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Original 1981 theatrical poster
|Directed by||Wolfgang Petersen|
|Produced by||Günter Rohrbach|
|Screenplay by||Wolfgang Petersen|
|Based on||Das Boot, novel by Lothar-Günther Buchheim|
|Narrated by||Herbert Grönemeyer (Uncut version)|
|Music by||Klaus Doldinger|
|Edited by||Hannes Nikel|
|Distributed by||Columbia Pictures|
209 minutes (Director's cut)
293 minutes (Uncut)
|Budget||32 million DM ($12 million)
(€24.3 million, 2009)
Das Boot (German pronunciation: [das ˈboːt], German meaning "The Boat") is a 1981 German epic war film written and directed by Wolfgang Petersen, produced by Günter Rohrbach, and starring Jürgen Prochnow, Herbert Grönemeyer, and Klaus Wennemann. It has been exhibited both as a theatrical release and as a TV miniseries, and in several different home video versions of various running times.
Das Boot is an adaption of the 1973 German novel of the same name by Lothar-Günther Buchheim. Set during World War II, the film tells the fictional story of U-96 and its crew. It depicts both the excitement of battle and the tedium of the fruitless hunt, and shows the men serving aboard U-boats as ordinary individuals with a desire to do their best for their comrades and their country. The screenplay used an amalgamation of exploits from the real U-96, a Type VIIC-class U-boat.
Development for Das Boot began in 1979. Several American directors were considered three years earlier before the film was shelved. During the film's production, Heinrich Lehmann-Willenbrock, the captain of the real U-96 and one of Germany's top U-boat "tonnage aces" during the war, and Hans-Joachim Krug, former first officer on U-219, served as consultants. One of Petersen's goals was to guide the audience through "a journey to the edge of the mind" (the film's German tagline Eine Reise ans Ende des Verstandes), showing "what war is all about".
Produced with a budget of 32 million DM (about $18.5 million), the film was released on September 17, 1981, and was later released in 1997 in a director's cut version supervised by Petersen. It grossed over $80 million ($208 million in 2014 prices) worldwide between its theatrical releases and received critical acclaim. Its high production cost ranks it among the most expensive films in the history of German cinema.
The story is told from the viewpoint of Lt. Werner (Herbert Grönemeyer), who has been assigned as a war correspondent on the German submarine U-96 in October 1941. He meets its captain (Jürgen Prochnow), chief engineer (Klaus Wennemann), and the crew in a French nightclub. Thomsen (Otto Sander), another captain, gives a crude drunken speech to celebrate his Ritterkreuz award, in which he openly mocks Winston Churchill and implicitly Adolf Hitler.
The next morning, they sail out of the harbour of La Rochelle to a cheering crowd and playing band. Werner is given a tour of the boat. As time passes, he observes ideological differences between the new crew members and the hardened veterans, particularly the captain, who is embittered and cynical about the war. The new men, including Werner, are often mocked by the rest of the crew, who share a tight bond. After days of boredom, the crew is excited by another U-boat's spotting of an enemy convoy. They soon locate a British destroyer, but are bombarded with depth charges. They narrowly escape with only light damage.
The next three weeks are spent enduring a relentless storm. Morale drops after a series of misfortunes, but the crew is cheered temporarily by a chance encounter with Thomsen's boat. Shortly after the storm ends, the boat encounters a British convoy and quickly launches four torpedoes, sinking two ships. They are spotted by a destroyer and have to dive below the submarine's rated limit. During the ensuing depth-charge attack, the chief mechanic, Johann, panics and has to be restrained. The boat sustains heavy damage, but is eventually able to safely surface in darkness. An enemy tanker remains afloat and on fire, so they torpedo the ship, only to realize that there are still sailors aboard; they watch in horror as the sailors, some on fire, leap overboard and swim towards them. Following orders not to take prisoners, the captain gives the command to back the ship away.
The worn-out U-boat crew looks forward to returning home to La Rochelle in time for Christmas, but the ship is ordered to La Spezia, Italy, which means passing through the Strait of Gibraltar—an area heavily defended by the Royal Navy. The U-boat makes a secret night rendezvous at the harbour of Vigo, in neutral although Axis-friendly Spain, with the SS Weser, an interned German merchant ship that clandestinely provides U-boats with fuel, torpedoes, and other supplies. The filthy officers seem out of place on the opulent luxury liner, but are warmly greeted by enthusiastic officers eager to hear their exploits. The captain learns from an envoy of the German consulate that his request for Werner and the chief engineer to be sent back to Germany has been denied.
