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Series / Babylon Berlin

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Babylon Berlin is an epic German Neo Noir series created by Tom Tykwer, Achim von Borries and Henk Handloegten, and based on the book series by Volker Kutscher. It is set in the capital city of the Weimar Republic in 1929, in a time of political upheaval, poverty-fueled crime, and lavish jazz parties.

The show centers on Kommissar Gereon Rath (Volker Bruch), an enigmatic police inspector from Cologne who — sent on a clandestine mission in Berlin by his mayor, Dr. Konrad Adenauer — joins the Sittendezernat, the vice squad of Berlin's police.

In the first two seasons, Rath partners with the volatile Oberkommissar Bruno Wolter (Peter Kurth) and the down-on-her-luck police typist Charlotte Ritter (Liv Lisa Fries) to smash an infamous underground pornography ring that is blackmailing various public figures. But unbeknownst to them, a mysterious train inbound from the Soviet Union gets commandeered by a cell of Communist splitters, bringing thirteen freight cars worth of trouble into a city that itself seems to be teetering on the precipice of a Communist uprising. These seasons are based on the novel Der Nasse Fisch (The Wet Fish), published as Babylon Berlin (A Gereon Rath Mystery) in the United Kingdom.

The third season, which was developed loosely around the second novel in Volker Kutscher's trilogy The Silent Death, has Rath, Charlotte and the homicide department of Berlin investigating a series of murders surrounding the production of a big-budget musical film financed by the underworld. Political conspiracies continue to play out behind the scenes in violent clashes of ideologies all while the stock market teeters on the edge of collapse.

Over the course of the series, Rath and his team must contend with Trotskyist rebels, Soviet government agents, Socialist rabble-rousers, scheming public officials, Dirty Cops, corrupt business magnates, ruthless Berliner gangsters, renegade right-wing military officers, the Kosher Nostra, and, of course, Nazis - in more than one flavour.

It has been the most expensive non-English television production of its time. Four seasons have aired so far, being co-produced by Sky and ARD. A fifth and final season has been ordered and is expected to go into production later in 2024. The first three seasons were streamed in the US on Netflix, but in February 2024 Netflix dropped the series. A Comic-Book Adaptation has been published by Glénat.

Not to be confused with either Babylon 5, Babylon (2014) (which has some quite similar themes) or Babylon (2022) (which is, incidentally, also set in The Roaring '20s, albeit in Hollywood).

This series provides examples of:

  • '20s Bob Haircut: Charlotte and many other female characters have this hairstyle, as it's set in 1929, the tail end of the Roaring 20s.
  • Aerith and Bob: Most people have normal names, but the Rath family seems to have a penchant for peculiar ones, such as with brothers Gereon and Anno Rath. The name 'Gereon' is almost never found in Germany outside of pre-20th century Cologne (being a reference to Saint Gereon of Cologne).
    Charlotte: What, are you from the Middle Ages?
  • Alliterative Title: Babylon Berlin, and such a fact was used in the poster, having both words share their starting and ending letters.
  • Anachronistic Soundtrack: The soundtrack features songs that were published a few months or years after 1929. Other songs (such as those from the Bryan Ferry orchestra) are lifted wholesale from Retraux bands of the 21st century. One example is "Gloomy Sunday"/"Szomoru Vasarnap" performed in Russian by "Sorokina," which was written in 1933, and translated to Russian in 1936.
  • Arc Words: In the first two seasons: Hand wird von Hand gewaschen — "One hand washes the other." Used to illustrate how backroom dealings and shadow games are how police business gets done in Weimar-era Berlin, even by ostensibly good cops like Benda or Rath.
  • Armor-Piercing Response: When discussing Greta's death sentence, Gereon argues to Charlotte that she did, in fact, plant the bomb that killed Benda and his daughter, and she deserves to be punished for that. When Charlotte replies that Greta was put up to it and "isn't a murderer," Gereon simply replies, ""Doch," meaning "Yes, she is." This renders Charlotte absolutely speechless for the remainder of the scene.
  • Artistic License – History:
    • The Russian Trotskyists use "Long live the Fourth International!" as a rallying cry. However, this is 1929—the Fourth International was only created in 1938.
    • When Wolter is making a toast to his co-conspirators, he utters "Who has betrayed us? Social Democrats!" While there certainly wasn't any love lost between the reactionary far right and the moderate left, this particular phrase originated on the far left who were disappointed that the SPD, instead of letting them have their way and install a socialist republic, decided to band together with the conservatives in order to nip a full-scale revolution in the bud. It's highly unlikely that a far-right conspiracy would have adopted their slogan.
