Saturday, January 2, 2010

Schimanski beim Frühstück

I continue to give a great deal of thought to the figure of Horst Schimanski, the legendary Duisburg ARD Kommissar in the TV Serien, Tatort. The more I think about him, the more I'm convinced that he is essentially like a kind of anti-hero that I recognize as distinctly American. It could, of course, be that there is a European tradition for a similar kind of anti-hero. But one of the benefits of writing a blog, is that one needn't cloud the issue with a lot of facts.

To follow my line of thought, first watch the video I've embedded below. It represents the German TV public's very first encounter with Schimanski and shows him waking up in his Duisburg Wohnung:

The scene brings me back immediately to the opening of the classic 1966 Paul Newman detective film, Harper. I haven't seen the film in many years, and the Internet, normally so obliging in providing me with almost any image, text or information that I could want, lacks a YouTube clip of the scene. But the scene made a strong impression on me and I can remember it well even after 30 years. The Newman character, Lew Harper, wakes during the opening credits in a pile of rumpled clothing on the couch. Behind him we see the snowy B&W test pattern of a local station flickering on the TV set.

Just as Horst wanders around his kitchen looking for a relatively clean pan to cook an egg, Lew searches for the makings of a cup of coffee, finally realizing that the coffee can is empty. He hangs his head in exasperation and then suddenly looks to his right at something outside the frame of the screen. To people like me who are knowledgeable in the ways of scrounging, the next step is obvious. He walks to the trash can, steps on the foot pedal opening the can and reveals yesterday's filter with the damp, rancid grounds spilling out over a brownish banana peel. It's the equivalent of Schimanski downing the raw egg.

The figure of Lew Harper, like Horst Schimanski and a long line of other anti-hero detectives , culminating perhaps in a figure like Jim Rockford, share many characteristics. They are thoroughly fallible, (usually demonstrated by the chaos of their personal lives) rock hard, but ultimately vulnerable. They aspire to Sam Spade but can't follow through as he does with the line "You killed Miles and you're going over for it." They are often manipulated by the Mädels in spite of their tough guy persona. Nor can they give up, even when faced with a legion of goons who tell them they should forget the whole thing, if they know what's good for them.

I feel a strong resonance with the Ruhrgebiet culture that has elevated Horst Schimanski to the status of a kind of folk hero. My heart goes out to the poor people of Hannover who have to make do with Charlotte Lindholm, a pitiful excuse for a decent Kommissarin. And please don't think this is a gender thing: as a very young child, I can remember rushing around the house with my mother in a chaos similar to that experienced by Schimanski. My mom always seemed to be five minutes late for something and with a mess of kids living in a small house, she rarely had any more free counter space than Schimanski to put down a pan. More than once I watched her crack an egg in a mug and down it raw while buttoning her coat to rush out the door. She would certainly have had a soft spot in her heart for Schimanski too. Kommissarin Lindholm has a dedicated following of passionate viewers who can relate to her thoughtful, politically correct style of investigation and it must be admitted, she always wraps up her Fälle in the required sixty minutes. I guess I just don't like the way she eats her breakfast.

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