The Gritty Underworld of late 1920s Berlin

By Stuart Kemp

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German neo-noir crime drama television series BABYLON BERLIN is the recipient of a brand new award category this year, the European Achievement in Fiction Series Award.

The European Film Academy is introducing the fresh plaudit in order “to reflect the changes in the cinematic landscape and to celebrate the great achievements in European fiction series.”

Created, written and directed by filmmakers and writers Henk Handloegten, Tom Tykwer and Achim von Borries BABYLON BERLIN is based on the best-selling novels written by German author Volker Kutscher set in Berlin during the Weimar Republic, beginning in 1929.

Unfolding through the eyes of a visiting police detective and his ambitious secretary, the show allows audiences in Germany and beyond to immerse themselves in the gritty underworld of late 1920s Berlin, one of the world’s most modern and progressive societies of the time, while an undercurrent of extremism and a global economic meltdown threatens.

With its creators firmly established in the world of film and veteran German film producer Stefan Arndt piecing together the financing for series like he would a movie, BABYLON BERLIN is TV in name only, better described as a passionate cinematic spectacle.

A precise depiction of the political and social realities in 1920s Berlin, the initial shoot took six months at Studio Babelsberg, the oldest large-scale film studio in the world, used around 300 locations in and around Berlin and enjoyed a reported budget of EUR42 million for two eight-episode seasons.

The biggest non-English language TV at the time, BABYLON BERLIN required backing from not one but two broadcasters in Germany, with public broadcaster ARD and pay TV network Sky Deutschland co-financing the show. Beta Film, one of Germany’s long-established film sales outfits, stumped up a significant minimum guarantee for world-wide rights and promptly sealed a deal with Netflix for US rights.

It debuted to critical acclaim in the US (The New Yorker’s Cameron Hood enjoyed it so much he binge-watched all 16 episodes in less than two weeks) and dominated 2018’s German Television Academy awards after premiering on ARD with an 8.5 million strong audience switching it on.
As EFA Chairwoman Agnieszka Holland points out: “For younger generations, series are a much more popular format than theatrically released movies and if we want to remain relevant for our audiences, the EFAs need to reflect that.”

If they can tear themselves away from the telly, Handloegten, Tykwer and von Borries, will be on hand December 7 to accept their award.