    • As many scenes were Shot On Location at locales that, while historic, are still in public use, one can (for example) still see modern Health and Safety-compliant handrails and blind-friendly ground markings in the backgrounds of subway stations.
    • The Alexanderplatz of the series features some prominent buildings that didn't exist yet in 1929.
    • The steam locomotive they used is a DRG Class 52, a class that wasn't built until WW II and looks very out of place with its post-war, computer-friendly (down to the check digit), vehicle number.
    • The famous three-engine Junkers Ju 52/3m plane featured in an episode didn't fly until 1932 (though, admittedly, it is stated to be an early prototype).
    • The silent movie People on Sunday was only released in 1930, yet it is already depicted as playing in cinemas.
    • The Soviet secret police use Tokarev-type pistols, which wouldn't be designed until 1930 and wouldn't be issued until 1931. This later becomes a plot point when Ernst Gennat claims that the Soviets are the only ones to use such large-calibre weapons, except for the Swedes who use it to hunt elk (the 7.62mm round fired by the Tokarev is in reality fairly wimpy even by pistol standards, and would be all but useless against an elk).
    • In season 2, Gereon performs CPR: Clean, Pretty, Reliable on Charlotte after she got Trapped in a Sinking Car. CPR didn't become common practice until the 1960s.
    • Set in 1929, the show features a performance of Gloomy Sunday by Hungarian composer Rezső Seress. The song was composed in 1933 and translated into other languages some years later.
  • Back-Alley Doctor:
    • Due to not being able to afford an expensive doctor, Charlotte takes her sister Ilse to a less expensive eye surgeon to fix her macular degeneration. Ilse ends up going blind because of it.
    • Helga visits a back-alley abortionist who performs the operations in secret in her slum apartment because they're illegal. The abortionist happens to be well known to Charlotte.
  • Bait-and-Switch: Gereon meets with the outgoing Berlin chief of police while Wendt goes to the swearing-in ceremony, implying that Gereon has not had time to leverage his incriminating recording before Wendt can be sworn in as chief. However, we then learn that there's been a time skip, and Gereon has already used the recording to get someone else appointed instead. Wendt is left quivering in rage as he's passed over for the appointment.
  • Big Damn Kiss: In S3:E9 with Charlotte and Gereon. During a song about secret love, no less.
  • Been There, Shaped History:
  • Brick Joke: In Season 3, we see that Gräf has installed a lock on his darkroom door in response to the repeated Inconvenient Darkroom Illuminations from the first two seasons.
  • Comforting the Widow: Gereon is revealed to be having an affair with the wife of his brother Anno, who has gone MIA in the Great War). Though to both their credits, they manage to keep a lid on their relationship until the standard 10-year statute passes and Anno is officially declared dead, so that it'll look more of a Romancing the Widow-type situation. He also sleeps with his landlady, Elizabeth Behnke, at least once, and her late husband was part of Wolter's unit.
  • The Conspiracy: A secret circle of right-wing revanchist army officers, bureaucrats, and industrialists, known as "the Black Reichwehr", try to overthrow the Weimar government.
  • Coolest Club Ever: The Moka Efti is the hippest cabaret/dance club in town.
  • Crapsaccharine World: The Roaring '20s in Berlin are contrasted with the poverty at the onset of the The Great Depression.
  • Damsel in Distress: Charlotte occasionally needs rescuing from Gereon.
  • Deadly Gas: The train cars are supposedly filled with pesticide, but it's soon revealed to be an illegal shipment of phosgene, a military-grade chemical agent. The police only catch on when Schwarz' pathology receives a customs officer's body and he instantly recognises the chemical burns as the same he used to treat in his war days.
  • Deadpan Snarker: Both Gereon and Bruno have their moments.
    Bruno: More beer?
    Gereon: It doesn't go well.
    Bruno: With what?
    Gereon: Stupid questions.
  • Dead Man's Switch: When Ullrich kidnaps and hogties Ernst Gennat, preparing to hang him, he keeps Gereon from simply shooting him dead by tying a cable around his waist to the stool Gennat is standing on, so that if he falls, Gennat will be hanged all the same.
  • Deliberate Values Dissonance:
    • The filmmakers make a point about the open sexism of the time almost Once per Episode.