The crew finishes resupplying and departs for Italy. As they carefully approach Gibraltar and are just about to dive, they are suddenly attacked by a British fighter plane, wounding the navigator. The captain orders the boat directly south towards the African coast at full speed. British ships begin closing in and they are forced to dive; it is later implied that the ships used radar to locate the sub. When attempting to level off, the boat does not respond and continues to sink until, just before being crushed by the pressure, it lands on a sea shelf, at the depth of 280 metres. The crew work desperately to make numerous repairs before running out of oxygen. After over 16 hours, they are able to surface by blowing out their ballast of water, and limp back to La Rochelle under cover of darkness.
The crew is pale and weary upon reaching La Rochelle on Christmas Eve. Shortly after the wounded navigator is taken ashore to a waiting ambulance, Allied planes bomb and strafe the facilities, wounding or killing most of the men. Ullmann, Johann and the 2nd Watch Officer are killed. Frenssen, Bootsmann Lamprecht and Hinrich are badly wounded. After the raid, Werner leaves the U-boat bunker in which he had taken shelter and finds the captain, with multiple bullet wounds and bleeding from the mouth, watching the U-boat sink at the dock. The captain collapses after the boat disappears under the water. Werner runs to the captain's body, recoils, and quickly glances around at the destruction, his face frozen with horror.
- Jürgen Prochnow as Kapitänleutnant (abbr. "Kaleun", German pronunciation: [kaˈlɔɪ̯n]) and also called "Der Alte" ("The Old Man") by his crew: A 30-year-old battle-hardened sea veteran, who complains to Werner that most of his crew are boys.
- Herbert Grönemeyer as Leutnant (Ensign) Werner, War Correspondent: The naive but honest narrator sent out to sea with the crew to gather photographs of them in action and bring them back to use for Nazi Propaganda purposes. Werner is mocked for his lack of experience, and soon learns the true horrors of service on a U-boat. (Actually the narrator of the story; this is not made explicit in the movie, but still present in the background.)
- Klaus Wennemann as Chief Engineer (Leitender Ingenieur or LI, Rank: Oberleutnant): A quiet and well-respected man. At age 27, the oldest crew member besides the Captain. Tormented by the uncertain fate of his wife, especially after hearing about an Allied air raid on Cologne. The second most important crewman, as he oversees diving operations and makes sure the systems are running correctly.
- Hubertus Bengsch as 1st Watch Officer (I. WO, Rank: Oberleutnant): A young, by-the-book officer, an ardent Nazi and a staunch believer in victory. He has a condescending attitude and is the only crewman who makes the effort to maintain his proper uniform and trim appearance. Raised in some wealth in Mexico by his stepparents who owned a plantation. His German fiancée died in a British air raid. He spends his days writing his thoughts on military training and leadership for the High Command.
- Martin Semmelrogge as 2nd Watch Officer (II. WO, Rank: Oberleutnant): A vulgar, comedic officer. He is short, red-haired and speaks with a mild Berlin dialect. One of his primary duties is to decode messages from base, using the Enigma code machine.
- Bernd Tauber as Obersteuermann ("Chief Helmsman") Kriechbaum: The navigator and 3rd Watch Officer (III. WO). Always slightly skeptical of the Captain and without enthusiasm during the voyage, he shows no anger when a convoy is too far away to be attacked. Kriechbaum has four sons, with another on the way.
- Erwin Leder as Obermaschinist ("Chief Mechanic") Johann, also called "Das Gespenst" ("The Ghost"): He is obsessed with a near-fetish love for the U-96 's engines. Johann suffers a temporary mental breakdown during an attack by two destroyers. He is able to redeem himself by valiantly working to stop water leaks when the boat is trapped underwater near Gibraltar. Speaks Austro-Bavarian.
- Martin May as Fähnrich (Senior Cadet) Ullmann: A young officer candidate who has a pregnant French fiancée (which is considered treason by the French partisans) and worries about her safety. He is one of the few crew members with whom Werner is able to connect; Werner offers to deliver Ullmann's stack of love letters when Werner is ordered to leave the submarine.
