Sunday, June 28, 2009

Horst Karl Georg Schimanski

When I was younger, during my high school years and later while I was in college, I did a lot of different jobs but they all involved physical work. I painted houses, did carpentry and landscaping. I raked leaves for the widow of Robert Benchley and painted an armoire more than 20 times for the former wife of a minor Getty millionaire. She couldn't make up her mind on the color, but I only started notching the damn thing after coat five or six. Working on a crew of guys installing septic systems was a particularly tough assignment, not because of the work (which was back breaking) but because of the hazing I was subjected to by my coworkers. I was the "college boy" and they delighted in demonstrating their superior intelligence.

My point is, I didn't just fall into this Professor thing. Yes, I am erudite, I've read Der Zauberberg in the original language, and have seen all the Fellini films twice, but I also know how to change my own oil and just yesterday seriously considered buying a bottle of Lambrusco. And I like reading a good solid Krimi once in while. Fast paced stuff in the Raymond Chandler vein is what I'm after, and right now I'm reading a real potboiler by Jonathan Kellerman, Twisted. The plot revolves around a series of apparently unrelated murders that all happen on June 28 in successive years. Today happens to be June 28, and that's a little eerie, but more importantly, June 28, 2009 is the twenty eighth anniversary of Horst Schimanski's debut on ARD's Tatort. I've mentioned Tatort in previous blog posts (See, Ruhrort, Rad Curiosities and A Vast Wasteland) but I've never given Schimanski his due. Now all that will change.

According to BILD am Sonntag, Kriminalhauptkommissar in Duisburg, Horst Schimanski is the most popular Tatort Kommissar of all time. He appeared in 29 episodes of Tatort over the years, and when he retired from that show, ARD whipped up another series for him entitled, (what else?) "Schimanski." But he wasn't always the big hit he became over time. After his first episodes were shown, a lot of the reaction was negative. One Ruhrgebiet newspaper responded with the headline, „Werft den Prügel-Kommissar aus dem Programm!“ (= Thrown Detective "Slugger" Out of the Lineup!) The real Police Commissioner of Duisburg commented on the first episode by saying that the character of Schimanski wouldn't be allowed to work bike theft in his city. But something about Schimanski appealed to the public and actor Götz George continued serving up the gritty Schimanski character to viewers for many years.

I find Schimanski something of a paradox myself. Or maybe I should say, I find his warm reception by my German friends and acquaintances paradoxical. I need to be careful here not to reduce anyone I know (and especially anyone I know who actually reads my blog) to a cultural stereotype, but I know the kind of people who might request a Ruhrgebiet wine at the liquor store, because they've read that buying locally reduces your carbon footprint. Schimanski on the other hand, is the kind of guy who flicks his cigar into the Rhein before breaking the jaw of some nouveau riche arms dealer with a left jab. But my ecology minded friends love Schimanski. A Duisburger Tatort episode is quite likely to open with Schimmi and a Kumpel exiting a house of prostitution, stinking drunk, and administering a bawdy slap on the butt to one of the gals as they stumble down the front steps. What do my (post) feminist friends think of that? They love him.

The answer to the paradox is probably that Schimanski is not just a macho jerk. He weeps in almost every episode. And although he is mildly frauenfeindlich, he's the first cop to offer his coat to a wounded prostitute at the crime scene. Plus, Schimanski ushered in a new pride in the Ruhrgebiet. In the early 80's Essen, Dortmund, Duisburg and the rest of the Ruhrpott were suffering from a very poor self image. According to the Westdeutsche Allgemeine (WAZ), the Ruhrgebiet wanted to be everything, just not the Ruhrgebiet. But Schimanski was very much a Ruhrgebiet kind of guy, and proud of it. Suddenly being from the Ruhrgebiet could be sexy. Public relations campaigns proclaimed that "The Pott Cooks!" and Industrial Culture was discovered. I don't know if Schimanski caused that. More likely, he was just surfing the wave. But it was an important turning point for the most populous region in Germany and Schimmi became a symbol of the change.

Now, with less than a month to go here in Germany, I've decided I need a Schimanski Jacke. It's a standard type M65-American military jacket and was worn by Schimanski like a uniform. They're not easily found now that the Schimanski legend is 28 years old. The original is in the Duisburger Kultur- und Stadthistorischen Museum, but I'd like to find one for sale in a store. It won't do anything to enhance my image on campus, but I've got my low brow side to consider too. With a Schimanski Jacke in my wardrobe, maybe those guys in the orange pinafores at Home Depot won't be so condescending when they tell me the self tapping screws are on aisle 34.

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