    • Numerous characters, apart from those who are actual Nazis, express casually antisemitic statements, reflecting the day-to-day discrimination that Jews faced in Germany. In one episode, Councilor Benda (who's Jewish) is told in so many words that he isn't really German. Even our hero Gereon shows casual interest in reading Mein Kampf and thinks the Hitler Youth will be a positive experience for his nephew.
    • It's also made abundantly clear that the democratic system is far from being uncontested, with several prominent characters showing disdain not only for the Weimar government, but for democratic government as a concept.
    • Charlotte's little sister, Toni, sometimes works in a textile factory, which the rest of her family at least tacitly encourages. Charlotte is the only one who vocally objects to this and insists that Toni go to school.
  • Department of Redundancy Department: Two detectives in the Berlin P.D. are constantly bickering about each other's word choices. The first instance of this is when one points out that describing the Armenian as "a local criminal here in Berlin" is redundant.
  • Dies Wide Open: Referenced when Charlotte drowns. She's shown at the end of the episode with her eyes staring blankly, implying that she's dead. At the beginning of the next episode, however, her eyes have mysteriously closed, and Geroen manages to revive her.
  • Disproportionate Retribution: It's revealed that Ullrich betrayed the Berlin homicide department and started orchestrating murders of his own because he felt disrespected by the brusque chief of homicide.
  • Double Standard: Ulrich makes Charlotte's police exams more difficult than those of the male candidates by asking things about fingerprinting minutae of her which they didn't have to answer. It's mentioned that a lot of the higher-ups don't like the prospect of having a female detective.
  • Enemy Civil War: Berlin's SA leader, Walther Stennes, attempts to seize control over the nascent Nazi Party from Hitler's Munich clique in Season 4. The Social Democrat-led police force, with the help of an undercover Gereon and much to the chagrin of Colonel Wendt (who'd much rather see Stennes dead), are more than happy to fan the flames by tacitly boosting Stennes' faction. Unfortunately, Hitler ends up winning regardless.
  • Establishing Character Moment:
    • Gereon numbing his nervous jitters by downing laudanum while away from view.
    • Bruno welcoming Gereon with a sarcastic, low-brow comment before going to deliver some ham.
    • Krajewski, after failing to flee and easily getting overpowered, suffering a shellshock episode so strong that he wets himself.
    • Katelbach trying to pay his landlady with theatre tickets before following up with a mixture of Viennese flattery and Sesquipedalian Loquaciousness.
    • Dr. Schmidt lulling Gereon into a hypnotic trance.
    • Dr. Leopold Ullrich ruining Charlotte's otherwise stellar presentation on forensics, getting her tripped up in the minor arcana of fingerprint analysis, which leads to her being denied a promotion to full detective.
  • Evil Virtues:
    • Horst Kessler may be a Nazi who has no problem with murder and who also isn't the sharpest tool in the drawer, but he's protective of his Jungvolk protegés and tries to instill them with values like solidarity and team spirit, and is rather loyal to his (somewhat apathetic) girlfriend.
    • His party superior Stennes is similarly protective of his subordinates and seems to take it quite personal that Wendt got rid of two of them.
    • Wendt is impervious to bribes and looks down on anyone who attempts to buy him.
  • The Exile: Many Russian émigrés have settled in Berlin. Some are White Russians, and others dissident Communists. There is a lot of infighting among them, including murders. Additionally, the Soviet OGPU runs operations against them from their embassy.
  • Expository Pronoun: A Relationship Upgrade is hinted at at the end of Season 2 when Charlotte addresses Gereon with "du" instead of '"Sie" after he rescues her from drowning.
  • False Flag Operation: The Communist agitators that manipulate Greta into depositing a bomb in Benda's desk are later revealed to be members of the SA (the Nazi Party's paramilitary wing).
  • Flashback Cut: Often when a plot point from a previous episode is revisited, there is a swift flashback to the scene in question to jog the brain of the inattentive audience.
  • Foreshadowing:
    • The first hint that Greta's Communist friends are not who they say they are is when one of them refers to Benda as "the Jewish pig". While some Jews and Communists certainly disliked each other, it didn't hold a candle to the virulent antisemitism of the Nazi movement, which is later revealed to be their actual allegiance.
    • Another moment foreshadowing the bombing of Benda's office comes when Greta allows Fritz to snoop around Benda's house one evening. When Fritz cheekily sits down behind Benda's desk and starts rifling through his drawers, a thunderclap is heard outside and Greta visibly recoils.
    • The camera lingers on the streak of gold where the gold-painted coal brick had been thrown against the train car. On the first watch, one would assume that the gold streak is a smear of paint from the bar, but the coal bar has actually stripped away a portion of paint revealing the gold beneath.
