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Film Review: Die Pfefferkörner
by Becky Tan

Maybe I’m strange. Maybe I just enjoy being a grandma, but one of my two favorite festival films was part of a children’s television series DIE PFEFFERKÖRNER. This showed as part of the 18th Michel Kinder and Jugend Filmfest, which ran parallel to the Filmfest Hamburg. Here, too, there were similar restrictions due to the Corona Virus, e.g., fewer films, no juries or meet-ups, although online viewing was possible.

The English translation of Pfefferkörner is practically the same: peppercorn, which is the dried berry of the pepper plant. Another interpretation is “anything very small or insignificant.” That definitely does NOT describe these peppercorns, who make up a team of four or five detectives, all children working together to solve mysteries. The first series involving peppercorns came out in December 1999 and showed on KITA, the children’s TV channel. Since then there have been 208 episodes with ten teams in 16 sections with the newest 11th team appearing at the children’s festival in Hamburg.

First we saw the last episode of team 10, entitled WUNDERLAND (2020). It takes place in Hamburg’s Miniature Wunderland, the world’s largest model train exhibit. Five Pfefferkörner children are admiring the model trains. At the same time another boy steals a small locomotive and pretends that one of them is the thief. Why? They must investigate the background. What does the employee in Wunderland have to do with it? Why is he fired?

Then we were privileged to watch the first episode of the new team 11, with a whole new cast: Luna, Elyza, Caspar, Leander, and Charlotte, titled VERGIFTET (2020). Their friend, Frau Luders, collapses. Did she overdose on her medicine or was she poisoned (vergiftet)? They must solve the problem. Both episodes were 29 minutes, featuring refreshing, smart youngsters.

These showings were introduced by three young girls who were part of the youngsters involved in the Michel Festival. After the showings, the five participants in VERGIFTET appeared on stage. Two were 10 and 12 years old and three were 13. It is necessary to develop new teams, as the actors leave childhood. They talked about casting, working on new films, and having to learn new roles, including doing heart massage for this film. They said that the film proved that “friendship is important.” They had to adjust their schedules to allow both filming and attending school, but this was not a novelty, as they all seemed to have had acting experience before they became Pfefferkörner. It’s wonderful to watch films made in Hamburg, showing many familiar locations, including those at the Miniature Wunderland.

Both of these television versions will appear in February 2021. This has also been one full-length film, DIE PFEFFERKÖRNER UND DER FLUCH DES SCHWARZEN KÖNIGS which came out September 2017. Now we can look forward for a second full-length film, DIE PFEFFERKÖRNER UND DER SCHATZ DER TIEFSEE, to appear in cinemas February 21, 2021. This just won best long film at a festival called Kinderfilmfestival Goldern Spatz.