German production companies Pantaleon Films and Carte Blanche Intl. are separately developing two series projects from writer Katja Eichinger that delve into the Hamburg underworld and the city’s unique high security prison.
Pantaleon, part of actor-director Matthias Schweighöfer’s Pantaflix AG entertainment group, has optioned Eichinger’s “Santa Fu,” about life in Hamburg’s notorious Justizvollzugsanstalt Fuhlsbüttel prison, commonly known as Santa Fu. Making the facility particularly unique is the fact that it has the only prison soccer team in Germany that plays in a regional league.
Stephan Wagner and Alexander van Dülmen’s Carte Blanche Intl., meanwhile, are developing Eichinger’s screenplay adaptation of “King of Snow,” the memoir of former drug kingpin Ronald “Blacky” Miehling, who amassed unimaginable wealth in the early 1990s as Hamburg’s premiere coke dealer before losing it all and, coincidently, ending up in Fuhlsbüttel.
Actor-director and Hamburg native Moritz Bleibtreu is set to topline “King of Snow” and is reportedly eyeing a major role behind the camera on “Santa Fu.
The shows not only explore aspects of Hamburg’s seedy underbelly, but also the multicultural makeup of the city and the inherent humor that permeates northern German culture, says Eichinger, a former journalist who also previously worked for Variety.
The prison soccer team, known as Eintracht Fuhlsbüttel, has counted among its members convicted murderers, rapists, drug dealers and even a member of Hamburg’s 9/11 terror cell. (The team can only play home games and is thus unable to move up in the leagues.)
Inspired by the true story of an ex-con and soccer coach who now helps troubled kids stay on the straight and narrow, Eichinger’s series focuses on a talented young player who, no longer able to play due to an injury, inadvertently gets caught up in a botched robbery and lands in Santa Fu.
“It’s a very successful re-socialization project,” Eichinger tells Variety. “It kind of makes the prison part of city life. It’s very good for people, especially young kids, who might be on the verge of criminality and are playing football, to see what it’s like behind bars. It’s no fun.”
As for “King of Snow,” Eichinger originally acquired the rights to Miehling’s 2003 memoir, “Schneekönig. Mein Leben als Drogenboss,” co-written by Helge Timmerberg, and adapted it for a feature film that was never produced.
Wagner, who most recently helmed the Angela Merkel drama “Merkel — Anatomy of a Crisis,” later picked up the book rights and Eichinger’s original script, which he is re-writing for a five-episode series that he also plans to direct.
Eichinger says the original film project never took off because “in Germany, people weren’t ready for a drug-dealing protagonist. I think ‘4 Blocks’ really made a big change,” she adds, referring to the hit TNT Serie series about a Lebanese crime family in Berlin, which also streams internationally on Amazon Prime Video.
She describes Miehling and his gang as “really nasty people,” but notes that they were also very funny, and the innate humor of these very northern German characters was her way into the story.
“The one redeeming thing was the humor they had. This gang humor was a bit like ‘Goodfellas’ — there’s a lot of joking around in their local lingo that is very funny. There’s never been anything like it.”
While the book’s story of anti-heroes plays up the machismo of its tough-guy characters, Eichinger had a different take, she says.
“This is not a hero. He’s a drug dealer who got lucky and then got caught and spent half his life in prison. … I always saw this as a white trash comedy.”
Before making it big as a drug dealer, Miehling was a pimp who dressed the part: The common Hamburg pimp look of the late 1980s included jogging pants, cowboy boots, gold chains and mullet hairdos, Eichinger notes.
“King of Snow” is also a story of freedom during a momentous time in Germany’s history, she adds. While cocaine comes to represent freedom for the protagonist, the fall of the Berlin Wall ushers in an era of unchained hedonism across a united Germany.
“The reason he got so lucky and got so far was because the Wall had just fallen and the German police and the whole state system had other priorities. Everyone wanted to party. Germany was high. Everybody was high. It was party time.”