A steam locomotive hurdles through the night only to be brought to a screeching halt by a burning tree fallen across the tracks and of course, there are those men with guns, who turnout to be Trotskyist train-jackers. This is the opening to the new Netflix German import, “Babylon Berlin”. Set in the spring of 1929, this period crime drama predates both the Great Crash and the rise of the Nazis. It shows the Weimar Republic at the height of the roaring twenties. “Babylon” captures Germany’s dark glamour in a briefly exhilarating time between the wars. An era that has been mostly overlooked, considering what followed.
This is the biggest budget German language (subtitles volk) TV series ever made. If has been reviewed as “Cabaret” on cocaine. I think that crack is more apt. It’s not for the prudish, not that it is all that salacious, but because it is so earthy. One comparison has been drawn about women’s armpit hair. While other series like “Game of Thrones” or “Outlander” show depilated heroines, “Babylon” does not. Begging the question where those fantasy women find space to toilet. This comparison is used to emphasize this show’s realism over others, but don’t worry, because there is still just as much nudity in this show.
This is a crime drama and our protagonist is a PTSD suffering, self-medicating morphine addict. Otherwise, he seems like a standup guy, at least compared to the soup that he is swimming in, which includes sex, drugs, thugs, corrupt cops and those pesky Trotskyites. It is less a crime drama than an expose of Berlin.
I loved it! I must admit that I’m a sucker for stories about this time and place. I’ve read all of the Alan Furst Nazi era novels. Its attention to period detail enthralled me, like coin-operated electricity in the tenements. As of writing, I’m ¾ of way through the 16 episodes that dropped this month. I’ve been binging, but hey, it’s cold outside there baby. This is the show’s first two seasons.
The show is based upon author Volker Kutscher crime novels, of which he has written plenty. It has been well received in Europe and I would expect sequels to follow. It’s a thing now and with the Netflix US distribution deal, this only ensures its continued success in the future.