TV Review: “Babylon Berlin” directed by Tom Tykwer. three seasons on Netflix
The biggest and most expensive TV series ever produced for German television is running in 100 countries around the world. There are a string of awards. Americans may have trouble with the dubbing and, possibly, with the German expressionism style. If we get involved in the period being depicted, though, we can answer some of our questions about German fascism and, maybe, get some insights into our own.
It isn’t just good entertainment, it’s also a profound learning experience for non-Germans in our historical period.
As we face incipient fascism in several nations and our own, we can profit from trying to understand Germany during the crumbling of the Weimar Republic and before the rise of Hitler. “The Nazis didn’t just fall from the sky,” explains one of the show’s creators. For all we know in America, they may as well have, because many of us don’t know squat.
The two main characters through all 3 seasons are police. He’s a morphine addict and she’s a part-time prostitute. His problems come from shell-shock during WWI, hers from abject poverty. Their combined flaws, compared to that of the general Berlin society around 1929, make them comparatively the healthiest people in the story.
The two of them carry out what might have been called ordinary police procedural drama. But it’s what happens in the background that really matters. They deal with the political/economic situation that helps us answer our questions about Nazis. For the serious questioner, the Wikipedia version explains the period.
In the first three TV seaons, the Nazis aren’t the major political players. Much more important are the monarchists who want to restore the Kaiser, destroy the communists, and make Germany a dominant military power once more. The monarchists sincerely believe that they would have won WWI had it not been for the “fifth column” of anti-war protesters at home. The Nazis agree with them on that, and both of them team up to malign and discredit the big communist movement.
For sheer anti-communism, it would be hard for anybody to beat the social democrats running the government during the Weimar Republic. They made an early deal with the monarchists in the army to destroy the Spartacist League (militant communists) in 1919. They succeeded and executed Rosa Luxemburg and Carl Leibnecht, the leadership way before this TV story begins.
Here, we have a big, rather amorphous, communist party, and a number of organizations opposing them: Trotskyists, monarchists, and the Weimar government itself. Confusing everything are the non-political but very powerful underworld gangsters. Our two police “heroes” are theoretically neutral as they stand up for law and order.
It’s the flapper era. Depravity is commonplace. The rich are disgusting; the poor are miserable. Nobody respects the government. Democracy is strange and alien to the Germans, and they can never forget that it was forced on them by the victors of WWI.
The Weimar government was never accepted by the German people. Their loyalties are divided among the anti-government organizations. As long as the economy is working, though, things go along. The third season ends with the stock market crash and the beginning of the Great Depression.
I understand that shooting will begin soon on Season Four.