Why you should watch German TV on a Sunday evening

Jörg Luyken
Jörg Luyken - [email protected]
Why you should watch German TV on a Sunday evening
The detectives from Tatort Dresden. Photo: picture alliance/dpa/MDR/MadeFor/Daniela Incoronato | MDR/MadeFor/Daniela Incoronato

Now that we live in the age of Netflix and a whole bunch of other streaming services, internationals in Germany don’t need to watch local TV for a bit of evening entertainment. But they should make an exception on Sundays.


Let’s face it, using a VPN to access streaming services from our home countries can make evening entertainment more familiar than watching German television.

Thanks to super-fast internet, living abroad in 2022 can feel a lot more like living at home than would have been the case even 15 years ago.

But watching local television is a good way to passively take in the local language.


So on long winter evenings, taking one evening of the week to watch a bit of German Fernsehen could be a good resolution for 2022.

And what better night to do it on than a Sunday, the evening of cult crime shows Tatort and Polizeiruf 110?

Tatort, meaning crime scene, has been going for over five decades and is still so popular among the German public that it regularly pulls in nine million viewers or more.

The plot is simple: the first scene usually shows the aftermath of a grizzly murder. Over the next 90 minutes the police detectives have to solve the case. It’s not rocket science: in fact it's so formulaic that it’s easy enough to follow even if you don’t understand every single word.

Interesting for foreigners is the fact that each Sunday brings a Tatort in a different city with different detectives. The location changes offer a glimpse into life in areas of the country you may have never been to.

Alternatively, you might find the detectives walking down a street you know very well.

The Berlin Tatort for example is very Berlin. The most recent episode drew complaints for its semi-graphic sex scenes. And when not at the scene of a murder, the detectives seem to spend most of their time getting drunk in poorly lit clubs.

One of the most popular episodes is Tatort Münster, set in the medieval university town in North Rhine-Westphalia. The Münster show is well liked due to the love-hate relationship between droll detective Frank Thiel and the vain and uptight forensic pathologist Dr. Karl-Friedrich Boerne. Their chalk and cheese personalities are ingredients for some good, dry comedy.


Other Sundays will take you to places as far afield as Saarbücken, Hannover and Bremen. There is even a Tatort Vienna that'll help give you a feel for Austrian German and the famously cool Viennese dialect.

Due to its cult status, Tatort is also a magnet for iconic figures in the German entertainment industry.

Many of the country’s best-known actors have taken on roles as detectives, while singers and celebrities also regularly make guest appearances.

In one recent episode, 1980s rocker Udo Lindeberg helped a detective solve a crime after she found a corpse in the Hamburg hotel that he calls home.

Examples of award-winning actors who have taken up roles as detectives include movie actor Ulrich Tukur in Tatort Wiesbaden and Corinna Harfouch, a noted stage actor, who recently became a detective in Berlin.

And, of course, due to the fact that Tatort always revolves around a murder, you will hear the same words each week, which will help you to build up your Wortschatz.

Here are some useful words and phrases:

Mordkommission - homicide division

Hauptkommissar - chief inspector

Tatverdächtiger - suspect

Erschiessen - to shoot dead

Erschlagen - to beat to death

Erwürgen - to strangle

Das ist der merkwürdigste Fall seit … - that is the strangest case since…

unter die Lupe nehmen - carefully examine

And if you really don’t like Tatort, you can always have a moan with your German colleagues on Monday morning about how banal it is (even though they all watch it anyway!)

Die Folge war aber besonders schlecht! - that episode was really bad!


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