Dark, Netflix's first German-language original series, is being touted as the German Stranger Things, and while that might not be exactly true, the show certainly brings a creepy vibe to the table. As much of the show's complex plot centers around the development of a time machine by a sweater vest-wearing watchmaker, fans of the show might be wondering if H.G. Tannhaus from Dark is a real person. After all, the town's watch repairman plays a pivotal role in the time-travel aspect of the series.
Light spoilers for Netflix's Dark ahead. As Winden's watchmaker who we see in both the 1953 and 1986 timelines, Tannhaus is working to develop a time machine, and at one point, he receives the blueprints for the time machine mechanism that later plays a major role in the plot. Later in his life, we know that he writes a book called A Journey Through Time, which various characters appear to be inspired by throughout the series. While it may seem like Tannhaus is based on a real historical figure, that isn't explicitly disclosed; however, his name brings to mind both a historical figure and an interesting legend that may have links to the theories about time travel, free will, and determinism that the series touches on. Here are our best guesses for the inspiration for H.G. Tannhaus.
Obviously, the name is pretty similar. As the author of the 1895 novella The Time Machine, he's credited with creating the concept of a vehicle called a time machine that would allow for passage backwards and forwards through time. That can't be pure coincidence, right? This guy literally wrote the book on the subject of time travel.
In his novella, a character known only as Time Traveler creates a device that allows him to jump to another time at his will. He does just this and finds himself in AD 802,701, where he joins a peaceful but poorly adapted community of people who have allowed technology to completely take over their society. He has a truly harrowing adventure while there that lasts several days. When he finally gets to his time machine to return back to Victorian times, where he is from, he realizes that his journey only lasted a few hours. In the end, the Time Traveler attempts to use his time machine again but is never seen after he enters it, presumably becoming stuck or killed in the time he traveled to last.
The Tannhauser Legend
Again, does that name sound familiar? This legend is a little tough to understand or find a lot of information about, but it originates in Germany and H.G. Wells actually references it in two of his other works, which is a connection that shouldn't be ignored. Tannhaus references have also permeated modern-day science fiction; most famously, Blade Runner's iconic "tears in rain" monologue references "Tannhauser Gate," and sci-fans have since come to associate the name with Blade Runner.
The legend involves a man who discovers the subterranean home of Venus, and after spending years worshiping her, returns home desperate to absolve his sins, considering his visit a mistake. Basically, he has made some mistakes and would like to rectify them or find peace with them. It seems to reference the idea that some things are fated and beyond our control, and this idea definitely has a place in Dark, where various characters are traveling forwards and backwards through time, seeing things that could cause them to possibly want to alter their fates. H.G. Tannhaus is actually one of those characters must consider whether the time machine that he created is something of value or a mistake, which calls back to the Tannhauser Legend, where mistakes are made and absolution is sought.
Whether or not H.G. Tannhaus was inspired by these legends and the author H.G. Wells, there's no denying that his name evokes some references that share common themes with Dark. Whether the character was actually intended to reference these themes, perhaps we'll never know. But just like Dark's thrilling first season, perhaps some things are better left mysteriously ambiguous.