Period Dramas: Babylon Berlin on Sky Atlantic

Babylon Berlin on Sky Atlantic

On Sunday I had the usual email newsletter from Sky TV telling me about upcoming shows for the week. Usually I have a quick flick through but nothing really catches my eye. However, this time was different and at the top it recommended a new tv show, Babylon Berlin, starting in just a couple of hours. It looked right up my street. The photo that went along with it was the dead giveaway and so I set the Sky box to record the series. At 9pm I settled down on the sofa and tuned into Sky Atlantic. Within seconds I was hooked!

Babylon Berlin is based on a series of six books by German author Volker Kutscher. His work is focused on historical accuracy and this series, and the TV show, begins in 1929 at the tale-end of the Weimar Republic. They continue through to 1933 when the Republic came to an end and Adolf Hitler was appointed Chancellor. It’s a period that absolutely fascinates me, and trust me Babylon Berlin does not disappoint. But it doesn’t stop there, Kutscher has just completed his seventh book, which is set in 1935, and hopes to continue through to 1938 before bringing it to a close.

Alexanderplatz - Babylon Berlin

The TV show is the most expensive German TV series ever, costing €38m. It was developed over the course of four years, was filmed in 300 locations and used a whopping 5,000 extras. Can you imagine the number of costumes they required?! It was co-produced by German public broadcaster ARD and Sky, hence why it’s being shown in the UK. It has also been purchased by Netflix, so will be shown through them in the US.

Babylon Berlin - Lotte

So, what’s it all about then? In a nutshell, sex, drugs, partying, jazz, cabarets, dancing, cross-dressing, the criminal underworld, revolutionaries, poverty, just about everything you’d expect from Berlin in this time period! Okay, so there is a storyline and it is very intriguing. The main two characters are Gereon Rath, a mysterious new inspector who’s just joined the Berlin vice squad, and Charlotte (Lotte) Ritter, a young woman living with her family in poverty who loves to party all night.

Babylon Berlin on Sky Atlantic

Svetlana - Babylon Berlin

There’s also the Russians. The beautiful and incredibly intriguing Svetlana, the main Russian character, by day seems to be a revolutionary and by night is a cross-dressing performer at the Babylon Berlin nightclub. There’s an amazing scene where she is performing along with four women all dressed in the classic Josephine Baker banana costume. It’s moody, artsy, with sections of high energy when the audience joins in.

Babylon Berlin

The main premise of the story is that it’s a crime mystery. It starts with a raid on an illegal adult film set, which seems simple enough, but as different characters are introduced it becomes more complicated. Certain people seem to know each other, even though they’re from different sides of the track. You wonder how deep the so-called good guys have got themselves within the seedy criminal underworld. And just how do all the main characters connect to each other? I don’t want to go into it in any depth because I don’t want to spoil it!

Babylon Berlin on Sky Atlantic

One thing Babylon Berlin does exceptionally well is realism. Forget the glamour of Hollywood and the gloss of BBC productions, this is gritty and really makes you feel like this is actually what it was like back in 1929 Berlin.

The thing that struck me the most was the women’s hairstyles. Yes, they were bobbed, but none of them were perfectly quaffed. Lotte didn’t have time to reset her hair every night, she was way too busy in the club, so yes her hair was straggly and out of place when she rushed to work the next morning. Hey, but that’s what a cloche is for, right? You can hide anything under one of those!

Babylon Berlin on Sky Atlantic

The chief costume designer on Babylon Berlin is French designer Pierre-Yves Gayraud, also know for the fabulous film, Perfume: The Story of a Murder and many European films. His costumes are wonderful, just look at the width of the guy’s trousers in the middle of the above photo! For those who don’t know, these are what was known as Oxford Bags and were first popular at Oxford University in the mid-1920s. However, the majority of looks are very much German fashions of the time. There were subtle differences to American and British fashion which are hard to pinpoint but are definitely there. If you’ve seen Amazon’s The Last Tycoon, you would’ve seen this subtle difference with Hannah Taub’s outfits.

Babylon Berlin is definitely worth a watch, even if you’re not keen on subtitled shows (unless you’re fluent in German, obviously!). It’s incredibly compelling and the locations and cinematography are outstanding. In fact, they even built three of their own 1920s streets that, apparently, look almost real! Just don’t watch it if you’re easily shocked, it has full-frontal nudity from the outset and explores many taboo subjects. But that’s what makes it so brilliant. It doesn’t apologise for any of it or try and shield you from it. Like I said, this isn’t Hollywood or the BBC!

