Tag Archives: Viennese Customs

5 Reasons to Love Tatort, And My 3 Top Teams

My dad likes to Skype on Sunday. He’s in New York, six hours behind me, so this often puts our call into the early evening. This week I replied to his email of the subject line “Wanna Skype?” with a brief reply: “Anytime before 8:15pm my time.” So there we were, on Skype on Sunday evening when I said, “Ok, Dad. It’s 8:10. We are in the last five minutes of this conversation. ‘Cause Tatort starts in five. And now you’re going to ask me, ‘What is Tatort?'”

“What is Tatort?” my dad obligingly asked. So where shall I begin?


I told my dad that Tatort is like the German version of Law and Order, only better. But I said that because by now it was 8:11 and things were getting tense. The first rule of Tatort is that if you miss the beginning you will never, ever get caught up. But the fact is that Tatort is not like Law and Order, except in the sense that it is a Krimi, and that it often has rather famous actors. It is unlike Law and Order in all of the following ways, which essentially constitute its peculiar appeal:

1. Tatort is only on on Sunday night. Nothing else of any importance is on on Sunday night. It is on everywhere in Germany and Austria, on Sunday night, at 8:15pm, without fail. It is never pre-empted. It is never not there. It is an institution. It even still uses its opening music and graphic from the 1970s (and you can really tell).

2. Tatort does not have commercials and is an hour and a half long, making it more of a movie than a TV show. The crimes are complex, as are the characters, and the longer timeframe means that the narrative twists several times in the course of an episode. It is truly unpredictable, every week something entirely new.

3. Each week’s Tatort is set in a different city, with a different pair of Ermittler (investigators). There are around a dozen different teams, and they come from places ranging from Berlin to Dortmund to Frankfurt to (proud to say) Vienna. Each team has its own peculiar dynamic and range; some are male-female teams, some old-young teams, some male-male teams. The investigation unfolds according in part to the character of the team — but since you don’t see them every week, or even every month, you don’t get sick of them. And when your favorite team shows up in the previews for the next week, you jump up and down a little. If you’re that sort.

4. Importantly, because Tatort is not dubbed from English (unlike the ubiquitous episodes of CSI and Criminal Minds and Law and Order and The Mentalist and Life and….you get the idea), it is extraordinarily difficult for a person learning German to understand . The pace is different, the phrasing, the rhythm of the conversations — I can’t explain it, but Tatort is just much harder to follow than a dubbed American show. It is therefore my personal goal to get to the point where I can watch an entire Tatort through from beginning to end without needing help. Currently, watching it is more like wrestling a snake than watching TV. After every exchange I have to hurriedly demand that my spouse tell me what the hell they just said even as more talking is going on — because there are no commercials, and so no chance to catch up. It leaves me utterly exhausted. But it’s that good.

5. In Catholic Austria, where everything is closed on Sunday, Tatort is folded into the pace of life. There’s no shopping to be done, no hurrying around, nowhere to be. Sunday is a slow day. You go for a walk. You tidy up the house. You cook dinner early, and settle down to watch Tatort at 8:15. It’s like the America of my childhood. But in German. And with better dinner.

Next week’s Tatort will feature Til Schweiger, who is like the German version of Tom Cruise in that he’s very famous and very, very short, but not like Tom Cruise in that he’s a good actor and not insane. Christoph Waltz was even supposed to be a Tatort Kommissar at one time (he did one episode). (He also did an episode of Kommissar Rex, by the way.) But these all pale in comparison to what I consider to be, listed here in hierarchical order, the very best Tatort investigative teams:

#1 Team Vienna (Eisner and Fellner): This team combines a hilarious middle-aged female investigator with a grumpy old male one; they crack a lot of jokes and have a companionable relationship. He, Moritz Eisner, is totally deadpan. His partner, Bibi Fellner, has this long, incredibly expressive face. They’re adorable, and they go all over Austria, meaning they offer plenty of opportunity to hear dialects from Viennese to Tyrolean.

