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The real-life events depicted in the German limited series 54 Hours are utterly tragic. Let the outrage begin anew.

54 Hours (Gladbeck)
54 Hours (Gladbeck) — Photo by Martin Valentin © Menke ARD Degeto Film GmbH / Ziegler Film Berlin GmbH & Co.KG / Martin Valentin Menke, courtesy of Beta Film

54 Hours (Gladbeck) is “based on a crime unprecedented in German history.”

That crime was the Gladbeck hostage crisis of 1988.

Around 8:00 AM local time on August 16, 1988, two armed men — career criminals Hans-Jürgen Rösner (Sascha Alexander Gersak, The Team, In the Face of Crime) and Dieter Degowski (Alexander Scheer, Blochin, The Eagle) — enter a Deutsche Bank office in the town of Gladbeck and take two employees hostage.

The local police don’t have what it takes to handle the situation effectively and, as we shall see, neither do members of the North Rhine-Westphalia state police’s Kripo (criminal investigation department), who take charge of the operation. This feckless group of supposed crime fighters can be summed up in this line, spoken by a cop about Rösner:

“Nobody has had the courage to arrest the guy.”

(If the Keystone Kops were real, they might have done a better job. Seriously.)

After Rösner and Degowski’s get their ransom, they head out of Gladbeck with their hostages Harald Engels (Johannes Allmayer, Berlin Station) and Karin Blank (Amelie Kiefer, The Wave). But before they begin their road trip to the Netherlands in earnest, they stop to pick up Rösner’s girlfriend, Marion Löblich (Marie Rosa Tietjen, Kommissarin Heller).

The situation goes from bad to worse in Bremen. The police let pass opportunity after opportunity to immobilize, if not outright capture, the criminals. The kidnappers up the stakes by hijacking a bus with 32 passengers. And the media circus becomes even more bizarre — with reporters doing face-to-face interviews with the kidnappers and hostages and photographers snapping pics of all of them. Inside. The. Bus.

(In what universe does this kind of stuff happen?!?)

Meanwhile, the Kripo Detective Commander who’s been overseeing the operation in Gladbeck passes the buck to his counterpart in Bremen and washes his hands of the mess he could have but didn’t contain, all while Bremen law enforcement continue the farce they (and their North Rhine-Westphalia colleagues) call police work.

Unfortunately, this drama isn’t a spoof of Euro TV crime series like Fallet is. The central characters in 54 Hours are real — from Rösner, Degowski and Löblich, to Bremen Interior Minister Bernd Meyer (Stephan Kampwirth, Dark), to the two hostages who were murdered by the kidnappers and the policeman who died from rescue-related injuries during the 54-hour ordeal.

Featuring in 54 Hours are Christian Beermann (Babylon Berlin), Peter Benedict (The Team), Oliver Breite (Weissensee), Arnd Klawitter (The Valley), Ulrich Noethen (Deutschland 83), Albrecht Schuch (Bad Banks), and Martin Wuttke (Inglourious Basterds).

54 Hours, which premiered in the US on September 6, is currently streaming on Sundance Now and the Sundance Now channel on Amazon as a four-part limited series.

Viewers in the UK will be able to watch the award-winning limited series on BBC Four later this year (date TBA).


Sundance Now on Amazon

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Euro TV to Watch: German True-Crime Hostage Drama ’54 Hours’
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