  • Foregone Conclusion: Plenty.
    • Wilhelm II is not reinstated in a coup, and neither Gustav Stresemann nor Aristide Briand are assassinated (Stresemann does die in 1929, but of a stroke, which is depicted as well).
    • Adenauer's political career is never compromised.
    • Leon Trotsky never profited from a train full of gold in Istanbul.
    • The Conservative Revolution succeeds in undermining the Weimar Republic, but it's the Nazis who ultimately topple it and reap the reward.
    • Ernst Gennat is not theatrically murdered by a disgruntled coroner.
    • Walther Stennes' attempt to lead the Berlin SA in rebellion against the NSDAP leadership in Munich is doomed to fail, and will end with the Night Of The Long Knives and Stennes' exile.
  • Freudian Trio: Gereon (Superego), Bruno (Ego) and Charlotte (Id).
  • Gambit Pileup: The Armenian's underground pornography ring, the secret war between the Trotskyists and Stalinists, the German Communist struggle, the Nazi false flag operation and the Monarchist conspiracy to overthrow the Weimar government all have little or nothing to do with each other - other than Countess Sorokina trying to use several of them to her advantage - and get in each others' way a lot over the course of the story.
  • The Great Depression: The 1929 Wall Street Crash, which kicked it off, happens in Season 3.
  • Guns Akimbo: In a supreme moment of badassery in episode 4.9, Charlotte, having taken two guns from two cops that she defeated in combat, breaks into the White Hand "courtroom" and arrests the lot of them. With nothing more than two Lugers she holds them off until Gereon arrives with backup.
  • Hallucinations:
    • Gereon experiences them infrequently due to his PTSD.
    • Ulrich it turns out is quite unhinged, and starts hallucinating that he's lecturing to a rapt audience, oblivious as the police creep up on him.
  • Heroic Russian Émigré:
    • Generally averted; there are lots of Russian emigrés in Berlin, but there's barely anything heroic about them (unless you count being against Stalin as a sufficient condition), and the police deliberately turn a blind eye to their infighting as long as it means they don't have to deal with them.
    • Subverted with Kardakov (and his cell). Unlike the usual application of this trope, he isn't a liberal or a noble, but a Trotskyist and therefore every bit as communist as the guys he's fighting against. His fight is still against Stalin's tyranny which was most definitely worse than what Trotsky had in mind, and he does so with great personal sacrifices and apparently also without aspirations for personal gain.
    • Completely averted with Svetlana Sorokina. While she fits the idea of the trope as being an emigrated Russian countess who fled from the Soviets (unlike Kardakov), she's only in it for herself and doesn't hesitate to throw everyone and everything under the bus in order to reclaim the Sorokins' family gold. Also, she's an impostor - she's the daughter of the Sorokin's driver who sold out the family and passed the secret of their family gold on to her.
  • Hired to Hunt Yourself: Rath and Wolters are present for investigations of crimes they themselves took part in.
  • Historical Domain Character:
    • The Lord Mayor of Cologne Dr. Konrad Adenauer is Gereon's benefactor in his mission to retrieve film material being used to blackmail him. Or so Gereon is led to believe.
    • In Berlin we see the Mayor Gustav Böß and "Buddha of criminal investigators" Ernst Gennat.
    • German Foreign Minister and former Chancellor Gustav Stresemann and French Prime Minister Aristide Briand make an appearance in season 2, where they are targeted for assassination.
    • Reichspräsident Paul von Hindenburg makes an appearance where he participates in covering up a conspiracy by using his authority to release a general whom Rath has taken into custody. It's unclear whether he does so because of some misguided êsprit de corps or because he secretely approves of the coup.
    • The conservative group around Seegers and Wendt is essentially the historical camarilla of President Hindenburg, including the last Chancellors before Hitler (von Papen, von Schleicher). Brüning also makes a brief appearance.
    • Averted with the Nyssens, whose function mimics that of the Thyssen family in real life, but who otherwise have been invented for the story.
    • A number of famous German actors attend the premier of the film in season three, though they're just background extras, if that.
    • Walther Stennes was a real SA leader and dissenter, and would later go into exile, becoming a Kuomintang officer.
    • Rosa Helfers, the compassionate warden of Barnimstraße Prison, was a real prison officer and regional SPD politician.
    • Hans Litten was a real attorney working for the Rote Hilfe, famous for once subpoenaing and cross-examining Hitler himself. He would later be Driven to Suicide in Dachau concentration camp.
