Magazine article The Spectator

Television: Babylon Berlin

Magazine article The Spectator

Television: Babylon Berlin

Article excerpt

Babylon Berlin (Sky Atlantic), the epic German-made Euro noir detective drama set during Weimar, is so addictively brilliant that I'd almost advise you not to start watching it. After the two seasons to date you'll be left feeling like the morphine-addicted hero Gereon Rath (Volker Bruch) when deprived of his fix.

That's because they haven't even started making season three yet, so you'll have an excruciatingly long wait to see what becomes of its cast of immensely captivating characters: Bruno Wolter (Peter Kurth), Rath's corrupt, lying, whoring but affable sidekick; the treacherous White Russian Countess (Severija Janusauskaite), who dresses as a man for her floor-filling cabaret act; Charlotte Ritter (Liv Lisa Fries), the gorgeous flapper and occasional tart from the slums whose hopeless ambition it is to join the murder squad of the Berlin police; the Armenian gangster; Benda, the elegant, principled Jewish police chief; the sweet, Tintin-like student with the deaf parents.

Some of these characters, I should warn you, may not survive that far. Volker Kutscher, who wrote the novels on which the series is based, has a similar disregard for the sanctity of his characters' lives as Thrones's George R.R. Martin. Many is the episode that will end with you casting an appalled and shell-shocked look at your viewing partner: 'Nooo! How could they possibly have done that?' This is especially true of the second season, which is even more thrilling and dramatic than the first.

So far it has cost [euro]40 million, making it easily the most expensive drama in German TV history. A lot of that has gone into recreating late 1920s Berlin: labyrinthine industrial buildings with rusting machinery, which presumably created materiel for the recent disastrous war; vast open squares of bustling citizenry viewed from above betokening a Metropolis-style future; raucous, down-and-dirty Bierkellers redolent of Kurt Weill; and, best of all, the sumptuously decadent Moka Efti nightclub with the vast marine fish tanks in its immaculate art deco dining area, and the breast-baring whores lurking below stairs in their dungeon-like boudoirs, and the dancefloor where everyone loses themselves in the wild abandon of young people who seem almost to have intuited that this entire world is about to vanish. …

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