Wednesday, July 10, 2024

Move over Miss Marple — TV Merkel is cracking the case with a pug

Cold War Epilogue

Move over Miss Marple — TV Merkel is cracking the case with a pug

A fictionalised version of Germany’s former chancellor stars in bestselling crime novels and is about to make her screen debut

Miss Merkel: an Uckermark Thriller will be shown on television next week

Just over a year after stepping down as chancellor, Angela Merkel is returning to German television screens. This time, though, rather than grappling with affairs of state, she will be trying to solve a particularly tricky country house murder.
The fictional Merkel is the star of a film, to be shown on German television next week, that imagines the former chancellor has grown tired of retirement and reinvented herself as an amateur detective. Accompanied by her hunky young bodyguard, Mike, and trusty pug, Helmut, she sets out to discover who killed Baron Philipp von Baugenwitz, a priapic aristocrat found poisoned in his wine cellar.

The film is based on a series of bestselling “cosy crime” novels by David Safier, a German humourist. The first, Miss Merkel: Mord in der Uckermark (Miss Merkel: Murder in Uckermark), the name of her home region in northeast Germany, was published in spring 2021, several months before she stepped down after 16 years in power. It has sold more than 800,000 copies and been translated into several languages, with an English edition expected next year.

Katharina Thalbach stars as Merkel, who is accompanied by her trusty pug Helmut — named “Putin” in the earlier books

Katharina Thalbach, 69, the star of the film, being shown on the popular RTL channel, has played Merkel before — or rather a character called Angela Murkel in a 2013 drama called Der Minister.

“I thought I wouldn’t do it again and it would be a one-off,” she said in a recent newspaper interview. But she was convinced by the screenplay: “I was so surprised by this almost tender idea of giving Angela Merkel such a nice job as that of a hobby detective, based on Miss Marple — I couldn’t say no.”

Although admitting never having voted for Merkel, Thalbach said she had “a great deal of admiration for her” and the way she had fought her way up through the male-dominated political world. The former chancellor has previously been frequently parodied in comedy skits in Germany and abroad — including in Britain by Tracey Ullman.

Safier told me he came up with the idea for the books after a meeting with his publisher, during which their conversation turned to the chancellor and what she would do after she retired. It was clear that she would not stay in politics or take any other lucrative or high-profile job, “but we didn’t know what she would do”.

A flash of inspiration came that evening when he switched on the television and found himself watching a rerun of Columbo, the 1970s American detective series. Suddenly he was struck by an unlikely similarity between the former chancellor and the TV sleuth, played by Peter Falk.

Like Columbo, he noted, Merkel was smart and had been underestimated, especially during the earlier part of her political life. She also had a good understanding of forensics thanks to her previous career as a scientist.

“And, of course, because she has been in politics all these years, she is accustomed to being around sociopaths and knows how to handle them,” he added. “I thought it would be perfect.” The closeness of the former chancellor’s name to Agatha Christie’s Miss Marple was a bonus.

Safier, 56, who describes his books as a homage to Christie and to Dorothy L Sayers, is now writing the third in the series. In it, his heroine, not content with solving murders, has decided to turn her hand to writing detective stories of her own.

In the meantime, her character has changed, a reflection of a broader shift in popular attitudes towards Merkel and her legacy since the war in Ukraine, which has raised questions about the wisdom of her pursuit of close economic ties with Russia.
“She has become less self-confident,” he said. “My Miss Merkel is thinking about all the things that didn’t work out so well and which, now she is now longer chancellor, she can’t do anything about.” The conflict has also led to a change in the name of her dog, which in the first book was called Putin.
(The real Merkel is said to be afraid of dogs — a fact the Russian leader once played on by op letting his own black labrador into a meeting with her. In the book, her husband, Joachim Sauer, gives her the pug the day she retires to help her overcome her fear.)
Now 68, the former chancellor, herself, has largely dropped from the public eye and refrained from commenting on the policies pursued by her successor, Olaf Scholz. She is working with Beate Baumann, her long-time political adviser, on her autobiography, due to be published in autumn next year.In a rare interview in Berlin last June in front of a live audience, she defended her record as leader, in particular her conciliatory foreign policy towards Russia. Denying she had been naive, she asserted she had “nothing to apologise for”. “Diplomacy isn’t wrong just because it hasn’t worked,” she added. “I don’t have to blame myself for not trying hard enough.” She also revealed she had spent the first weeks of retirement on Germany’s Baltic Sea coast, taking long winter walks and wearing a hoodie so people would not recognise her. She had also been catching up on reading, including Shakespeare’s Macbeth.Bizarrely, she has taken time out since to do a bit of amateur sleuthing of her own: renowned for her love of opera, she took part in a recent podcast, Are We Talking about Murder? devoted to crimes carried out in Richard Wagner’s Ring Cycle. She told her co-presenters — a former judge and a legal expert — that she relished her “newly won freedom” to try out new “formats” during a conversation about revenge, greed and vanity. To his regret, Safier has never met his subject and does not know whether she has read his books — though one of the former chancellor’s close associates is apparently a fan. The writer intends to set this right by wangling an invitation to the launch of Merkel’s autobiography and introducing himself. “I will tell her that we are writing about the same topic but with a different approach and see how she reacts,” he said. @Peter_Conradi