    • Johann "Rukeli" Trollmann was a real German interwar boxing champion. He would later be disqualified and murdered by the Nazis for his Roma ethnicity.
  • Hoist by His Own Petard: In Season 3, Leopold Ullrich's fussiness over the minutiae of fingerprint analysis comes back to bite him, as it gives Charlotte the necessary eye to realize he'd forged the fingerprints on the murder weapon.
  • Hollywood Law: A judge is at one point addressed as "Euer Ehren", which is largely an anglicism deriving from "Your Honour". The proper way to address a judge in German is "Herr Vorsitzender" ("Mr. President" or "Mr. Chairman").
  • How We Got Here:
  • The Horseshoe Effect: The series goes to great lengths to show how the extremists of either camp (both foreign and domestic) are working relentlessly towards dismantling the Weimar Republic.
  • I Have Your Wife: Greta is coerced into changing her statement saying it wasn't Nazis who had her assassinate Benda, but Communists, by her infant son being held with the threat of death.
  • The Infiltration: In Season 4, Gereon has joined the SA—but he's actually conducting an undercover police operation that hopes to take down the Nazi Party.
  • Iris Out: Most scenes after the opening credits start with an "Iris In" effect, obviously an homage to the Silent Movie era this series is set in.
  • Just Train Wrong: In Episode One, a train from the Soviet Union is hijacked, and is driven to Berlin, Germany. However, this would be impossible because Russia uses a completely different track gauge than Germany and most of Western Europe.
  • Kick the Dog: The first appearance of Charlotte's brother-in-law has him make rude and misogynistic statements. His later actions confirm that he's a waste of flesh.
  • Leitmotif: The Mackie Messer theme from The Threepenny Opera pops up several times in the second season. It's being whistled by Bruno, then by Moritz, played in the streets by an Organ Grinder and finally by an orchestra at the opera. Hearing it leads to a "Eureka!" Moment in Gereon.
  • Married to the Job: The chief of homicide eats, sleeps and shaves in his office. He even has a pull-down bed disguised as a row of filing cabinets.
  • Mineral MacGuffin: The train car full of gold bars; though the gold bars themselves are later revealed to be pressed lumps of coal with gold colouring on them; the train car itself has been poured out of the gold and painted black.
  • Minor Crime Reveals Major Plot: Racy pornography and blackmail → robbery, arms trafficking, murder, and conspiracy to commit high treason.
  • Military Coup: The "Black Reichswehr" intends to mount one on the Weimar government and reinstate Wilhelm II's monarchy. In Real Life, it would have only been one in an endless cavalcade of attempted coups, from both rightist and leftist factions — if one had to pick a specific inspiration, the 1920 Kapp Putsch is the most likely candidate.
  • Montage Out: Various episodes feature a prolonged scene montage shortly before the end.
  • Morality Pet: Emmi is this to Wolter.
  • Ms. Fanservice: Charlotte is quite attractive, and gets a number of scenes in revealing outfits or topless working at the night club.
  • Murder by Inaction: Stresemann has a stroke while Wendt is standing by.
  • No Historical Figures Were Harmed:
    • The Nyssen family of arms manufacturers is probably a reference to the Real Life Thyssen family and their enterprise Thyssen AG, a major steel manufacturer.
    • Dr. August Benda is a fictionalised version of Dr. Bernhard Weiss, the Jewish vice-president of the Berlin police, Chief of Detectives and head of the Political Police, who eventually fled Berlin for London a few days before Hitler became Chancellor in 1933.
    • Horst Kessler is Horst Wessel, including the prostitute girlfriend Erna, and his ignoble end (being shot in the head at home by a communist pimp). He's insofar unusual in this list because what we see of him (apart from his involvement in the assassination) generally matches what is known of Wessel in real life.
    • Voss the Hanging Judge is likely based on the lawyer Hermann Voss. Like the show's Voss, he worked in Berlin 1931, was a fraternity student, a Freemason, an antisemite, and would later become an SA member and Nazi ideologist.
  • Office Romance: Charlotte and Gereon beginning in Season 3.
  • Old Soldier: Almost the entire male cast are World War I veterans, which at that point was over ten years ago.
  • Once More, with Clarity: The season 4 flashback where Weintraub kills Kasabian is shown twice. The first time, it's shown that Kasabian had planned an ambush for Weintraub, only for Weintraub to be a step ahead and ambush the ambush, with Kasabian killed when Weintraub's bomb in the warehouse went off. The second time, it's shown that Kasabian jumped out the window and just barely avoided death, while the corpse identified as him was a random hobo that was sleeping in the warehouse.