- Heinz Hoenig as Maat (Petty Officer) Hinrich: The radioman, sonar controller and ship's combat medic. He is in many ways the third most important crewman, since he gauges speed and direction of targets and enemy destroyers. Hinrich is one of the few officers that the Captain is able to relate to.
- Uwe Ochsenknecht as Bootsmann ("Boatswain") Lamprecht: The severe chief who shows Werner around the U-96, and supervises the firing and reloading of the torpedo tubes. He gets upset after hearing on the radio that the football team most of the crew supports (FC Schalke 04) are losing a match, and they will "never make the final now". He speaks a Mannheim dialect.
- Claude-Oliver Rudolph as Ario: The burly mechanic who tells everyone that Dufte is getting married to an ugly woman, and throws pictures around of Dufte's fiancée in order to laugh at them both.
- Jan Fedder as Maat (Petty Officer) Pilgrim: Another sailor (watch officer and diving planes operator), gets almost swept off the submarine during a storm—a genuine accident during filming in which Fedder broke several ribs and was hospitalised for a while. Speaks Hamburg dialect.
- Ralf Richter as Maat (Petty Officer) Frenssen: Pilgrim's best friend. Pilgrim and Frenssen love to trade dirty jokes and stories. He speaks Ruhr dialect.
- Joachim Bernhard as Bibelforscher ("Bible scholar", also the contemporary German term for a member of Jehovah's Witnesses): A very young religious sailor who is constantly reading the Bible. He is punched by Frenssen when the submarine is trapped at the bottom of the Straits of Gibraltar for praying rather than repairing the boat.
- Oliver Stritzel as Schwalle: A tall and well-built blond torpedoman who speaks Berlin dialect.
- Jean-Claude Hoffmann as Benjamin: A red haired sailor who serves as a diving planes operator and watch officer.
- Lutz Schnell as Dufte: The sailor who gets jeered at because he is getting married, and for a possible false airplane sighting.
- Konrad Becker as Böckstiegel: the sailor who is first visited by Hinrich for crab lice.
- Otto Sander as Kapitänleutnant Philipp Thomsen: An alcoholic and shell-shocked U-boat commander, who is a member of "The Old Guard". When he is introduced, he is extremely drunk and briefly mocks both Hitler and Winston Churchill on the stage of a French nightclub. (In the audio commentary of the director's-cut DVD, Petersen says that Sander was really drunk while they were shooting the scene.) Sometime after U-96 departs, Thomsen is deployed once again and the two submarines meet randomly in the middle of the Atlantic Ocean. After failing to make contact later, the Captain is forced to report to HQ that Thomsen is missing.
- Günter Lamprecht as the Captain of the Weser (rank: Kapitän zur See): An enthusiastic officer aboard the resupply ship Weser. He mistakes the I. WO for the Captain as they enter the ship's elegant dining room. An ardent Nazi, he complains about the frustration of not being able to fight, but boasts about the food that has been prepared for the crew and the ship's "specialities".
- Sky du Mont as an Oberleutnant aboard the Weser: The II. WO amuses him with a comical demonstration of depth charging. For this appearance, du Mont is uncredited.
The film features both Standard German-speakers and dialect speakers. Petersen states in his DVD audio commentary that young men from throughout Germany and Austria were recruited for the film, as he wanted faces and dialects that would accurately reflect the diversity of the Third Reich, around 1941. All of the main actors are bilingual in German and English, and when the film was dubbed into English, each actor recorded his own part (with the exception of Martin Semmelrogge, who only dubbed his own role in the Director's Cut). The German version is dubbed as well, as the film was shot "silent", because the dialogue spoken on-set would have been drowned out by the gyroscopes in the special camera developed for filming.
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Production of Das Boot took two years (1979–1981). Most of the filming was done in one year; to make the appearance of the actors as realistic as possible, scenes were filmed in sequence over the course of the year. This ensured natural growth of beards and hair, increasing skin pallor, and signs of strain on the actors, who had, just like real U-boat men, spent many months in a cramped, unhealthy atmosphere.
