Critically-acclaimed German crime drama Babylon Berlin is now available in the U.S. and Canada on MHz Choice!

Babylon Berlin History 2

The Dawn of a New World Order

“This is the truest of all democracies, the democracy of death.”

– Kurt Tucholsky, “Apprehension,” Die Weltbuehne, July 9, 1929, p. 71

Drawing inspiration from Honore de Balzac, author Volker Kutscher (b. 1962) paints a picture of Berlin’s Upper- and Under-world, populated by an assortment of characters both real and imaginary whose lives intersect as flashpoints on a linear curve of destruction in his nine-book “Gereon Rath” series of crime thrillers, which form the basis for the multi-award winning, neo-Noir German TV series Babylon Berlin.*

The show’s first four seasons span the years 1929-33. Season 1 opens in April 1929, the waning days of Germany’s “Goldene Zwanziger” (The Golden Twenties/The Roaring Twenties) when flappers with bobbed haircuts, heavy makeup and their wealthy clients danced the night away to Black jazz musicians and performers. Much of the show takes place in dance halls or cabarets where you might see Josephine Baker’s inspired banana skirt dance (nude dance revues featuring Anita Berber were in vogue). In these clubs and cabarets** all varieties of sexual pleasures and drugs were readily available.

Newly arrived from Cologne’s police department, our morphine-addicted hero and shell-shocked World War I veteran Inspector Gereon Rath (Volker Bruch) is in Berlin to track down and destroy an incriminating pornographic photo and film reel of family friend, Dr. Adenauer. During his search, he accidentally stumbles upon plots and plans not knowing what they might lead to.

The real Dr. Konrad Adenauer (1876-1967) was a pious Catholic, family man and was Mayor of Cologne from 1917-1933. Later he was President of the Prussian State Council focusing on Germany’s post-WW II economic recovery by restoring West Germany’s market-based liberal democracy. A staunch anti-Communist and anti-Nazi, he became the first leader of the Christian Democratic Union whose political party became the dominant force refusing to recognize the German Democratic Republic (East Germany). While he was Chancellor (1949-63), West Germany joined NATO and signed the Treaty of Rome (1957). He is a Founding Father of the European Union.

Rath’s arrival in Season 1 coincides with Germany’s “Goldene Zwanziger:” an era that ushered in world-wide gains in cultural and historical progress, economic prosperity, popular entertainment (jazz clubs, cabarets, dancehalls; silent films and talkies); technology (radio, automobiles, telephones, electricity) and the culmination of the women’s suffrage movement (voting rights; short dresses and hair). The Golden Twenties in Germany also saw an extremist reaction against the socio-economic deprivation and political turmoil resulting from WWI (1914-1918) following the abdication of Kaiser Wilhelm V and Germany’s surrender to the Allies under Weimar-elected President Paul von Hindenburg (1918-1933). Von Hindenburg’s constitutional federal democracy — established in the Weimar Assembly – led to a politically and economically weakened Germany hampered by restitution payments, hyperinflation, high unemployment, territorial surrender, social and political unrest fueled by political extremism and anti-Semitism.

The 1925 Treaty of Versailles called for Allied withdrawal from the Rhineland. However, Germany’s noncompliance with disarmament provisions resulted in financial and diplomatic damage inflicted by France and Britain. Moreover, under the 1925 Locarno Treaty, Britain and Italy guaranteed the borders of France, Belgium, and Germany by formalizing the post-War territorial settlement between the Western European Allies and the defeated German Reich (Weimar Republic) resulting in the creation of the new Central and Eastern European states. German foreign minister Gustav Stresemann negotiated the Locarno Treaty hoping to restore Germany’s reputation and prestige as a leading European nation. The Treaty also forbade Germany from going to war with the other countries; the western border was guaranteed by the Locarno Treaty, but Germany’s eastern borders with Poland could be revised.

In the series, Rath’s transfer to Berlin results in assorted entanglements with both historical and fictional characters who cross his path in a phantasmagoria of glamor, excess and danger. His boss, Bruno Wolter (Peter Kurth), head of the vice squad, is well-connected to the Old Guard elites: officers and soldiers (now part of the [Black] Schwarze Reichswehr paramilitary group) who fought and died in World War I.

Life in decadent Berlin during the Golden Twenties is an eye opener for Gereon Rath, who first meets Charlotte Ritter (Liv Lisa Fries) when she administers his morphine in a bathroom stall during one of his uncontrollable trembling fits resulting from a form of PTSD associated with artillery fire.

Charlotte is a budding investigative journalist and police archivist by day and works as a prostitute at night working out of Moka Efti, a nightclub and cabaret (based on a real coffee house).  Moka Efti’s corrupt owner, Jaenicke (Anton von Lucke), controls all politicians and police officials through blackmail, extortion, and violence. Wolter coerces Charlotte to spy on Rath to avoid prison for prostitution and to receive a certificate of good conduct.

Enter government counselor, August Benda (Matthias Brandt), a Jew married to an Aryan, who befriends and helps Rath. Meanwhile, Charlotte gets her friend, Greta (Leonie Benesch), a job as housekeeper in Benda’s home.

“Wie immer bisher, so vermischen Sich auch jetzt unsere Sorgen um das Heer mit denen um die Heimat.”

“As always, our worries about the army are now mixed with those about the Homeland.”

– Paul von Hindenburg, Aus Mein Leben (Leipzig: S. Mirzel, 1920), p. 394

During this season, we learn that Berlin is a hotbed of revolutionary fervor not only among the disaffected Germans who lost the war and must live in dire economic circumstances but also among the clandestine Russian revolutionaries backing Trotsky. The Communist revolutionary and Red Army founder, Leon Trotsky, formed an opposition group to Lenin’s successor, Joseph Stalin, whose Bolsheviks instituted a series of five-year economic plans rejected by Trotsky and his supporters. Stalin’s 1926 purges decimated all opposition leading to Trotsky’s exile first to Kazakhstan and then to Turkey where he awaits comrade Kardakow’s (Ivan Shvedoff) covert aid.

Co-writers and directors Tom Twyker (who also designed  the kaleidoscopic opening title sequence in marquee lettering with Johnny Klimek— and won the industry website award for best title sequence), Achim von Borries, Henk Handloegten and co-producers Stefan Arndt, Uwe Schott and Michael Polle worked with five production companies on this lavish, multi-layered, razzle-dazzle extravaganza whose scope and budget are reminiscent of MGM musicals and the outstanding Films Noirs of the 1940s.


Passionate about history and philosophy, Volker Kutscher’s panoramic view of the declining days of the Weimar Republic is meticulously-researched and historically accurate as he begins each novel in a different year of Germany’s political and economic collapse. The award-winning Gereon Rath Mysteries are international bestsellers and have been translated into over half a dozen languages, including the first five books into English. The first novel “Der nasse Fisch/Babylon Berlin” is set in 1929; the second novel “Der stumme Tod/The Silent Death” in 1930; the third novel “Goldstein” in 1931; the fourth novel “Die Akte Vaterland/The Fatherland Files” in 1932; the fifth novel “Maerzgefallene/The March Fallen” in 1933; the sixth novel “Lunapark” in 1934; the seventh novel “Marlow” in 1935; the eighth novel “Olympia” in 1936; and the ninth novel “Transatlantik” in 1937.


* The show received the 2017 Bambi award for best series; four awards at the Deutscher Fernsehpreis (Emmys), a Grimme-Preis; a Goldene Kamera for lead actor Volker Bruch. The European Film Academy awarded the series with the inaugural Achievement in Fiction Series Award at the 2019 European Film Awards.

** During the Golden Twenties, before Nazism crept over Germany and the European continent with death and destruction as its calling cards, Germany’s nightlife – known for its decadence – was in full swing. Performers included the Harmonists (1928-34), the internationally celebrated German, all-male harmony ensemble consisted of three Jews: Harry Frommermann (1906-75) tenor buffo; Erich A. Collin (1899-1961) second tenor; Roman Cycowski (1901-98) baritone, and three non-Jews: Ari Leschnikoff (1897-1978) first tenor; Robert Biberti (1902-85) bass; Erwin Bootz (1907-82) pianist, married to a Jewish woman. The Harmonists’ initial success was based on folk and classical songs arranged by Frommermann, who was inspired by the Revelers (American group) — whose jazz-inflected vocal style was a popular format used in arranging current German composers (Peter Igelhoff, W.R. Heymann and Paul Abraham). The Nazis made the members’ professional lives exceedingly difficult by banning their public performances. After their 1934 US performance, they returned to Germany fearing internment and retribution.

In Vienna, Frommermann, Cycowski and Collin performed as the “Comedian Harmonists” replacing the members who stayed in Germany. The latter replaced those who fled. Censorship, in-fighting and the war ended both groups in 1941.

EDITOR’S NOTE: We happily discovered Dr. Pearl Brandwein while reviewing MHz Choice subscriber feedback on our programs and, after reading a half dozen or so of Dr. Brandwein’s insightful reviews, all of us here at MHz Choice had the same thought: We need to get the good doctor to write for us! Enjoy! -MHz Choice

About the author:
A lover of Romance languages and cultures, Dr. Pearl Brandwein has a Certificate in French Culture and Civilization from the Sorbonne. She then earned both her Masters’ degree in French Language/Literature and Ph.D. in Comparative Literature from New York University. Dr. Brandwein’s areas of academic expertise include the Renaissance and the Faust Figure in European Literature in addition to 19th and 20th Century Drama. Her other interests include writing about Holocaust Literature.

Dr. Brandwein began her teaching career at Princeton University followed by faculty positions at other academic institutions. In addition to French, she has also taught German, Latin, English Composition and ESL to corporate executives. After academia, she held numerous positions in the public and private sectors working as an Editor/Instructor/Administrator and as a PR professional and business communications executive directing editorial and marketing initiatives for EU clients.

She is a cineaste and a lover of Film Noir, Westerns and foreign films as well as a theatre and opera buff; she also attends concerts, lectures, ballet performances, museum and gallery exhibitions. In her rare spare time, she reads voraciously.


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