The first season, currently being shown on Sky Atlantic on Sundays at 9pm, is eight episodes long, as is the second season. Season 3 is already in production, due to it’s immense popularity in its native country, so I will definitely be gripped for some time to come.

Cate

Just a vintage gal suffering from the Golden Age syndrome. Lover of all things old, lingerie obsessive, crafter and enjoys rummaging at flea markets.

20 Comments

  1. Well you’ve sold it to me!! I would love to watch it. I do like a BBC drama but you’re right about the realism aspect – all the books I’ve read about the ’20s have contained far more shocking stuff than other decades. Forget the’ 60s! I am in awe of that man’s trousers..
    Xx

    • Yes! I think you’ll love this. The way it feels is the difference between films made during the 1920s and 30s that were done in Germany vs the ones done in Hollywood. The German ones always had a more realistic and approachable feel, whereas Hollywood ones were always a fantasy. And yes, I’ve read some seriously racy stuff about what people got up to in the 20s! xx

  2. Sounds very interesting and intriguing, Cate. I wonder if the series will ever make it to Belgium … xxx

  3. It looks and sounds FABULOUS! I hope Netflix Canada picks it up too so I can check it out. I, too, love this period of history, and it sounds like they’ve done a brilliant job so far! Thank you for letting us know about it! 🙂

    • I should imagine they probably will. If Netflix has the rights to it in the US I should imagine they have the rights to show in on the UK version once it’s finished on Sky. Maybe they’re testing it in the US first to see how popular it is. xx

  4. Now this is exciting and I’m going to eagerly await for it to appear in Netflix (hopefully in Canada’s version). Thank you for the super review! Gosh those costumes…drool 🙂

    • Oh, I do hope you get it in Canada, it really is wonderful. And yes, the costumes really are drool worthy! xx

  5. I saw this advertised and thought I would love it but I don’t have Sky. I really hope it makes it to Netflix. Would you read the books? They sound interesting.

    • Yes, I’d love to read the books. From what I’ve read about Volker Kutscher, he does hell of a lot of research beforehand to make sure his books are as historically accurate as possible. I think this is very important when writing historical fiction, so he wins on that point alone! xx

  6. Oooh, time to get watching! I love realism and grit as an occasional offset to glitz and glamor, feels a smidge more attainable. Plus, it helps that I am fluent in German ha!

    • Oh you lucky thing! You’ll be able to concentrate on the costumes much more than I can. I try and read the subtitles as quickly as possible so I can return my eyes to the wonderful clothing! 🙂 xx

  7. Dear Cate,
    Have you come across these two books on Amazon – Your Entire Wardrobe – Crochet it! and Parisian Fashion Knits? They are both full of the most amazing 1930s clothes but are very expensive! Perhaps they would be good Christmas presents; I’m sure you would love them.

    By the way, I live on the outskirts of Yeovil and will be going to the Shepton Mallett Flea Market on Saturday, will you? I would love to meet you. I love the 1950 fashions but am being pulled towards the 1930s by your blog!

    • Thanks for the heads up on those two books but, yes, they are expensive, too expensive for my liking! I seek out original 1930s crochet books but would never pay more than £20 for one, they’re just not worth any more than that.

      I’m unfortunately not going to Shepton at the weekend, I have other plans sadly. It would’ve been lovely to meet you though. I’m sure I’ll be going to most of them next year if you’re going to be at any of those. We often go to the IACF antiques one too at the showground, if you were interested.

      I’m glad I’ve been of some inspiration to you. 1930s fashions are so gorgeous and it was such an interesting decade, so much, good and bad, happened. xx

  8. I’ve just found this page while search for more info on Babylon Berlin, it’s such a fantastic show – why aren’t more people talking about it! I love the period so I’m enjoying the costumes and of course the storyline. I read Maria Rivas book about her mother Marlene Dietrich many years ago and this crazy hedonistic Berlin portrayed in the show reminded me very much of the life Marlene was living before she moved to Hollywood. I’m glad you are enjoying the series too!

    • It’s brilliant, isn’t it? I think it’s not as popular as you’d expect because it’s in German. A lot of people are just put off by subtitled TV shows and films and so immediately discount them. Their loss! xx

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