Adele Neuhauser, who plays Bibi Fellner zu Gast bei der Verleihung des Nestroy-Theaterpreises 2010 im Burgtheater in Wien on 8 November 2010, as photographed by Manfred Werner - Tsui under a Creative Commons License)
Adele Neuhauser, who plays Bibi Fellner (photo credit: Manfred Werner – Tsui, under a Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 3.0 Unported License)

#2 Team Ludwigshafen (Odenthal and Kopper): To be honest, were it not for patriotism, I would make this my #1 team, entirely because of Ulrike Folkerts who plays Lena Odenthal. She’s fabulous. She’s gorgeous, gay in real life, and a terrific actress, with a loose-limbed physicality that’s very appealing. I like her German, too. Her partner, Kopper, speaks Italian, which is a bonus, and is a sort of greasy, hardened cop. They also have a great relationship — like Team Vienna, they’re both single, and buddies who occasionally crash at each other’s places. They’re adorable. Though none of this helps me understand where the hell Ludwigshafen might be, nor why they have so much crime there.

Ulrike Folkerts at the SWR Sommerfestival 2013 in Mainz, photo by René Kirchhoff under a Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 3.0 Unported License http://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Ulrike_Folkerts_beim_SWR_Sommerfestival_2013_in_Mainz_zur_Tatortpremiere.jpg
Ulrike Folkerts at the SWR Sommerfestival 2013 in Mainz, photo by René Kirchhoff under a Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 3.0 Unported License

#3 Team Berlin (Ritter and Stark): Technically, it’s not a list until there are at least three things on it. So I’ll pick a third here — Ritter and Stark — entirely because it is so entertaining that they are men of similar age but around three feet apart in height. Stark is tiny, and Ritter is a lanky, slightly older guy who spends the entire episode looming above his partner. As far as I can tell this inherently comical element is never mentioned, which is refreshing. You would literally never see casting like this played this way on American television. Ever.

You there in America. Yes, you. You too can watch Tatort, on YouTube! But, um, it’s not dubbed into English. Best of luck with the German. It kicks my ass every week.


Posted in Around Austria, Culture, Regan Writing | Tagged , , | 1 Comment

How to Win at the Grocery Store Wars

While I’m on the subject of stores, I want to talk a little about the grocery store. I had in mind that this would be a post on cultural differences that drive me nuts (what is up with the butting in line, Europe?? Seriously, knock it off), but this one actually merits a post all its own. Because if you plan to go to the grocery store here, you need to be prepared. And by “prepared” I mean, you should probably start working out. Like, now.

Viennese grocery stores (and elsewhere—the same is true in Italy) have a different procedure than is followed in the US. First of all, if you want bags you will need to buy them. They’re usually hanging in front of and under the counter. You will be paying around 30 cents for each one, so you won’t want too many. Ideally, you will bring your own shopping bag(s) with you. This is ecologically motivated, and it makes good sense. The problem is that it interacts with another feature of the European grocery, with devastating results.

This is a bag from a shoe store that in our house doubles as a grocery bag. Here you see it in its fully-packed state. It weighs probably 20 pounds and is on the verge of breaking.
This is a bag from a shoe store that in our house doubles as a grocery bag. Here you see it in its fully-packed state. It weighs probably 20 pounds and is on the verge of breaking.

That other feature is that there are no baggers. In the US, of course, your groceries are tidily packed in a bag, while you wait, by a person experienced in such things. In an earlier generation this was often a teenager. These days, with employment in the US being what it is, it could easily be the head of a family of 4. In Vienna, though, it’ll be nobody. Your groceries are going to come flying down the belt toward you with no one to help you stuff them in bags. Here’s where I return to the first issue I mentioned: this issue will be exacerbated by the fact that you tried to save money by getting too few bags, and by the fact that you have no idea what you’re doing. Your bi-weekly trip to the grocery store in no way replaces the years of experience of a professional bagger. You are going to crush the strawberries. You are going to squeeze the cheese.

Melee at the Checkout Stand
Here we see a poor soul in the throes of it at the Billa. You can almost feel the flop-sweat.

