No. 25: I really can’t believe you still haven’t watched Babylon Berlin

Sydney loves Babylon Berlin and wants to tell you all about the opulent German neo-noir period drama. The series stars Volker Bruch and Liv Lisa Fries.

No. 25: I really can’t believe you still haven’t watched Babylon Berlin
Liv Lisa Fries as Charlotte "Lotte" Ritter

Hello! It’s been nearly a month since I’ve written anything, so thanks for sticking with me. This week I wanted to share the love I have for Babylon Berlin. If you haven’t seen the show yet, this is your sign to log in to Netflix and watch it immediately. Season 4 is rumored to be coming sometime in 2022, so get caught up before it releases!

Let me tell you about my favorite show (one of them, anyway)

by Sydney Bollinger

I’m a sucker for a good period drama, especially a period drama with opulence. You know, the grand scale set design, masterclass costuming, and a (mostly) historically accurate backdrop. I love stories with an ensemble cast, each character with their own story which eventually crosses paths with another major player, two stories conjoining into one, something seemingly benign in the background becomes the big event.

I found this in Mad Men, a show I watch over and over again. Somehow it never gets old despite how many times I’ve seen it. I found this perfection again in Babylon Berlin, the German neo-noir series, housed on Netflix in the US. At first glance the premise is simple: a police officer  transfers to Berlin to shut down an extortion ring targeting his father, while aided by a working class woman who dreams of being a detective. The show takes place in 1929, the dark future we know looming over the story. The stock market will crash and Nazism will rise; this isn’t a show with plans for an alternate timeline.

Volker Bruch as Gereon Rath. Sitting in a car on a stakeout in 1929 Berlin.
Volker Bruch as Gereon (left)

When I first watched the show, it was on the recommendation of my German professor. It was October 2017 and the show had just been released. I had never heard of it, but she and her husband had started the show and loved it — and the show was in German, perfect for her students. After a particularly rough day, I turned it on and didn’t stop watching until it was over. The next class I had with her, I told her I watched and loved it.

“The whole thing?” she asked — and of course I watched the whole thing. What are millennials good at if not binge watching TV?

History before the breaking point

Many of the period dramas or historical shows and films I’ve watched about Germany are singularly focused on World War II, Naziism, and the Holocaust. These stories often center on families seeking exile or forbidden love, sometimes they’re even a vehicle for American patriotism and nationalism — the greatest country in the world defeated Hitler, right?

Communist protest in Babylon Berlin
Communists protest in front of Berlin police officers in Babylon Berlin

I’m not trying to be blasé about the horrors of Hitler’s rise to power, white supremacy, and then subsequent genocide. The years of Hitler, however, do not encapsulate the sole story of Germany. The country’s history and culture — both before and after World War II — is both rich and influential, especially on entertainment and storytelling. Horror and science fiction films owe so much to the genius of innovative film director Fritz Lang (Metropolis, M) and German Expressionism.

The show is set in the throes of Lang’s era. The third season even centers on a murder on the set of an Expressionist-style film. The Weimar Republic, as Germany was known at the time, has a reputation for its cultural liberation — even if certain things were still under wraps.

In the show, we enter Weimar Republic Berlin at its highest point mere months away from the eventual Stock Market Crash. Watching the show feels like waiting for the other shoe to drop, especially since viewers know what’s to come.

A slow burn to rival slow burns everywhere

Like with any good drama, Babylon Berlin offers viewers one of the best slow burn romances I have ever been privy to. The sexual and romantic sparks between Gereon Rath (Volker Bruch) and Charlotte “Lotte” Ritter (Liv Lisa Fries) are unmatched. From their first encounter (the two collide outside of an elevator) to their kiss in season three, the two are made for each other.

The show doesn’t stop there, though.

Caro Cult as Vera whispers into Lotte's ear at a busy nightclub
Vera (Caro Cult) and Lotte

Over the course of three seasons — and likely into the fourth — Gereon and Lotte are paired with others, each of whom they have chemistry with. Of course, I’m rooting for Gereon and Lotte to be together in the end, but that doesn’t mean I love Lotte and her season 3 girlfriend Vera (Caro Cult). Babylon Berlin is a show filled with stunning characters; there is no OTP, which is one of the things I love. Even with the show’s fluid relationships, Gereon and Lotte always find their way back to each other — and into our hearts.

Don’t tell me you don’t want to dance

This may be a weird thing to love about an extravagant period drama, but the dancing! I’ve never watched a show with better choreographed dance numbers or original soundtrack. The show’s commitment to opulence and art is present in every moment.

A fan-favorite scene happens early on in season one — the famous “Zu Asche, Zu Staub” song, performed by a Russian woman in drag (who just so happens to be caught up in one of season one’s many mysteries). There’s nothing quite like the performance, which is mesmerizing and hypnotic both for the viewers and the characters.

And don’t get me started on the Bruch’s dance numbers. They’re just as marvelous and add a sense of whimsy to a show focused on the dark underbelly of one of the world’s most influential (and historically significant) cities.

These moments only bring us further into the world of Babylon Berlin, which is both gorgeous and frightening.

Not a cozy mystery

The slowly unraveling noir mystery at the heart of Babylon Berlin is by no means the last thing I have to write home about — but it is the last thing in this issue. With a deft hand, the show slowly uncovers more and more of the mystery across each episode, weaving together stories of the communist movement, the rise of the Nazis, corruption in policing, and delicate person-to-person relationships.

I never feel like I’m missing something or a twist wasn’t well earned. The pieces are in the place the whole time and we work alongside Gereon and Lotte to solve the mystery.

The first two seasons follow the same mystery, both adapted from the same book: Der nasse Fisch by Volker Kutscher. Kutscher’s series serves as the basis for the series, but showrunners Achim von Borries, Henk Handloegten and Tom Tykwer have taken many creative liberties with the source material — and for the better, in my opinion. I’ve tried to read the first book (in the English translation), but had a hard time connecting with the characters. The book’s Gereon and Lotte seem to be very stereotypical and without much depth. I own the original German book as well and plan to try reading that one to see if my dislike of the book is just related to the English translation.

Now that I’ve written all of this, I’m going to have to watch the series again.

The Weekend Away (2022) Review
Nuha Hassan reviews Kim Farrant’s The Weekend Away, a murder mystery with swirling dark secrets set against the backdrop of Split and Zagreb.