The high-budget TV series "Babylon Berlin" explores the seedy side of Berlin in the 1920s. The director of "Run Lola Run," Tom Tykwer, has already started promoting the project before filming starts in April.
Inspired by successful series produced for US or British channels like HBO or the BBC, the series "Babylon Berlin" has an unusually ambitious budget for a German production: nearly 40 million euros ($45.2 million) for its planned 16 episodes.
An outstanding concept, script and creative team are attached to the project, explained Jan Mojto, chief of the marketing company Beta Film, at a press conference: "Based on the names of the creators involved in the project, the first reactions have been very positive," he said.
In the writers' room
The script for the two seasons of eight episodes was developed by a team of writers, pictured above from left to right: Hendrik Handloegten, Tom Tykwer (best known for "Run Lola Run") and Achim von Borries (who scripted "Alone in Berlin" and "Good by Lenin!").
"We sit in a room and chain our thoughts together and reflect on every scene," said Von Borries to describe their writing process as a team. As directors and scriptwriters, they've all previously worked on different period pieces.
The trio will also be sharing the direction of the series. "But the three of us won't be on set directing the actors together," added filmmaker Tom Tykwer, who'll be working on a TV series for the first time.
Set in the turmoil of the 1920s in Berlin
The show will be based on detective novels by bestselling author Volker Kutscher. These mysteries are set in Berlin in the late 20s, before the Nazis came to power.
The main character is the rebellious Gereon Rath, a young detective superintendant from Cologne who is transferred for disciplinary reasons to Berlin and has to find his way in the pulsating metropolis. His first investigation leads him through a jungle of corruption, drugs and arms trafficking.
Decadence, luxury and poverty all collide in "Babylon Berlin." Along the way, Rath falls in love with his young, quick-witted colleague Charlotte Ritter: It's all very complicated for the small-town investigator.
The political turmoil of the Weimar Republic, the first fights between Communists and Nazis, and the impending demise of democracy provide an authentic historic atmosphere to these crime novels. The author meticulously researched each building, each street corner of the city and the criminal cases of that time.
"It was a time of continuous crises, in the middle of a rapidly growing city with newcomers from all over. Berlin as an international melting pot - that was a horn of plenty for us scriptwriters," said Achim von Borries. This type of German story also has potential to be popular abroad.
Director Tom Tykwer said he could hardly wait to start filming the series in April. He sees the team and strong characters of the series as a gift. Yet it's an expensive one: There are 300 speaking roles in the series.
Among them, Volker Bruch will be depicting Gereon Rath and Liv Lisa Fries will take on the role of Charlotte Ritter. They'll be spending 180 days on the shoot this year.
A whole new historic backdrop is being built at the Babelsberg Film Studios in Berlin, reproducing Berlin's backyards, alleyways, shops and clubs from the 1920s. Over 500 tons of steel were needed for those sets.
Despite plans of exporting the series abroad, it will be filmed in German, allowing German actors to best deploy their skills. "Even though the world isn't actually waiting for it, the big challenge is to demonstrate that German television can be as exciting and entertaining as American series," said the director of Beta Film, Mojto. The producer Stefan Arndt describes the series as "the beginning of a new era in TV production" in Germany.
"Babylon Berlin" will air in 2017 on the private channel Sky and a rerun is planned in 2018 on the German public channel ARD.