GERM-294-01 Tatort
Fall for 2017-2018
Der Tatort, literally ‘the scene of the crime,’ is the longest running and most popular German police series; anniversaries like the screening of the 1000th Tatort last fall are widely celebrated events. Furthermore, the Tatort has been credited with reflecting social and cultural changes in German society over the past five decades. This close tie between a fictional police series and social history is in part the result of the public broadcasting system (comprised of many regional stations) that produces the Tatort and that has to pay close attention to a mainstream television audience. Unlike other police series, the Tatort is shot in many locations throughout Germany and even Austria and Switzerland, each featuring a local pair of detectives.

The course investigates this unique lens on German society, by focusing on the following aspects:
• Introduction to the history and regional concept of the Tatort, with special emphasis on the successful relaunch of the series in the early 2000s.
• Reasons for the popularity of the series across generations; fan culture; synergy effect of websites and social media.
• Introduction of new investigative methods and types of detectives: blue collar (Schimanksi), women (Odenthal and others), ethnic minorities (Baltic and others).
• Changing crime scenes, ranging from interpersonal and familial conflicts to global crime networks and terrorism.


Following introductory readings on the genre of crime fiction and the Tatort and a joint viewing and discussion of the inaugural Tatort (Fahrt nach Leipzig, 1970), students will view selected Tatort programs as part of their homework assignments (plot summaries, available on Wikipedia, will be discussed prior to the viewing of each new Tatort). In the second part of the semester, students will work in pairs and introduce one Tatort to the class.

Like other Level V courses, advanced language acquisition is fully integrated into the subject matter of the course. Supporting materials for genre-specific conventions and terminology (e.g., film analysis, film reviews, etc.) will be provided and practiced. Throughout the semester, we will pay attention to language use (e.g., by comparing formal film reviews with informal responses on websites and in social media) and to visual and narrative genre conventions of police series (e.g., alternatives to the traditional “whodunit” approach). Finally, we will examine specific investigative approaches and their ethical and legal implications. For instance, the emphasis on motives and social conditions in the Tatort series often creates understanding or even empathy for the perpetrator. We will compare this approach with fact-based, scientific investigation methods in popular US police series like CSI.

Overall, students will acquire the visual, linguistic, and cultural vocabulary to critically discuss the Tatort series and its role in German society.
Credits: 3
Prerequisites: None
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