As varied as the Tatort series are, there’s still a tradition and a format to them. Here’s a fun excerpt from a Deutsche Welle top 10 list about how important that format is:


1. The Opener

It’s 8:15 pm on a Sunday evening in Germany. Just after the evening news show, “Tagesschau,” the opening Tatort jingle rings in countless households across the country. It’s a melody that practically everyone – even those who don’t necessarily watch religiously each week – can hum along to. Less well known is that the tune was written by Klaus Doldinger and has only been modified – every so slightly – twice since it was first heard when the show was launched in 1970. The accompanying geometric cut-out graphic screams “70s” and would make anyone cringe – if it weren’t such a classic. It was daring for “Tschiller: Off Duty” to leave out the kitschy, old-school opener, which has really been the only constant in every single episode since 1970.

2. The Tradition

1970. That means Tatort has been around for 46 years. The only “show” that’s had a longer run on German television is the so-called “Wort zum Sonntag,” or “Word for Sunday.” In Germany, the public broadcasters are required by law to give the Catholic and Protestant state churches a short but regular broadcast platform for a brief weekly message. Tatort, in any case, is the longest-running crime show in German-speaking Europe: It launched in Austria in 1971 and has been running with a few interruptions in Switzerland since 1991.

3. Local Color

Each week, Tatort is set in a different region in Germany. Sometimes it’s in Hamburg (most recently featuring Til Schweiger), or in Cologne or Berlin. But smaller towns like Saarbrücken and Ludwigshafen also get their turn on screen. In neighboring France, on the other hand, practically every crime show is set in Paris or Marseille, which has a reputation for being dangerous.

Tatort is a product of Germany’s federal system. Not only do various cities make an appearance, but the federal public broadcaster ARD is divided into regional entities and the production of each episode rotates among them. And, of course, they all take advantage of the opportunity to throw in a bit of local color. In the Cologne Tatort, for example, Detectives Freddy Schenk and Max Ballauf never miss a chance to enjoy a currywurst and Kölsch beer at a stand on the Rhine River. In Dortmund, on the other hand, Peter Faber prefers Pilsner and French fries at the harbor.

4. The Snack Bar

Snack bars are as inseparable to Tatort as ketchup is to French fries. While the American officers in the CSI series (which, by the way, also mixes up the locations, even if there are only three: Miami, New York and Las Vegas) discuss their cases in bars, their German colleagues go to the local snack bar to talk. From bratwurst to fries and beer, none of them seem particularly interested in staying healthy.

5. Das Auto

Tatort: Cologne. Max Ballauf (Klaus J. Berendt) and Freddy Schenk (Dietmar Bär).

Apart from the snack bar, the Tatort detectives also love to think through their cases by chatting in the car – Germans’ favorite means of transportation. While Karl-Friedrich Börne, the arrogant and overly intellectual pathologist in Münster, drives a sports car, Klara Blum from Lake Constance prefers a C-class Mercedes. Freddy Schenk from Cologne has a classic American car that serves as the butt of many jokes, while Peter Faber in Dortmund relies on his trusty Saab 900. The message is clear: Das Auto is not just part of the German soul, in the case of the Tatort detectives, it’s also a window to their souls.

You Might Also Like: