Germans are the self-declared world champions of traveling, and every year they spend nearly US$80 billion on flights, hotels and tours to escape their cold home country.
But some of their dream holidays turn into nightmares, with more than 2,500 Germans being sent to prison annually in exotic destinations.
Seven years ago the German Federal Bureau of Investigation (BKA) established a new department called International Coordination, with 62 officers in 48 countries enlisted to help prove guilt or innocence of their fellow citizens who are accused of drug dealing, sexual abuse, theft or even murder in foreign countries.
Germany’s most popular commercial TV channel RTL dedicated a new crime series to this department.
The series, IK1 – Touristen in Gefahr (Tourists in Danger) presents the adventures of special agent Florian Blessing and profiler Nadja Hansen, played by Tobias Oertel and Eva-Maria Grein. One of their first cases brought them – accompanied by a filming crew of 60 people – to Cambodia.
In the fictitious plot a young archaeologist, working on excavations in Angkor, is found dead, and his German girlfriend is accused of murdering him.
Director and author Jan-Martin Scharf chose Bayon and Ta Nei as the main temple locations, with additional filming in Ta Prohm, at the South and Victory Gate of Angkor Thom , and of course in front of Angkor Wat during sunrise.
“It’s an honor that we got permission to work in these famous and sacred places,” the director said.
Initially, the use of weapons in the temples and the brutal killing of a foreigner in Angkor were hard to accept for the Ministry of Information and the Apsara Authority, but finally they gave the green light.
But one scene with a landmine had to be expunged from the screenplay. “The authorities emphasized that all landmines were removed from the main tourist area and therefore we had to accept their concerns,” production manager Karsten Kilian said.
The leading actors came from Germany and Thailand, but up to 50 Cambodian extras were hired on each of the eleven shooting days. Among them were real policemen, firemen, restoration workers and four fake monks. Furthermore, three local police cars, a fire engine, an ambulance, a taxi and many tuk tuks were hired to create an authentic scene of crime next to Ta Nei temple.
The unfamiliar heat was a big challenge for the European crew members, but an even bigger challenge was importing trucks, equipment and 30 movie specialists from Thailand to Cambodia.
“Before we came to Angkor, we were filming episodes in Thailand for a long time and had recruited a great crew there,” director Jan-Martin Scharf said. “It was hard to convince the Cambodian government that we need these Thai people in Cambodia. Finally we got permission, but I was very surprised about the political tensions between these two neighboring countries.”
With regard to enthusiasm, curiosity and handicraft skills, the director considers Cambodia a film nation. “But compared with Thailand, Cambodia is still lacking some equipment and manpower,” he added.
“According to the leading actors, this is compensated by the kindness of the people and the splendor of the temples.”
“Angkor is amazing. Everybody should come here,” said Tobias Oertel, after a day of sightseeing. Eva-Maria Grein, who stars in another TV series called Kreuzfahrt ins Glück (Cruise into Happiness) since 2006 and has filmed in many foreign countries, agrees.
“I love Southeast Asia and its people who seem to be much happier than most of the Germans who live in wealth, but never smile.”
Filming for IK1 will continue in Hong Kong and Thailand until the end of March, with the north of Thailand doubling as remote areas of Laos, and the Thai island of Koh Lanta doubling as an island in Malaysia.
The four episodes will probably be broadcast on RTL in October this year, and if IK1 turns out to be a success among German viewers, four more episodes will be filmed in South Africa, Namibia, Zambia and Botswana.