King of the Underworld
People worship him as a German Robin Hood, who robs the rich and helps the poor. Few know the true face of the man who was born Johannes Bückler. It is the story of an incredible rise and fall. To this day, Schinderhannes is regarded as the greatest robber in German history.
Bärenbach in the Hunsrück mountains. Already wanted at the age of 15, Bückler goes into hiding and begins his adventurous life as a robber in 1796. He is a criminal who uses his head. He leaves the poor people alone because they hardly have anything worth stealing. Instead, he often distributes part of his plunder to peasants and day labourers to win allies who warn him of dangers or provide safe hiding places quickly.
In fact, Schinderhannes acts more like a mafia godfather, committing acts of theft, burglary, robbery and extortion. But he also ensures that, if possible, no victim is physically harmed. Murders are taboo because they always lead to the death penalty. He and his gang attack lone houses, scaring the inhabitants by shouting and singing loudly, so they hardly even think of trying to resist.
Even during his lifetime, his reputation is legendary, his criminal record endless, so too, apparently, his power. When Schinderhannes comes, people keep watch without being asked. If he stays in a ruin with his accomplices, there will probably be a robber's ball in the evening. Schinderhannes becomes a powerful figure in a world without laws.
At Easter in 1800, Schinderhannes wins over the love of his life, Julia Blasius, the 19-year-old daughter of a musician. Known as "Julchen", she joins the gang and takes part in raids wearing men's clothing. As the areas on the left bank of the Rhine have been occupied by France since 1793, the gang moves frequently between German and French territories. This makes it much more difficult for the authorities to apprehend them. Even so, Schinderhannes is arrested several times, but manages to escape each time. This reinforces his legendary reputation among the population.
When he is finally caught – in a joint effort by the Germans and the French – his execution in Mainz becomes a mass spectacle watched by 30,000 onlookers. He is convicted of 130 offences. No robber after him will ever attract such fame in Germany.
Idea & Producer: Uwe Kersken
Writer: Dr. Andrea Stoll