Production for this film originally began in 1976. Several American directors were considered, and the KaLeu (Kapitänleutnant) was to be played by Robert Redford. Disagreements arose, and the project was shelved after American producers insisted on a scene showing the cold-blooded killing of American sailors in their lifeboats by SS men (they did not offer any explanation why the SS was aboard a U-boat). Another Hollywood production was attempted with other American directors in mind, this time with the KaLeu to be portrayed by Paul Newman. This effort primarily failed due to technical concerns, for example, how to film the close encounter of the two German submarines at sea during a storm.
Sets and models
Several different sets were used. Two full-size mock-ups of a Type VIIC boat were built, one representing the portion above water for use in outdoor scenes, and the other a cylindrical tube on a motion mount for the interior scenes. The mock-ups were built according to U-boat plans from Chicago's Museum of Science and Industry.
The outdoor mock-up was basically a shell propelled with a small engine, and stationed in La Rochelle, France and has a history of its own. One morning the production crew walked out to where they kept it afloat and found it missing. Someone had forgotten to inform the crew that an American filmmaker had rented the mock-up for his own film shooting in the area. This filmmaker was Steven Spielberg and the film he was shooting was Raiders of the Lost Ark. A few weeks later, during production, the mock-up cracked in a storm and sank, was recovered and patched to stand in for the final scenes. The full-sized mock-up was used during the Gibraltar surface scenes; the attacking aircraft (played by a North American T-6 Texan / Harvard) and rockets were real while the British ships were models.
A half-sized full hull operating model was used for underwater shots and some surface running shots, in particular the meeting in stormy seas with another U-boat. The tank was also used for the shots of British sailors jumping from their ship; a small portion of the tanker hull was constructed for these shots.
A mock-up of a conning tower was placed in a water tank at the Bavaria Studios in Munich for outdoor scenes not requiring a full view of the boat's exterior. When filming on the outdoor mockup or the conning tower, jets of cold water were hosed over the actors to simulate the breaking ocean waves. During the filming there was a scene where actor Jan Fedder (Pilgrim) fell off the bridge while the U-boat was surfaced. Fedder broke several ribs. This scene was not scripted and during the take one of the actors exclaims "Mann über Bord!" in order to draw attention to Fedder. Petersen, who at first did not realise this was an accident said "Good idea, Jan. We'll do that one more time!" However, since Fedder was genuinely injured and had to be hospitalised, this was the only take available and eventually Petersen kept this scene in the film. In this scene, the pained expression on Fedder's face is authentic and not acted. Petersen also had to rewrite Fedder's character for a portion of the film so that the character was portrayed as bedridden. For his scenes later in the film Fedder had to be brought to and from set from the hospital since he suffered a concussion while filming his accident scene. Fedder eventually recovered enough and Pilgrim is seen on his feet from the scene when the U-96 abandons the British sailors.
The interior U-boat mock-up was mounted five metres off the floor and was shaken, rocked, and tilted up to 45 degrees by means of a hydraulic apparatus, and was vigorously shaken to simulate depth charge attacks. Petersen was admittedly obsessive about the structural detail of the U-boat set, remarking that "every screw" in the set was an authentic facsimile of the kind used in a World War II U-boat. In this he was considerably assisted by the numerous photographs Lothar-Günther Buchheim had taken during his own voyage on the historical U-96, some of which had been published in his 1976 book, U-Boot-Krieg ("U-Boat War").
Most of the interior shots were filmed using a hand-held Arriflex of cinematographer Jost Vacano's design to convey the claustrophobic atmosphere of the boat. It had two gyroscopes to provide stability, a different and smaller scale solution than the Steadicam, so that it could be carried throughout the interior of the mock-up. Vacano wore full-body padding to minimise injury as he ran and the mock-up was rocked and shaken. The gyroscopes used to stabilize his rig were very noisy, and most of the film had to be dubbed as the location sound was unusable.
Throughout the filming, the actors were forbidden to go out in sunlight, to create the pallor of men who seldom saw the sun during their missions. The actors went through intensive training to learn how to move quickly through the narrow confines of the vessel.
Several versions of the film and video releases have been made: The first version to be released was the theatrical 150-minute (2½-hour) cut, released to theatres in Germany in 1981, and in the United States in 1982. It was nominated for six Academy Awards (Cinematography, Directing, Film Editing, Sound (Milan Bor, Trevor Pyke and Mike Le Mare), Sound Effects Editing, and Writing).
