A picture of dancers in a 1920's Berlin jazz club, wild and crazy, dancing and drinking. The captions are in German.

Babylon Berlin: Booze, Sex and Jazz (and politics)

The German television series based on the novels of Volker Kutscher reveals a dark, noirist Berlin of 1929 whose dark secrets, white lies and daily routines could fill the diaries of every fallen angel from Heaven.  After watching this binge worthy show on Netflix you might find yourself asking, “Does anything really change?”.   The idea that history repeats itself, while not new, also begs the question, “Can anything really change?”.  Those are the questions that will be nagging at the front of your mind as the story unfolds. The main protagonist, Gareon Rath comes to Berlin from Cologne in search…

Babylon Berlin

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Booze, sex, jazz and oh yes, murder reign supreme in this noir mystery!

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The German television series based on the novels of Volker Kutscher reveals a dark, noirist Berlin of 1929 whose dark secrets, white lies and daily routines could fill the diaries of every fallen angel from Heaven.  After watching this binge worthy show on Netflix you might find yourself asking, “Does anything really change?”.   The idea that history repeats itself, while not new, also begs the question, “Can anything really change?”.  Those are the questions that will be nagging at the front of your mind as the story unfolds.

A picture of actor Volker Brunch wearing a trench coat with fidora hat and smoking while standing in the street in 1920's Berlin.

Actor Volker Brunch

The main protagonist, Gareon Rath comes to Berlin from Cologne in search of some salacious  material being used to bribe officials in upcoming elections.  However, while he comes to Berlin on behalf of well connected family friends, he soon finds out he is also saving his own father’s reputation.  When the job is done, he finds he cannot return to Cologne and face his father after what he’s seen.  And so he stays, and soon finds the truth he’s been reluctantly searching for all along.

What writer-directors Tom Tykwer, Henk Handloegten and Achim von Borries do so masterfully is to intertwine the subplot and the plot of a government coups in the Weimar Republic, with the psychological condition of our main character, Gareon.  Gareon, like many other survivors of WWI, suffers from Post Traumatic Stress Disorder, and has been given a prescription of morphine for ‘the shakes’ as they call them.  But what seems like trauma from the war is actually a deeper wound, and a physical response to a more sinister reality.  Like the ruling class of Germany in their attempt to retake the government, he has betrayed his own.

Freudian subplots mingle with booze, sex and jazz, and the concoction can be intoxicating, especially when there’s so much to forget – the war, extreme poverty, and for some of the characters, the humiliation of Germany after the war.  On closer examination, we find many of the characters commit crimes we cannot comprehend, and kindnesses we don’t expect.

A picture of actress Liv Lisa Fries sitting in a 1920's jazz club drinking a cocktail and smoking.  She's got a bob haircut and is wearing a gold flapper dress.

Actress Liv Lisa Fries

Someone to look for in this series is German actress, Liv Lisa Fries, as Charlotte Ritter, a beautiful and desperate lady of the evening whose ambitions and natural abilities lead her into police work.  She positions herself into a place where she becomes indispensable to Gareon both personally and professionally.

She and Gareon, played with smoldering charisma by Volker Brunch are well matched in both their talent and their chemistry.

This is a must watch for history buffs, noir fans, 1920’s jazz aficionados, and anyone who just loves a good story well told.

Melody Stewart

Melody Stewart is the founder of act.land and President of iactingstudioskc.com. She is a filmmaker in Kansas City.

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