Once, when Natalie Scharf was about seven years old, the teacher stood there and asked the class what they thought of about Jesus. That was in Catholic Bavaria. And Natalie Scharf answered. “Jesus,” she said, “is the best friend of Napoleon and Catherine the Great. And he lives on Ward 22.”
The teacher didn't think that was funny. But true. Natalie Scharf's father was a psychiatrist. Like the family of the actor Joachim Meyerhoff, they lived in the middle of psychiatric institutions, among people who at that time could still be described as lunatics relatively unscathed.
Either, says Natalie Scharf today, “that pulls you down into the abyss. Or it makes you strong.” Sharpens the senses, the imagination, the way of perceiving people, the understanding of how people build an image of themselves and their lives.
How they become actors in their own production, whose strings they do not necessarily have in their hands. Maybe not turning into Jesus or Napoleon, but turning into imaginations, into fakes.
Natalie Scharf, born in Wasserburg am Inn, made it strong – like Joachim Meyerhoff. Natalie Scharf is one of the busiest German screenwriters. She has written over a hundred books.
For years she sat in the soap writing container at Bavaria, developing high-end films with Nico Hoffmann, with whom she is still friends today. And "Frühling" with Simone Thomalla, one of ZDF's longest-running series - gently told horizontally, which was almost pioneering work for the Sunday evening program on the lighter side of "Tatort".
Entertainment with depth, equally open to kitsch and echoes of the present. An episode of "Frühling" - the series takes place in Bayrischzell am Wendelstein and on Thiersee in Tyrol, where Natalie Scharf is now almost at home - negotiated what was probably the first story on German television about the consequences of corona for precarious families.
We're sitting around the corner from Berlin's Kurfürstendamm in the headquarters of your production company. It's called "Seven Dogs". Her grandmother, says Natalie Scharf, lost almost everything during the war. "Child, take note," she said, "I could always rely on my seven dogs."
Family is important to her. Family defines her, has shaped her, her grandfather's mathematics, her father's psychological sharpness of analysis, her mother's painting. This is how it is composed. Pictures of her family hang or lean on the walls. It's very tidy, very white. There is no trace of madness here.
We're here because of Natalie Scharf, of course. But above all because of Klettmann. Peter and Anna and Vivian. And Natalie Scharf's ZDF series, which tells of the Klettmanns.
"Yesterday we were still children" is her name. She has seven episodes. It's the anatomy of a murder. The anatomy of a family that has spun itself into the staging of its life, that – more or less with seeing eyes – has gotten caught in the snares of its past. And eventually get strangled by them. That's it.
And with a murder. Peter Klettmann (Torben Liebrecht), lawyer in at least the second generation, villa resident, pupil of an elite high school, which his children now also attend, celebrates his birthday with his beloved wife Anna (Maria Simon).
She will be 44. This is significant because a cuckoo prophesied to her that she would only be 43 years old. There is cake. There are strange looks. Peter bites into a lucky penny. Then one of his dental crowns is history.
Not much later, Anna is in her blood, less than three-quarters of a good eight hours have passed. Peter writes a letter to Vivian (Spring seasoned but pretty great playing influencer Julia Beautx) to explain everything. You see him in prison. You can hear his voice. Like many things, this will accompany you in the following hours.
Peter evokes the perfect family life that was never a perfect one, which he and Anna only staged that way. And explains to Vivi that at her age he had already had four lives on his conscience.
There is this terrible sentence by Chekhov. "If you say there's a gun on the wall in act one, it's imperative that a shot be fired in act two or three."
In the first act of their very grandiosely built series, not only is death mentioned so often, there are also so many guns hung on the wall that one got scared and anxious. In the end, it is reliably shot out of everyone.
How subtly Natalie Scharf loaded all these weapons on her way through the three decades and two generations that negotiated “Yesterday we were still children”, the story of the fatal concealment of guilt and the no less fatal inheritance of latent violence, only becomes apparent when you watch them several times, which is what you should do with good novels.
And listen. Not only sentences are partly coded twice, the pictures, the musical backgrounds are too.
Natalie Scharf worked on “Yesterday we were still children” for six years. Yesterday she was still busy mixing. She was involved in all trades. She was a screenwriter and producer.
Natalie Scharf speaks of the seven-part as of a daughter shortly before the Abitur exam, which she likes. It's a kind of subtotal, so to speak, of what shaped her, what she learned in a good thirty years of German television - the craft and the art of storytelling.
She broke out of psychiatry at an early age. She robbed her of sleep. Everything was discussed at the table. And that had consequences for the night's sleep. What it's like to become schizophrenic, for example. That you sometimes wake up in the morning and hear voices telling you something.
And then she didn't want to sleep for weeks. Was scared of waking up one night and picking up a knife and... Others watch too many horror movies. Natalie Scharf had too much everyday life.
She then married early. A man whose parents died in a plane crash. She probably wanted to treat him. Didn't really work.
She then wrote children's books. Because back then, when she came home from cycling on her bright red children's bike past men who bared themselves in front of her, reading was the ideal escape for her, and it made her happy.
Natalie Scharf wanted to make others just as happy. And live the supposed normality that she only knew from books. And reinvent them in literary form for a new generation.
She traveled a lot. Wrote novels set in Colombia and elsewhere in the world. She soon realized that becoming rich and supporting a family is not something you can do with it. Then Uschi Reich, long since a legend in the Bavaria production, who had read her young adult novels, asked if she wanted to start with her. She wanted. And so she sat in the Bavaria soap opera factory for years.
It was a tough school, but a good one. Not just for Natalie Scharf. Quite a few of today's celebrated showrunners gathered in front of the storyboards and knitted stories. Screenplay kings like Jürgen Werner (who invented the Münster crime scene) or queens like Annika Decker (“Keinohrhasen”) learned what is still often laughed at in the feature pages in Germany – craftsmanship. Without which there can be no art.
Then she worked in the production company of Susanne Porsche, made "poor millionaires". And written with and for Nico Hofmann for seven or eight years. Talked to survivors for Hofmann's tsunami film, for example. That shaped her and still impresses her today. How to survive survival. What real trauma is.
For "Yesterday we were still children" there would have been material for an eighth episode. And for a second season. Maybe she won't. You don't have to tell everything. Much is left up in the end. That's the way it should be.
"Yesterday we were still children" is a large-scale experiment in genre mix. How far that can work in Germany. A family story, full of humor and darkness, full of psychology and horror, along a fine thread of thriller and told consistently from the characters to the point of trepidation.
Maybe she'll leave Vivian and her siblings, whose custody she's fighting for, in the arms of cop Tim (the great, seedy Julius Nitschkoff), whom we don't trust because we suspect for eight hours that he's playing a double game . Like the whole series by Natalie Scharf.
"Yesterday we were still children" is a performance show of the German mini-series. Natalie Scharf nearly overtakes herself when talking about what she'll do next if she survives the launch of her seven-piece.
Maybe first, she's been thinking about it for a long time, "The little gateway to the big world", a (serial) story about her childhood in psychiatry. Maybe Jesus and Napoleon and Catherine the Great come up. And Joachim Meyerhoff plays along. But now we're dreaming a little.