Finding Dagobert: ARD Documentary Tells a Story of Department Store Extortion

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“Hunting Dagobert”: Documentation Tracing the History of Department Store Extortion

Arno Funke, who became known as “Dagobert” supermarket racketeering.

© Christoph Soeder / dpa

30 years ago, Arno Funke, better known as “Dagobert”, blackmailed the Karstadt supermarket chain. An ARD documentary now shows how Funk, as a criminal, managed to become a folk hero.

Train tracks at twilight, as well as a techno version of the “Das Boot” soundtrack, sound from outside. “Everything is always so simple in crime movies. Criminals are basically very evil, unscrupulous and cruel – and they’re not afraid. The reality is of course very different.” It is the scorn of department stores “Dagobert” aka Arno Funk. 30 years ago, Berliner blackmailed the then supermarket group Karstadt. For two years he deceived the police with his sophisticated tricks – and became a media star. Now a new TV documentary has been dedicated to the amazing crime story. It works on Mondays at 8.15pm on the first.

“The Hunting of Dagobert – from criminal to folk hero”: ARD documentary tells the story of Arno Funk

Titled “Hunting Dagobert – From Criminal to Folk Hero,” Tim Evers’ film traces a hunt for criminals who fail to transfer money, for which the police reaped the malice and the blackmailer becomes an increasingly “folk hero.” For example, in a 1993 ARD survey, 61 percent of those questioned said they liked the intelligent hobbyist. Police and the media called the 72-year-old a “stingy” because he wanted to signal to hand the money with “Uncle Dagobert greeting his nephews” in newspaper ads.

The result is a journey into the period after German reunification – with an atmospheric soundtrack in the early 1990s. “I wanted to include the story in contemporary history, to represent the atmosphere from that time – music is an important tool,” said Evers of dpa. According to Evers, Funk took advantage of the uncertainty after reunification with a certain Wild West mindset, for example by calling the police from phone booths in East Berlin.

The documentary can already be viewed as a three-part series in the ARD Media Library. The 45-minute documentary will follow on June 13 – exactly 30 years after the first extortion bomb exploded in a Hamburg department store at night. Others followed in Bremen and Hanover, among others.

In the documentary, investigators from Hamburg and Berlin speak of sleepless nights and heightened tension 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 were increasingly pressured and ridiculed. On the other hand, the statements of a former employee of the department store group illustrate the fear of employees. At the time, for example, a coded ad reminded employees in supermarkets every evening just before closing time to check bags and suitcases left behind. “That psychological pressure on the staff at the time was taken away,” says director Evers.

Funke was arrested in 1994 and sentenced to nine years in prison

Funke himself today says: “Of course – I’m sorry. Unfortunately, this can no longer be changed. But this was not planned.” The 72-year-old cannot be seen in the documentary, only his voice can be heard. So he became a ghost again. “This shifts the focus to the action, which has a certain effect,” Evers described. But this wasn’t entirely voluntary: Funke is contracted as a consultant for a TVNow fantasy series about blackmail. “But we talked a lot on the phone,” Evers said.

After his arrest on April 22, 1994, Funke was finally sentenced in 1996 to nine years in prison and damages for the Berlin KaDeWe (Kaufhaus des Westens) extortion and several bombing attacks on Karstadt branches. The court testified that the manufacturer of advertising and illuminated advertisements had an organic depression of the brain and reduced criminal liability. In the summer of 2000 he was released early.

The eloquent original Berliner openly deals with his past – and also uses the fame that has arisen as a result. While still in prison, Ullinspiegel asked if he wanted to paint for the satirical magazine. Publishing his autobiography, he was one of the nominees in RTL’s “Forest Camp” in 2013, and was on stage in Berlin on the show “It’s Not Worth Vomiting”.

“These measures have taken my life in a completely different direction. I have met a lot of interesting people,” Funke told dpa. “Compared to other criminals, I had the advantage of having a social background that helped me – and I didn’t quite fall on my head,” said the 72-year-old. For example, he conveyed his experiences on the topic of resettlement as a speaker at the Law School in Münster.


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