Crooks: Are Safe Cracker Charly and His Crimes Based on a True Story?

Charting a criminal tale ripe with heists, gang wars, and emotional stakes, Netflix’s German show ‘Crooks’ takes the viewers on a hunt across three European countries with a dynamic duo at the narrative’s center. The story revolves around a pesky little gold coin from the 18th century with a monetary value well into the millions. Therefore, after a couple of Gangsters from Berlin’s Al-Walid crime family decide to steal the coin, it plunges the continent into a cross-border gang war between the Viennese, German, and French crime lords. Nevertheless, a German safe-cracker, Charly, and Joseph, a glorified driver from the Viennese clan, get caught up in the eye of the storm, endangering their lives alongside the lives of their loved ones.

The series maintains a thrilling pace while infusing a light-hearted and comedic environment into the plot. As such, the narrative ends up presenting an engaging crime-driven tale with likable characters and a plausible storyline. However, given the central premise of a stolen historical artifact, one can’t help but wonder how much realism is behind Charly and his adventures.

The Real-Life Inspiration Behind Crooks’ Coin Heist

While most of the storylines within ‘Crooks’ are fabricated works of fiction, the show’s base premise— a valuable gold coin’s theft in Berlin— holds concrete ties to a real-life crime. The show’s criminal events find their origin once a Berlin crime family decides to rob a Museum and steal a rare 18th-century currency in broad daylight. From there, several other criminal sects become interested in owning the artifact, leading to Charly’s reluctant commission on a robbery carried out on the payroll of the Viennese underworld. Thus, the tiny gold ruble remains the narrative center that jumpstarts the show’s events.

As it would turn out, the show’s gold coin finds its basis in the Big Maple Leaf, a 220-pound coin belonging to Berlin’s Bode Museum, estimated to be worth millions. The artifact, minted by the Royal Canadian Mint, with Queen Elizabeth II’s imagery on it, is one of only six pieces to exist.

March 27, 2017, saw a bold heist wherein a couple of robbers stole the Big Maple Leaf with the help of a museum guard. In 2020, the thieves, Ahmed and Wissam Remmo, alongside the security guard, Denis W., a childhood friend of the former Remmo cousin, finally received their sentencing. Furthermore, the accused cousins had connections to the infamous Remmo family, one of Germany’s most dangerous crime families.

In the end, the criminals were charged with fines and prison sentences, with the Big Maple Leaf’s continued disappearance. Consequently, the authorities are inclined to believe the coin, made out of 99% pure gold, was likely cut into pieces— a theory supported by the discovered gold particles.

Thus, the relation between this real-life heist and the central storyline within ‘Crooks’ becomes evident, with the change in the size of the stolen item remaining the most glaring departure from reality. Showrunner Marvin Kren, who wrote and directed the show alongside his collaborators, confirmed the same in an interview. He also disclosed that the change in the coin’s size occurred as a result of the boundaries that “a 100kg gold coin” imposed within the script’s design. Therefore, even though the exact details behind the coin heist and its ensuing complications are confined within the show’s highly fictionalized narrative, they possess noticeable inspiration in reality.

Crooks’ Authentic Criminal World

While the central storyline within ‘Crooks’ proves to have an inspiration in real life, the expansive nature of the criminal storyline depicted in the show ensures that the overarching narrative remains an amalgamation of different plot points. Therefore, the coin theft becomes an instrumental but brief component of the show.

In turn, storylines around the three lethal crime syndicates across different European countries inform a much broader portion of the narrative. Even so, the creative minds behind the show included real-life research while fictionalizing the story’s criminal themes. Reportedly, showrunner Kren and his co-creators Benjamin Hessler and Georg Lippert looked into the real-life state of criminal clans in Berlin, Vienna, and Marseille.

The exercise came rather naturally to Kren, who previously worked on the show ‘4 Blocks,’ another extensively researched crime drama based in Berlin. Consequently, the showrunner equipped tried and tested methods of research, which included lengthy conversations in cafes with people who have experience of any kind within similarly crime-driven circles. As such, the show finds an authentic framework to base its narrative. The same allows for fictionalized characters and storylines to retain a sense of realism within the tale.

Charly, A Fictional Safe Cracker

Given the general fictionalized— if well-researched— disposition of the show, its central protagonist, Charly The Safe Cracker, remains a fictitious component. Since the show really only references a real-world crime within its initial coin heist storyline, the story’s other elements are largely products of the writers’ imaginations. Consequently, Charly, who isn’t involved in the true-story-inspired coin heist, remains a fictional character.

Nevertheless, Charly’s defining identity as a Safe Cracker allows the character to fit within the show’s crime heist genre seamlessly. Speaking about Frederick Lau’s character, Charly, and his role in the show, Kren shared the appeal he found in centering this story around Charly and Joseph’s underdog characters. As a result, Charly remains a familiar fixture within the narrative who still holds on to the ability to surprise the audience.

Furthermore, through Charly and Joseph’s journey into cities like Marseille, the show effortlessly holds onto classic “Crook story” themes reminiscent of films by Claude Sautet and Jean-Pierre Melville, French filmmakers with prominent works within the genre. Nevertheless, outside of Charly’s thematic resonance with his tale’s genre, the character holds no relation to reality.

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