30 years ago, Arno Funke, who became known as “Dagobert”, blackmailed the Karstadt department store chain. An ARD documentary now shows how Funke, as a criminal, was able to become a folk hero.
Train tracks in the twilight, plus the techno version of the soundtrack “Das Boot”, a voice speaks from the off. “Everything is always very simple in crime films. The criminals are basically very evil, unscrupulous and callous – and they are not afraid. The reality is of course very different.” It is the voice of department store mocker “Dagobert” aka Arno Funke. 30 years ago, the Berliner blackmailed the then department store group Karstadt. For two years he fooled the police with his ingenious tricks – and became a media star. Now a new TV documentary is dedicated to the spectacular crime story. It runs on Monday at 8.15 p.m. in the first.
“Hunting Dagobert – from criminal to folk hero”: ARD documentary tells the story of Arno Funke
Titled “Hunting Dagobert – From Criminal to Folk Hero”, the film by Tim Evers traces the hunt for criminals with failed money transfers, for which the police reaped malice and the blackmailer increasingly became a “folk hero”. For example, in a 1993 ARD survey, 61 percent of those questioned stated that they liked the clever hobbyist. The police and the media called the 72-year-old “Scrooge” because he wanted to give the signal for the handover of money with “Uncle Dagobert greets his nephews” in newspaper advertisements.
The result is a journey into the time after the reunification of Germany – with an atmospheric soundtrack of the early 1990s. “I wanted to embed the story in contemporary history, to represent the mood of that time – music is an important tool there,” said Evers of the German Press Agency. According to Evers, Funke took advantage of the uncertainty after reunification with a certain Wild West mentality, for example by calling the police from telephone booths in East Berlin.
The documentary can already be viewed as a three-part series in the ARD media library. The 45-minute documentary in the first will follow on June 13 – exactly 30 years after the blackmailer’s first bomb exploded in a department store in Hamburg at night. Others followed in Bremen and Hanover, among others.
In the documentary, investigators from Hamburg and Berlin report sleepless nights and growing nervousness when a pipe bomb explodes in Berlin on December 6, 1993, in the middle of Christmas shopping. Excerpts from news programs at the time show how the police came under increasing pressure and were mocked. Statements by a former employee of the department store group, on the other hand, illustrate the fear of the employees. At that time, for example, an encrypted announcement reminded the employees in the department stores every evening just before closing time to check for bags and suitcases that had been left behind. “This psychological pressure on the employees was pushed away at the time,” says filmmaker Evers.
Funke was arrested in 1994 and sentenced to nine years in prison
Funke himself says today: “Of course – I’m sorry about that. Unfortunately, that can no longer be changed. But that wasn’t planned.” The 72-year-old himself cannot be seen in the documentary, only his voice can be heard. So he becomes a phantom again. “This shifts the focus to action, which has a certain effect,” Evers described. But that was not entirely voluntary: Funke is under contract as a consultant for a fiction series for the TVNow streaming service about the blackmail. “But we talked a lot on the phone,” said Evers.
After his arrest on April 22, 1994, Funke was finally sentenced to nine years in prison and damages for extortion of the Berlin KaDeWe (Kaufhaus des Westens) and several explosive attacks on Karstadt branches. The court certified that the trained sign and illuminated advertising manufacturer had brain-organic depression and reduced criminal responsibility. In the summer of 2000 he was released early.
The eloquent original Berliner deals openly with his past – and also uses the prominence that has arisen as a result. While he was still in prison, Eulenspiegel asked if he wanted to draw for the satirical magazine. He published an autobiography, was one of the candidates in the RTL “jungle camp” in 2013, and was on the stage in Berlin on the show “It’s not worth vomiting”.
“The actions took my life in a completely different direction. I met a lot of interesting people,” said Funke of the German Press Agency. “Compared to other offenders, I had the advantage that I had a social background that helped me – and I didn’t completely fall on my head,” said the 72-year-old. For example, he passed on his experiences on the subject of resocialization as a speaker at the law faculty in Münster.