Babylon Berlin rocked my Euro TV world. The series is an early pick for this year’s list of my favorite new shows and the current odds-on favorite for best Euro TV program of 2018.
To say Babylon Berlin is binge-worthy is an understatement.
The series is, in fact, marathon-watching-worthy.
With a price tag of $40 million, it is the most expensive TV series ever produced in Germany — money well spent, as every aspect of the production, from the storytelling and production values, to the music and costumes, is stellar.
Ergo, the show’s recent wins for Best Drama Series, Best Cinematography, Best Music, and Best Production and/or Costume Design at the 2018 Deutscher Fernsehpreis (German Television Awards), Germany’s equivalent of the Emmy® Awards.
Babylon Berlin is based on the best-selling and meticulously-researched “Gereon Rath Mystery” novels by Volker Kutscher, the first author to use the period of the Weimar Republic as the setting for historical crime fiction.
The series opens in spring 1929. Police Inspector Gereon Rath (Volker Bruch, Generation War, Tatort), a former soldier suffering from symptoms of PTSD and survivor’s remorse, has been transferred from Cologne to Berlin, where he now works in the vice squad with his new boss, Bruno Wolter (Peter Kurth, Tatort, A Heavy heart), on a case involving a porn ring run by the Berlin Mafia.
But there is more to this for Gereon than catching pornographers, prostitutes, and pimps. He is on a secret mission for his father, a government functionary back home; it is to find a film that would scandalize a senior-level politician in Cologne if the man’s blackmailer(s) were to make it public.
What Gereon doesn’t realize (yet) is that Bruno’s dark side is deadly, there is more to his secret mission than extortion, and his secret lover in Cologne will change his life in Berlin.
Meanwhile, a freight train from Leningrad pulls into a station in Kreuzberg, Berlin. All cars but one are full of toxic chemicals, and it is that lone car, laden with precious cargo, that folks in the know want. But before it can leave for its destination, the government of the Soviet Union forces it to stay put, and those with ambitious plans must bide their time to get hold of that one car’s content. If they can get hold of it.
Elsewhere in the city, steno-typist, flapper, and feminist Charlotte Ritter (Liv Lisa Fries, NSU: German History X, Bukow and König) vies with other women for a temp job at Red Fort, the massive police headquarters building of the Berlin Police (where she befriends Gereon). She lands what could turn out to be a lengthy gig, but even with this pay, she’ll still need more money to take care of her family and pay the rent for their tenement apartment in the slums. For this, there is her off-the-books work at cabaret club Moka Efti (where she agrees to do dirty work for Bruno).
Babylon Berlin is a sight to behold.
Its narrative is so intricately woven that the ways in which the threads of murder, corruption, and political intrigue intersect and overlap are seamless.
The story is rich, steeped in the social and political climate of the time — during the latter years of the Weimar Republic, when unemployment was rampant, growing political unrest pit the in-power Social Democrats against the German Monarchists, Communists, and Nazis who were plotting the downfall of the government, and Soviet revolutionaries committed to Trotsky were scheming to bring down Stalin.
Whether characters are likable or repulsive has no impact on how fascinating they are. Case in point: Svetlana Sorokina (Severija Janusauskaite, War and Peace), a Russian countess who performs in drag at Moka Efti and leads a double life that is dangerous to both her and the people who cross her path.
(Speaking of performing, look for Bryan Ferry, solo artist and former lead singer of Roxy Music, in the early second half of the show’s sixteen episodes.)
Visually, the series is simply gorgeous in every sense.
Adding a contemporary flavor to Babylon Berlin are the dance scenes in the cabaret and the local bar where Gereon hangs out on occasion.
And that song — “Zu Asche, Zu Staub” (“Psycho Nikoros”) — is ever so catchy. (It sends chills up my spine whenever I hear it, and now I can’t get it out of my head).
The series features Matthias Brandt (Bukow and König), Leonie Benesch (The Crown), Lars Eidinger (Shades of Guilt), Misel Maticevic (In the Face of Crime), Fritzi Haberlandt (Crime Scene Cleaner), Ivan Shvedoff (Shades of Guilt), and Hannah Herzsprung (The Weissensee Saga).
Babylon Berlin, a Netflix Original series, is currently streaming in the US exclusively on Netflix. Viewers in the UK can watch it on Sky.
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