BERLIN - Another Sunday evening, another crime. More than 10 million Germans regularly tune in for the hit TV whodunnit "Tatort" whose popularity with its down-to-earth plots spanning the country has endured for more than four decades.
Unlike many an American cop show, "Tatort" (Crime Scene) does not go in for story lines packed with blood and gore, unfeasible high-speed chases or one central, sexy but tortured character.
Nor, unusually, has the weekly 90-minute show updated its opening sequence - a dated blue and white target set to a haltering theme tune - since its November 1970 launch.
But its success in Germany is unrivalled; its formulaic approach beloved.
"It's a great Sunday evening activity," enthuses 22-year-old Jan Bueltermann, taking a chair upfront at Volksbar, one of dozens of spots in Berlin where fans congregate on Sundays at 8:15 pm to watch what many consider a cult show.
As a child he had little choice but to fall in with his family's tradition of watching the series on its only television set. Nowadays, the apprentice watches it out of his own free will.
Marita Gelbe-Kruse, 55, who has taken time out from visiting Berlin to watch the 887th episode of "Tatort" at the bar with her 25-year-old son, Simon, agrees that it's a ritual that brings family together.
"It's a mother-son point in common, a thing we can do together," she told AFP.
A 'secular mass'
Produced by Germany's public ARD TV channel and its regional branches, "Tatort" alternately portrays about 20 police chiefs or their teams from different German cities, as well as from German-speaking Switzerland and Austria, in their hunt for the perpetrators of a crime.
With cities such as Munich, Bremen, Leipzig or Stuttgart taking it in turns to set the stage and even regional accents playing a role, the show holds back on violence, doesn't much ponder on the private lives of its hero investigators and aims for realism.
"The series is forged on Germany's federalism," Stefan Scherer, literature professor at the Karlsruhe Institute of Technology said.