Germans are strange people occasionally: How could an averagely successful American kids’ detective book series ever become a national treasure? The Three Investigator books were first published in the United States in 1964 and author Robert Arthur doubted the success so much himself he asked no one else but Alfred Hitchcock to step up as a patron and an occasional book character and commentator. The cases, mostly set in California, had lots of Hollywood glitz, endless summer holidays and exorbitantly creative criminals, setting up mysterious scenarios to hide their true intentions or loot. After Arthur retired, other US authors continued writing about Jupiter Jones, Peter Crenshaw and Bob Andrews who aged only from 12 to 16 years in 46 novels (occasionally also published as Crimebusters). The book series was discontinued in the early 1990s. Meanwhile, dramatized audio cassettes and LPs of the German translations sold exceptionally well from 1979 (the Walkman allowed children their own listening time). There was so much demand that the German book publisher secured the rights and continued the book series and hence more audio plays followed – this year episode 202 hit the shelves (specials like orrery-only episodes, acoustic advent calendars etc. not included) and while the key characters have aged without doubt 40 years they are still lending Die Drei ??? (named in Germany after the trio’s logo: The Three Question Marks) their voices.
A revival in the late nineties when more and more people (mostly long-term university students) admitted listening to the old cassettes to fall asleep to, led to the first live tour in 2001. In Hamburg a small stage was set up in front of a multiplex cinema screen ; I was not even in college and felt very young within the crowd – no children or other teenagers anywhere. The demand to experience live stagings of a new Drei ??? case with live music and noises was so extraordinary that more tours followed, filling multipurpose arenas and stadiums. The one’s I missed I have on DVD but I return to Hamburg’s Barclaycard Arena of which I have fond memories not only of the last Drei ??? tour five years ago but also of ice hockey, The Cure, Franz Ferdinand and Die Ärzte (most likely when this show temple had another name sponsor).
Coming to rainy Hamburg in November needs some serious reasons but these audio plays have moved with me everywhere, still wash up with me endless heaps of dirty dishes, packed uncountable moving boxes and probably even wrote expense reports with me. It was funny when during high school and college more and more peeps came out as fans, even though we never fit into the generation Kassettenkind category. These people are now listening to the adventures of Justus Jonas, Peter Shaw and Bob Andrews with their own children, the younger ones turning to the separate junior editions.
Children are rare on the train to the venue, most people are well into their forties. As the rain has stopped for the first time in days, we decide not to take the shuttle bus but to walk the kilometre or two to the arena just next to the city’s major football stadium. We have just over an hour before start time, enough for mulled wine at the venue. But the queue at the entrance sends everyone with a bag bigger than a magazine cover to the external cloak room – in this weather this is almost everyone as scarfs, gloves and umbrellas need to be packed into something. So we queue again, this time for almost 45 minutes because there is a single container taking bags for the 16000 visitors at this sold-out evening; a lady works here all on her own, receiving (often empty) bags, ticketing them, charging Euro 3.50 (cash only) and stacking them away. Only five minutes before we reach her (the queue’s length has doubled since we joined) another window opens with a second lady accepting bags. We tell them what we think of this organisational hell as does everyone else. Next: Venue queue with security checks. Yes, again.
As I knew I’d fly over just for this event, I ordered seats in the first price category – last time the tickets were worth the much higher Ebay price as we were a few rows away from the stage. This time the whole pit in the arena has been sold as premium tickets, and with not one but several row 7s (how? why?) we find our seats only a few minutes before the performance begins. These turn out to be the seventh row from the very back and unsuitable for anyone smaller than your average German. My friend who got the tickets in February sits somewhere above us (not a Fragezeichen ultra but curious about the live phenomena) paid half the price for her seat with a far better view.
Every seat holds a free printed program, but I struggle to see what goes on in front of us, even with the help of the screens. There are fire and light effects, few projections but what is happening on stage framed in classy red curtains I consume involuntarily almost only acoustically. The few children around have given up their seats and sit on their parents’ laps to at least get a glimpse of the speakers. One part of me is fuming, the other one transferred to fictitious Rocky Beach, somewhere under the Californian sun with many references to the series’ initial 30 episodes. The show effects on stage are purposefully less lavish than they have been on the last tour – instead this show pays homage to the golden age of the mystery crime audio play genre and its star is as expected the foley artist (Jörg Klinkenberg). The three main actors Oliver Rohrbeck, Jens Wawrczeck and Andreas Fröhlich enjoy themselves on stage, the unique synergy between them fills the whole arena and put lots of smiles on the audience’ faces; only the abrupt goodbye (not to be mixed up with the case’s showdown) gives away a bit of routine not observed at earlier performances.
I have my brand new tour hoodie and my jacket on and then wait seriously another 45 minutes in the dark, icy wind outside to pick up the little rucksack with nothing but my gloves – I technically had a wonderful, personal, magical evening here but might not return to this venue with a smile too soon.
Die Drei ??? und der dunkle Taipan tour continues in 2021.
We paid ca. EUR 56 per seat.
Performance **** out of 5 stars
Venue * out of 5 stars