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Jan Josef Liefers,
Thierry van Werveke
More than just a TV-policeman but rather a symbol of an era
When the figure of Horst Schimanski (Götz George) first appeared in the late 1970s in his first episodes of German TV-crime-show "Tatort", it had almost something of a revolution. Until then TV-policeman like "Derrick", "Der Alte" or countless other, often interchangeable officers were all clean-cut, middle-class bureaucrats, who would solve crimes through their wits and the general stupidity of the criminals. Then came Schimanski: A hulking proletarian, who would wake up more often than not with a hangover, who cared little to none about etiquette, manners or personal appearance and who would often solve his cases with muscle-power and a big mouth. His favorite food would consist of curry-sausage (the German counterpart of hot dogs) and beer, and his favorite word would be (IMDB won't allow me to use the real word) "excrements". This would also mark the first time that policemen on German TV were allowed to swear. Sometimes the only thing that would distinguish Schimanski from the people he was arresting was his badge. At the same time Schimanski was a "macho with a golden heart".
This would mark the beginning of a new era in German-Thriller-TV. Today, swearing isn't only common in your average "Tatort"; it's almost a requirement. Detectives would solve crimes more often than not with brawn and every second TV-policeman is styled after the "Schimanski-formula". But none would ever reach the cult-factor of the original.
What made the old Schimanski-"Tatorts" so enjoyable was not only Georges roughhousing, but also the chemistry between him and his partners: conservative, blue-collar cop Thanner (Eberhard Feik), with whom Schimanski shared a love-hate-relationship, the ever disgruntled superior Königsberg (Ulrich Matschoss), whom Schimanski would lovingly call 'Klops', thanks to his association with Königsberger Klopse, a traditional dish of meatballs in white caper-sauce. And then there would be Hans Scherpendeel (Chiem van Houweninge), their Dutch partner and often comic relief, who would only be called "Hänschen", since nobody could pronounce his Dutch name anyway. Duisburg, an industrial center, that did look (and still does today) look like a post-apocalyptic steel-desert, was the perfect setting for Schimanskis hard-hitting cases and gave the shows the advantages, to often shift between Germany and the nearby Netherlands.
Also a first: Where the "Tatorts" prior would resort to the well-known jingles and a score dating way back then from granddad's time, the "Schimanski"-episodes would have a soundtrack that employed contemporary Rock- and Pop-Artists, who where either successful at the time or would become successful due to having been played on "Schimansk". Chris Norman, Marius Müller-Westernhagen, Klaus Lage Band, but also international Artists and Stars like Joe Cocker, Jethro Thull or Roger Chapman, to name but a few. In the 1980s each "Schimanski"-episode would hence be considered musical gold.
Hence, "Schimanski" was one of the most popular TV-Thrillers of the 80s, spawning to independent cinema-blockbusters (something that was never repeated by any other "Tatort"-Series), Schimanskis beige jacket and his mustache became Georges trademark, much to the dismay of the versatile actor, who soon found himself typecast as either tough-guy or cop. By 1991 the show had run it's course, probably on the insistence (and to the relief) of George, who went on to become on of the most celebrated actors of contemporary German cinema.
But the demand was still there and 1997 George once again slipped into his "Schimanski-jacket" (yes, the designed was named after the character). Many of his colleagues like Feik and Matschoss had since passed on, so Schimanski in his own series was no longer an official policeman, but rather a retired detective, living on a house-boat in Belgium, who would in 17 more episodes aid the police in their investigations and work with changing partners (mostly Julian Weigand and in one particularly popular episode, pre-Hollywood-fame Christoph Waltz). The new Schimanski-show was still popular, but many old-time-fans, diligently watching each new episode despite everything, would complain that without the old setting and crew, the chemistry simply wasn't the same any longer. George would play the role until 2013 (presumably for the last time), when he was already 75 years old. Very fitting for a generation of viewers, that not only grew up with Schimanski, but aged with the character as well.
As far as German TV-Thrillers go (or "Krimis", as they are called), there still hasn't been anything that would come close to Schimanski and by that standard I'll have to give the original "Tatort"-episodes a straight 10/10 and the following solo-series a 7/10, mainly due to the absence of familiar faces and directors, who would often try, despite the wishes of the audience, to modernize settings and stories. Interested in German TV-Krimis? Schimanski is the essence.
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