The film was partly financed by the German television broadcasters WDR and the SDR, and much more footage had been shot for the film than was shown in the theatrical version. A version of three 100-minute episodes was transmitted on BBC Two in the United Kingdom in October 1984, and in Germany and Austria the following year. In 1988 a version comprising six 50-minute episodes was screened. These episodes had additional cutback scenes summarising past episodes.
Petersen then oversaw the editing of six hours of film, from which was distilled Das Boot: The Director's Cut, 209 minutes long (3 hours, 29 minutes). Released in 1997, this cut combines the action sequences seen in the feature-length version with character development scenes contained in the mini-series. This release also provides better sound and video quality. Petersen originally had planned to release this version in 1981, which for commercial reasons was not possible. The Director's Cut was released to cinemas in Germany on 11 December and on 4 April 1997 in the U.S. In addition to the "Director's Cut" DVD, a Superbit version, with fewer additional DVD features but a higher bit-rate (superior quality), was released by Columbia Pictures.
An uncut miniseries version, running 293 minutes (four hours, 53 minutes), was released to DVD on 1 June 2004, as Das Boot: The Original Uncut Version with enhanced video and audio quality. It omits the cutback scenes of the 1988 television broadcast and is therefore shorter.
On 14 October 2010, the 208-minute "Director's Cut" was released on a German-language Blu-ray Disc in Europe. It was released in the United States on 5 July 2011. The shortest version begins an evening in a French nightclub. The longer begins in a car that is driving to the same place, and several drunken sailors are pissing at the car, in which the U-boat commander and the guest reporter are sitting. The commander doesn't care, but later the new German-Mexican volunteer officer makes complaints about it. This complaint is also cut in the short version, hence the introduction of this officer becomes very short. The long version was released for at least cinemas in Sweden at the time. (Long time before 1997.)
- 150 minutes (1981, 1982) Theatrical
- 209 minutes (1981) unreleased
- 300 minutes (1984, 1988) BBC mini-series
- 208 minutes (1997) Director's Cut
- 293 minutes (2004) Das Boot: The Original Uncut Version
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The film drew highest critical acclaim and is seen as one of the greatest of all German films. For its unsurpassed authenticity in tension and realism, it is regarded internationally as pre-eminent among all submarine films. The film was ranked #25 in Empire magazine's "The 100 Best Films Of World Cinema" in 2010. It currently holds a 98% Fresh rating on Rotten Tomatoes.
In late 2007, there was an exhibition about the film Das Boot, as well as about the real U-Boat U-96, at the Haus der Geschichte (House of German History) in Bonn. Over 100,000 people visited the exhibition during its four-month run.
The film was unusual in its North American promotion, since it was referred to both in German as Das Boot, and in English as The Boat. The lack of drama in the translated title eventually led to its being marginalized, with Das Boot becoming the normal title for the film.
In the film, there is only one ardent Nazi in the crew of 40, namely the First Watch Officer (referred to comically in one scene as Unser Hitlerjugendführer, "Our Hitler Youth Leader"), with the rest of the officers either indifferent or, in the Captain's case, openly cynical. The enlisted sailors and non-commissioned officers are portrayed as apolitical. In his book Iron Coffins, former U-boat commander Herbert A. Werner states that the selection of naval personnel based on their loyalty to the party occurred only later in the war (from 1943 onward), when the U-boats were suffering high casualties. At that stage in the war, morale was surely declining and this degree of skepticism may have occurred. In support of Das Boot on this subject, U-Boat historian Michael Gannon maintains that the U-boat navy was one of the least pro-Nazi branches of the German armed forces.
Even though the beginning and the end of the film occur in the port of La Rochelle, it does not correspond historically. The submarine base in La Rochelle was not functional before November 1941, and at the time of the film the port was dried up. Moreover, none of the British fighter-bombers of late 1941 to early 1942 had the range to bomb La Rochelle from bases in the U.K.; however, it is possible the fighters were carrier-based and not land based. While Saint-Nazaire was the base used in the novel, the film was changed to La Rochelle because its appearance had not changed to such a large degree in the years since World War II.
