Compared to France, Italy, Spain and the Nordic countries, German crime fiction doesn’t have a big presence in the English-speaking world. The country is better known for its great composers and its philosophers than for its detectives or serial killers. But things are changing, on the small screen at least. In 2017, the incredible production Babylon Berlin appeared on Sky in the UK with subtitles, following on from the success of Deutschland 83 the previous year on Channel 4. Slowly but surely, the streaming service Walter Presents has been adding to the range of German shows available, with programmes from the Tatort series. You can find out more about that below. It’s probably too early to proclaim Deutschland uber alles in terms of crime fiction, but if you’re having Teutonic urges these crime shows will get you straightened out…
5 – The Mind of a Murderer
Newly available on Walter Presents, The Mind of a Murderer spans seven feature-length episodes starring Jorg Hartmann as Inspector Faber. He’s a detective suffering from depression after the deaths of his wife and daughter, and he transfers to Kripo Dortmund to begin again. His technique with each case is to try to get into the mind of the killer, almost like method acting, replaying their crimes step by step to try to understand their motives. While his method gets results, it’s also unusual, sometimes annoying, and very dangerous, bringing him and his team very close to their quarry. In the first episode, he’s trying to catch the killer of two gay men and, playing the role of a gay man, puts himself out there as a target. Dortmund is in the heart of Germany’s rust belt, analogous with parts of Pennsylvania or the West Yorkshire-Lancashire conurbation and you’ll catch some wonderful shots of its varied architecture. Though the first episode was made in 2012, Faber still appears on Tatort in Germany from time to time, with new episodes planned for 2018. You can watch it here on Walter Presents.
4 – Cenk Batu
Here German actor Mehmet Kurtulus plays Cenk Batu, an undercover detective who infiltrates criminal gangs. In the first episode, he goes into hospital at the same time as a young man who belongs to one of Germany’s Turkish crime families – the Nezrem clan – using his own Turkish heritage to worm his way into the operation. While some Tatort series feel a little low budget, this one is stylishly produced and gives some insight into the country’s Turkish community with both cops and criminals coming from that ethnic group. In later episodes topics include industrial espionage, the black market for human organs and Islamic terror plots. Each is 90 minutes and contains a complete case. Watch it here on Walter Presents.
3 – Nick’s Law
The Tatort series began in 1970 and via this decentralised system, crime shows are made by production companies in various regions of Germany. Each has different writers, settings, themes, storylines and characters. Some only appear once, others return for new mysteries a couple of times a year. Most of the time episodes are one-offs with a case per show, though sometimes consecutive episodes have an overarching storyline, as with Nick’s Law. If nothing else, Tatort is a great way to see Germany’s great cities, and like Cenk Batu, this one is set in Hamburg with its largely low rise skyline and modern architecture. Niklas Tschiller (Til Schweiger) used to be a SWAT team commando but now uses his skills as a detective trying to bring down the Astan gang. The focus here is on action, with fist fights, guns and car chases to keep you on the edge of your seat. In between blood feuds, kidnappings and torture, Nik is trying to cope with life with his teenage daughter. We wrote a more detailed feature on the show here, and you can watch it on Walter Presents.
2 – Deutschland 83
It’s fair to say that British production companies are pretty good at period drama, but this wonderful German programme, set during the height of the Cold War, really goes off the chart on atmosphere. The set-up alone is pretty intriguing. As NATO plans to deploy Pershing II missiles on West German soil, the East Germans get very nervous indeed. Their network of spies and sympathisers in West Germany manage to make a young army private disappear and replace him with Martin Rauche (Jonas Nay), an East German soldier. He becomes Moritz Stamm, assistant to a general in the high command. In his mission to plant bugs and steal computer disks, he is constantly at risk of discovery – which gives the show all its tension. The fun comes from seeing a young East German discover things like supermarkets and the Sony Walkman, while the moral tug is more than just political. Martin sees murder up close – a consequence of the ideological battle between East and West. Go straight to Walter Presents and start watching now, or do so via Amazon Video. We can’t wait for Deutschland 86 – it’s due later this year or early 2019.
1 – Babylon Berlin
While Deutschland 83 sees Germany on the verge of World War III, Babylon Berlin take us back to the build up to World War II. The year is 1929, and this mind-blowing recreation of Berlin with the Roaring Twenties in full swing sees Gereon Rath (Volker Bruch), a vice cop from Cologne, desperately trying to track down a pornographic film. In the process he crosses paths with beautiful young dancer Lotte (Liv Lisa Fries), who does admin work for the homicide department by day and performs in the shady vaults below the Moka Efti club by night. She tries to help Rath, a WWI vet, deal with his PTSD and his investigation. A May Day riot, a Trotskyite smuggling plot, Nazi machinations, organised crime and the plight of the poor all lend threads to a complex but brilliantly interwoven plot line. The visual storytelling, the music, the atmosphere and the story are all brilliant here. Babylon Berlin can be viewed on Netflix in the US and on Sky on demand in the UK. You can buy the original novel here.
Also see our article selecting the best crime shows of 2017.