A Perfect Crime, a docuseries in four parts, investigates a thirty-year-old, still-unsolved German crime: the murder of Detlev Rohwedder in 1991. An important figure in the reuinification of East and West Germany, Rohwedder was the perfect target, martyr, and scapegoat. Intriguing, right?
When the Berlin Wall was knocked down, East and West Berlin needed a way to ideologically coexist. West Germany chose capitalism, privatizing all kinds of companies that were formerly owned by the state. The privatization process was overseen by a company called Treuhand, and Detlev Rohwedder was chosen as its president.
Rohwedder was an easy person to hate for the many Germans who lost their jobs in the privatization process. It was widely known that he was under threat – and, in fact, his home was fitted with bullet-poof windows… on the first floor. The shot that killed him was fired through a window of the second floor, a few days after surveillance cameras in the area were inexplicably turned off.
The question is, of course, who did it. Was it the Red Army Faction’s third generation? A note from the RAF was left at the crime scene, but it’s unclear whether a third generation actually existed. Could it have been members of the former Stasi, the highly trained military presence of East Berlin, who had to all but disappear after reunification? Or perhaps it was the West’s deep state.
The series explores Rohwedder’s career and the situation’s sociopolitical background while making its way through one potential perp at a time. In the end, as suggested by the title, the crime is still too perfect to have been solved.
A Perfect Crime uses mainly German-language resources that are dubbed over or subtitled in English. It has a tough task, because there’s a lot of sociopolitical context that needs to be covered in order to understand the significance of Rohwedder’s murder. The problem is that this is a lot of information for relatively uninformed Americans to absorb, and the series ultimately fails to detangle many related aspects, both small and large.
This is an interesting story because it combines history with the story of a specific crime. The series oddly boomerangs between high crime drama and confusing, dry, and sometimes informationally lacking explanations. The tone is quite dramatic – very true-crimey – in a way that isn’t really warranted, because the series so poorly explains why the situation is dramatic in its own right.
For the premise to be successful, we need to know why the crime is so difficult to solve. Very little time is given to actually discussing attempts to solve the crime and why they failed. The series simply goes through the potential perpetrators, offering some witnesses who believe it was them and some who don’t. By the end the viewer still doesn’t understand why the crime was actually so perfect.
A Perfect Crime bounces around chronologically, failing to establish the series’ driving question before diving into what seems to be the real focus, which is the criminals. It wants to be dramatic and dark, but it sacrifices clarity to achieve this feeling. Are the creators more interested in the fun of an unsolved crime, or the history of Germany? It’s not clear. At the end, the viewer is technically informed, but also left wondering: why is this so horrifyingly important?
The Bottom Line
A Perfect Crime may educate about the various sociopolitical forces around German reunification and the possible components of Detlev Rohwedder’s murder, but its tone bounces uncomfortably between confusingly dry and gratuitously dark. The same entertainment value could probably be less frustratingly achieved through a YouTube video on the topic.
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