort, German for “crime scene,” makes the U.S. Law & Order franchise seem like a lightweight. The German police procedural debuted in 1970 and has run continuously since then with more than 30 feature-length episodes each year. No surprise that Tatort is German TV’s longest running drama. Five of the seasons are available to stream on MHz Choice.
I have watched two of the series. In Tatort: Borowski, Axel Milberg plays the Kiel detective Klaus Borowski whose callous demeanor manages to offend nearly everyone in his life – his work colleagues, his ex-wife, and his daughter. Higher ups force him to make regular appointments with psychologist Dr. Frida Jung (Maren Eggert) and he often shows up late, insults her, and stomps out. Over time, however, the two form a working and personal relationship with Jung inviting him out for dinner and joining him on several of his cases.
Axel Milberg as the Kiel Detective Klaus Borowski
The one person protecting Borowski is his senior officer who recognizes the detective’s brilliance. Small details overlooked by others are quickly spotted by Borowski and turn up critical evidence leading to the killer. Borowski may not be a psychologist like Jung but he understands the mind of a murderer. It takes a lot of energy to cover up a crime, particularly under relentless questioning by Borowski.
One of the best episodes in the series gets to the heart of Borowski’s methods. Dismembered corpses are turning up in the city’s sewers. When a Catholic priest comes to the police station to confess, producing evidence linked to the killings, other detectives are quick to close the case. Borowski, however, senses something else is going on. Not a particularly religious man, he nonetheless recognizes that the priest wants to stop the killings, but can’t violate the sanctity of the confessional. Without the priest’s help, he has to solve the case, but even his best methods are not enough to save everyone involved. The episode, “Borowski in the Underworld” brings out the soft side of the detective, the one reserved for the victims of crime.
Max Ballauf (Klaus J. Behrendt) and Freddy Schenkand (Dietmar Bär)
From Kiel, we jump to Cologne and join two detectives – Max Ballauf (Klaus J. Behrendt) and Freddy Schenkand (Dietmar Bär). The partnership begins on a sour note when Freddy’s passed over for a promotion. Max was working with the FBI in America, when a drug raid turned violent and his work and personal partner was killed. Max is sent back to Cologne and given the top job Freddy thought was his. Yet in short order, the two develop a respect for each other. Ballauf, whose good looks make him a magnet for female attention, remains a lone wolf. Although he continues to look for an apartment, he seems content to live in a seedy hotel. Freddy, who is married with two daughters, often feels like he has the better life, but his attempts to help Max often backfire.
Freddy’s passion for cars is not shared by Max. A frequent visitor to the impound lot, Freddy is quick to take possession of cars taken from drug dealers, hedge fund criminals, and murderers. That means he shows up at crime scenes or finds himself tailing a suspect in a Ferrari or a vintage vehicle. Max takes it all in stride, another step in their relationship.
As with Borowski’s cases, nothing in Cologne is straightforward. Crime scenes turn up plenty of evidence but following the trail to the killer gets complicated. In “Light and Shade,” Freddy and Max investigate the death of a wealthy gynecologist found floating in his pool. The doctor’s wife and son suspect the killer belonged to a prominent pro-life group whose members had been threatening him because he performed abortions. But when the detectives start to widen their search, additional suspects emerge.
With both of these series, the writers do not shy away from tackling difficult topics. There are episodes about the rise of neo-Nazis, human trafficking, child abuse, cyberbullying, and assisted suicide, to just name a few. These two series were broadcast in the early 2000s, placing Tatort, a German TV series, in the forefront confronting some of these controversial issues.
Photos courtesy of MHz Choice.