Worse yet, you are going to do it with the next person in line standing right on top of you, and the checker watching you scramble around because you can’t bag and get out your money at the same time. Bad times. Here are three basic strategies for surviving:

1. Bags first. Most people lay their groceries on the belt, and only then realize they’ll need a bag and grab one from the rack. By “most people” I of course mean me. Don’t be that fool. Get your bag on the belt first, so that you have it rung up first and can immediately start stuffing it with purchases. Game on!

2. Hold your ground. Look again at the above photo. I see something here that you may not: this woman is making sure the person after her doesn’t crowd her by putting her cart behind her in line—otherwise an inexplicable choice. A major factor in grocery store success is controlling your own sense of pressure. You can’t let the person behind you stand on top of you. Do what it takes—put your elbows, your cart, hell, even your body odor in their way.

3. Take it in phases. The grocery store is not evil, merely misguided. They know that no one can manage in this kind of pressure cooker, and so they always, always provide a shelf or counter just across from the checkout stands where you can dump your stuff and regroup. Do that. Consider your pass through the line merely the first stage of your checkout journey, and take a moment here to repack your bags, salvaging anything that was maltreated in your first, frenzied effort. Your strawberries, your cheese and your sanity all thank you.

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On the U-Bahn the Other Day

Not long ago, I had cause to mention the concept of Tracht, that is, traditional Austrian clothing. I was sorry, though, that my photographic example on that occasion was so static, because the real pleasure of Tracht is seeing it on the hoof, so to speak. That’s why I was thrilled the other day when I came out of the gym and went into the U1 station at Kagran, and found this guy waiting for the train:

This man and I exist in the same universe. In fact, we are going to ride the same train.
This man and I exist in the same universe. In fact, we are going to ride the same train.
It's not every man who can pull off this head-to-toe ensemble, but this guy's got it.
It’s not every man who can pull off this head-to-toe ensemble—Lederhosen, Tyrolean hat, two different plaids!—but this guy’s got it. And he’s going to take it all the way into the city center.

Yep. And that’s how it was that day.

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Call Me, Maybe?

Over the last few weeks, I ‘ve seen a number of people in Vienna using cell phones in what strike me as very funny conditions. Everyone loves their cell phone (“Handy” auf Deutsch), but here they are a way of life—I get the (unsubstantiated) impression that there are fewer smart phones but a whole lot of actual talking and old-school, press-the-buttons texting going on.

Anyway, a few weeks ago I was walking through the Mexikoplatz and saw this little girl, dressed head to toe in pink and bundled up against the cold, strolling down the sidewalk by herself looking extraordinarily self-possessed. Five or so years old, and not an adult to be seen—I looked up and down the street, surprised. She paused, pulled a cell phone out of her pocket, and, in the most casual of ways, made a call. She then wandered back and forth a bit in a relaxed pacing pattern as she did whatever the hell business a five-year-old has to conduct by cell phone in the middle of a busy city.

It was simultaneously adorable and terribly alienating.  Here, see for yourself:

Hey, Mom. What's up? Listen, can you fill me in on the status of those TPS reports?
Hey, Mom. Glad I caught you. Listen, can you fill me in on the status of those TPS reports?

The relative hugeness of her pink backpack is a clue to how little she was.

The following week, snow struck. Vienna was covered—in fact, it was angezuckert (read more about that here). I was very proud of myself, the intrepid American, for going jogging in the midst of the storm in the Prater, Vienna’s equivalent of Central Park, despite the difficult conditions and the falling darkness. “Nicely done, ” I said to myself. “That’s the American spirit right there—never give up!” And in general the Prater was as quiet and empty as you would expect a park to be at 5 PM on a snowy early-evening. In Austria. In February.

Except for this woman, easily in her late 60s, sitting casually on a bench along the Hauptallee, sending a text message:



Now, that is the spirit of not giving up! American independence has nothing on Alpine stoicism, it seems.

Of course, I hate the phone and prefer to send emails rather than text messages. This makes it nearly impossible to get anything done here. But more on that another time.


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