Tense from its calamitous start
FOR Scots of a certain age, the summer of 1988 is synonymous with the Piper Alpha disaster in which 167 oil workers died. Thirty years on, it remains a black memory. For Germans, however, 2018 marks the 30th anniversary of a very different sort of tragedy – the Gladbeck hostage crisis.
It started with a botched bank robbery in Gladbeck in north-west Germany on August 16 of that year, moved to Bremen, rolled briefly over the border into Holland and, in the teeth of a full-on media circus, ended in death and gunfire on a motorway outside Cologne as gawpers crowded onto an overpass, and police tried to hold back the camera crews which had been following in convoy.
Which is when the recriminations and resignations began as a shocked nation woke up to the scale of the police bungling and the level of media culpability in the deaths.
Coming to the story cold, as British viewers of Kilian Riedhof’s two-part reconstruction necessarily did, meant the drama took a little longer to heat up. But when it reached simmering point, it stayed there and last night’s 90-minute concluding episode was tense from its calamitous start – the robbers’ decision to add a bus and its passengers to their original hostage tally of two – to its bullet-riddled finish.
And if last week’s first episode had been undercut by moments of black humour and bizarre set-pieces (such as when a policeman strips to his tight red underpants to deliver the ransom money to the doors of the bank), the second act ramped up the finger-pointing and eased off on the clownishness.
As much as it could anyway. There were few, if any, rational actors in this tale, and facts are facts: the robbers, jailbird Hans-Jürgen Rösner (Sascha Alexander Gersak) and dopey Dieter Degowski (Alexander Scheer), really did stop to pick up Rösner’s girlfriend Marion Loblich (Marie Rosa Tietjen) after the police had acceded to their request for a getaway car. Rösner really did shoot and wound Loblich by mistake.
The trio did let a journalist ride in the car with them because they didn’t know the way out of Cologne.
Riedhof handled the story considerably better than his protagonists handled the stick-up, only dropping the ball in the cutaway segments in which he sketched in the back stories of two teenagers – 16-year-old Emanuele de Giorgi and 18-year-old Silke Bischoff – who at that point were far from the action and apparently unconnected to it.
It was clumsily done and made it obvious that neither was going to come out of the situation well. Neither did. De Giorgi was shot by Degowski on the bus, Bischoff by Rösner after the police attacked. Those mis-steps aside, this was a taut and compelling drama about a sorry episode in recent German history, and brought some much-needed variety to BBC Four’s Saturday night Scandi Noir slot.