In real life, the U-96 was based at Saint-Nazaire in late 1941. It survived this period, but much like its on-screen fate, it actually was sunk by Allied bombers at its berth in Wilhelmshaven in March 1945.
Criticism by novelist Buchheim
Even though impressed by the technological accuracy of the film's set-design and port construction buildings, novelist Lothar-Günther Buchheim expressed great disappointment with Petersen's adaptation in a film review published in 1981, especially with Petersen's aesthetic vision for the film and the way the plot and the effects are, according to him, overdone and clichéd by the adaptation. He also criticised the hysterical overacting of the cast, which he called highly unrealistic, while acknowledging the cast's acting talent in general. Buchheim, after several attempts for an American adaptation had failed, had provided a script detailing his own narrative, cinematographical and photographical ideas as soon as Petersen was chosen as new director. It would have amounted in full to a complete six-hour epic; however, Petersen turned him down because at the time the producers were aiming for a 90-minute feature for international release. However, today's Director's Cut of Das Boot amounts to over 200 minutes, and the complete TV version of the film is 282 minutes long.
Buchheim, himself a U-boat correspondent, attacked specifically what he called Petersen's sacrificing of both realism and suspense in dialogue, narration, and photography for the sake of cheap dramatic thrills and action effects (for example, in reality one single exploding bolt of the boat's pressure hull would have been enough for the whole crew to worry about the U-boat being crushed by water pressure, while Petersen has several bolts loosening in various scenes). Buchheim also criticized depictions of the crew's loud behaviour during patrols as unrealistic and celebrations after achieving a torpedo hit or surviving a bombing as unprofessional. Furthermore, an officer—even an outsider like Lt. Werner—would have commanded special respect and that throwing an oil-drenched towel into his face would not have been tolerated.
Uttering concerns about the end result, Buchheim felt that unlike his clearly anti-war novel the adaptation was "another re-glorification and re-mystification" of the German World War II U-boat war, German heroism and nationalism. He called the film a cross between a "cheap, shallow American action flick" and a "contemporary German propaganda newsreel from World War II".
The characteristic lead melody of the soundtrack, composed and produced by Klaus Doldinger, took on a life of its own after German rave group U96 created a remixed "techno version" in 1991. The title theme "Das Boot" later became an international hit.
The official soundtrack features only compositions by Doldinger, except for J'attendrai sung by Rina Ketty. The soundtrack ("Filmmusik") released following the release of The Director's Cut version omits J'attendrai.
Songs heard in the film, but not included on the album are La Paloma sung by Rosita Serrano, the Erzherzog-Albrecht-Marsch (a popular military march), It's a Long Way to Tipperary performed by the Red Army Chorus, Heimat, Deine Sterne and the Westerwald-Marsch.
- List of successful U-boat commanders
- Submarine films
- Battle of the Atlantic (1939–1945)
- The Cruel Sea
- U-Boote westwärts, 1941 propaganda film
- Die Brücke, 1958 anti-war film
- Box Office Information for Das Boot. The Numbers. Retrieved March 27, 2013.
- See comment by Wolfgang Petersen in 'Extra Features' --> 'The Making Of/Behind The Scenes, Das Boot: The Director's Cut (1997). DVD.
- SOC 2011 Historical Shot: Das Boot by Jost Vacano
- "The 55th Academy Awards (1983) Nominees and Winners". oscars.org. Retrieved 2011-10-09.
- Original Movie Website restoration information --> http://www.dasboot.com/classics.htm
- "Das Boot (Directors Cut) Blu-ray". Retrieved 2014-03-16.
- "The 100 Best Films Of World Cinema – 25. Das Boot". Empire.
- "History of the submarine base of La Rochelle".
- Lothar-Günter Buchheim (1981). Kommentar - Die Wahrheit blieb auf Tauchstation ("Commentary: The truth remained hidden under the sea"), Geo, no. 10, 1981
- Die Original Titelmelodie: Das Boot (Klaus Doldinger single) at Discogs (list of releases)
- Das Boot (Die original Filmmusik) (album) at Discogs (list of releases)
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- Das Boot at the Internet Movie Database
- Das Boot at Rotten Tomatoes
- Das Boot at AllMovie
- Das Boot review in cosmopolis.ch