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'Babylon Berlin' set in Germany's dark 1930s

Christine Lehnen
October 8, 2022

"Babylon Berlin" is the most expensive German TV series to date. The new season featuring police inspector Gereon Rath is set in the chaotic last years of the Weimar Republic.

TV-Serie | Babylon Berlin
Image: Frederic Batier/X Filme/ARD Degeto/Sky Beta/dpa/picture alliance

"Babylon Berlin," the TV series adapted from the novels of Cologne-based author Volker Kutscher, has created ripples worldwide.

It was sold in over 90 countries, including the US, where streaming giant Netflix bought the rights to the program. The first season cost producers €40 million ($40 million), becoming the most expensive series in German television history.

Season 4 of "Babylon Berlin" now launches on October 8 in Germany and the UK on Sky, and on HBO for Central and Eastern Europe. The series will be later available on Netflix for the United States, Canada and Australia

The story so far

"Babylon Berlin" tells the story of police inspector Gereon Rath, who is transferred from his home city of Cologne to Berlin in 1929 to investigate for a special department.

As a First World War veteran, Rath is a victim of post-traumatic stress syndrome and uses drugs to keep his symptoms under control. In Berlin, he meets the typist and prostitute Charlotte Ritter, and together they unearth an illegal weapons trade.

All this happens as two Communist groups, the Trotskyists and the Stalinists, engage in violent exchanges in 1920s Berlin.

A man and woman speak to each other in front of a newsstand.
Volker Bruch (left) as Gereon Rath with Liv Lisa Fries as Charlotte RitterImage: Frederic Batier/X Filme 2017/dpa/picture alliance

In Season 2, Rath changes to the criminal investigations department and spies on unconstitutional right-wing extremists, albeit unsuccessfully. By the end of the season, Charlotte Ritter officially becomes a deputy homicide detective.

Together Rath and Ritter investigate the murder of a film star in the Babelsberg film studios. They solve the case, but Season 3 ends with the Wall Street collapse in 1929, heralding the global depression.

Controversy around actor Volker Bruch

The COVID pandemic followed the end of season 3. The series star actor, Volker Bruch, who plays lead character Gereon Rath, made headlines with his links to the "Die Basis" party, considered to be close to the "Querdenker" movement of COVID-skeptics in Germany. The party was founded by people who oppose restrictive measures during the pandemic. The constitutional police has been monitoring the "Querdenker" group closely for its ties to the far right.

At ARD Degeto, a media production company that is part of the public broadcaster, this information about the series' lead actor is considered a private matter. "We do not comment on political activities and attitudes, as long as they do not break current laws," a spokesperson told the Tagesspiegel newspaper.

Season 4 of the series is based on "Goldstein," the third novel in author Volker Kutscher's book series and takes place in the years 1930-1931, during the global economic depression.

It is a time when the SA ("Sturmabteilung," the paramilitary wing of the Nazi party) and the Communist Red Front Fighter's League ("Roter Frontkämpferbund" in German) battle on Berlin's streets. 

Rath is assigned to spy on the Jewish-American gangster "Abe" Goldstein as a favor to the FBI.

What really happened in Berlin in the 1930s

The story is aligned with historical events that took place in Berlin in 1931. After World War I, there were millions of decommissioned soldiers in Germany, many of whom joined fight clubs.

The Red Front Fighter's League was the paramilitary arm of the Communist Party, and the SA was part of the Nazi Party, or the NSDAP, led by Adolf Hitler. The SA's brown uniforms had earned them the epithet "Brown Shirts" in the 1920s, and in contrast to the communists, they avoided conflict with the state machinery of the Weimar Republic, choosing instead to terrorize Jews, social democrats and communists. They were rarely targeted by the police for their violent acts.

A man stands in a room with paper scattered all around.
The onset of the Great Depression is depicted in the third seasonImage: Frederic Batier/X Filme Creative Pool/Degeto/WDR/Sky/Beta Film/ARD/dpa/picture alliance

In 1930, the SA attacked "Warenhaus Wertheim," a department store run by Jews and destroyed display windows of other shops that were supposedly run by Jewish owners — a preview of the terror that would end in the Holocaust.

Three years later, the SA and the SS ("Schutzstaffel"), which was responsible for the operation and administration of concentration camps and which also took over military tasks along with the Wehrmacht, stood in front of the store holding placards which read: "Germans! Protect Yourselves! Don't buy from Jews!"

A different ending 

As soon as the plot reaches the year 1933, the year when Adolf Hitler and the Nazis came to power, the series will come to an end, according to director Achim von Borries. He is responsible for the content and creative execution of the 40 episodes, along with Tom Tykwer and Henk Handloegten.

But author Volker Kutscher wants his book series to continue and plans to end the novel series in the year 1938. 

"I must include the collapse of the German civilization of 1938, by which time even the last 'apolitical' person knew that the Nazi rulers were working towards a World War and the Holocaust, towards the great human catastrophe," he told Redaktionsnetzwerk Deutschland.

"It [the ending] will be bitter, and it will not be a good ending for many of my characters, but only then can I close the series."

This means that "Babylon Berlin" fans can maybe hope for more seasons in the future.

Edited by: Sarah Hucal

'Babylon Berlin' by Volker Kutscher