  • One Degree of Separation: A running theme of the series is that everyone seemingly knows everyone in Berlin, in one capacity or another. note 
  • Operation: [Blank]: The plot of Season 2 revolves around "Operation Prangertag", a Military Coup by the Black Reichswehr to overthrow the government.
  • Previously on…: Episodes start with a recap of what happened previously.
    Narrator: Bisher bei Babylon Berlin...
  • Red Right Hand:
    • The villainous and otherwise dashing Wendt has a rather gruesome dueling scar on his left cheek.
    • Dr. Schmidt has a horribly burned face and is revealed to be Gereon's lost brother, who has gone into hiding and is up to some nefarious brain-washing plot.
  • Red Scare: It comes in two distinct pre-Cold War flavors, and are so prevalent in-universe that the Berlin police refuse to investigate deaths of Russians anymore:
    • There are the (pretty grey) Trotskyists (also known as the 4th International), who have been exiled from Russia after the revolution by Stalin, and seek to fund an insurrection from abroad using stolen gold.
    • Then there is Stalin's secret police (pure black), the Joint State Political Directorate, who are tasked with weeding out subversive elements even in Berlin, and murder them with extreme prejudice.
  • Reports of My Death Were Greatly Exaggerated: In Season 4, Weintraub killed Edgar Kasabian ("the Armenian") by turning the tables at what was supposed to be his own murder, and blowing up a building with Kasabian in it. But it turns out that Kasabian is very much alive, and in hiding, as a surprised Gereon learns when Kasabian summons him to a meeting.
  • Retraux: The opening credits of the series are done according to the aesthetics of the German film of the 1920snote , characterized by the use of distorted angles, intense colors, cutting - often circular - of the image, or superimpositions.
  • The Revolution Will Not Be Civilised: The Trotskyists' first move in the series is to hijack a train, mug the engine drivers out of their uniforms, and then execute them. It later turns out that the engine drivers were inadvertently smuggling poison gas into Germany for the "Black Reichswehr", but neither they nor the Trotskyists had much in the way of knowing that.
  • Rich Kid Turned Social Activist: Maria-Luise Seegers, the daughter of Kurt Seegers, has little patience for her father's right-wing, militaristic views and volunteers as a typist for a left-wing legal charity.
  • Right-Wing Militia Fanatic:
    • Essentially the entire Reichswehr - Weimar Germany's armed forces - have been reduced to that. Since the humiliating post-World War I Treaty of Versailles only allowed Germany to keep a minuscule army, and forced them to scrap most of their navy as well as their entire air force, Germany had to take covert means of rearmament, which included training their troops and assembling gear abroad (mostly Russia and Poland, in exchange for German technological know-how). 'Surplus' soldiers were delegated towards paramilitary groups. Unfortunately, this situation also gave birth to movements not unlike the In-Universe "Black Reichswehr", renegade nationalist soldiers led by Generalmajor Seegers, bent on overthrowing the Weimar democracy and reinstating Kaiser Wilhelm II.
    • And, of course, the Nazis, who are still up-and-comers during this period and treated like useful stooges by the "Black Reichswehr" Nationalists.
  • Rule of Symbolism:
    • During the hunt at the Nyssen estate, Major General Seegers, the elderly leader of the Monarchist Black Reichswehr Coup D'état, spots a stag atop a hill, but gives up on it as it's just out of his range. At that point, the younger, more ambitious and much more openly völkisch-nationalist Colonel Wendt (who climbed a decisive few metres up the hill) successfully manages to slay it. Series 2 ends with Seegers' coup failing and Seegers getting Kicked Upstairs by Hindenburg, while Wendt becomes Benda's successor as chief of the political police after an SA conspiracy clears the way for him. Seegers represents the remnants of the old Imperial revanchists, Wendt represents the steadily burgeoning number of crypto-National Socialists, and the stag represents a doomed Weimar Germany.
    • In Season 3, Gustav Stresemann, of all people, swaps places with either the stag or Weimar Germany, as, after surviving the assassination attempt of Seegers' Black Reichswehr, he is ultimately slain by Colonel Wendt... in a way.
  • Running Gag:
  • Scout-Out: Moritz is a member of the local Catholic Youth, but he soon grows weary of their community service routines and defects to the much more exciting Hitler Youth (who go hunting with bows and arrows and regularly get into fistfights).
  • The Secret of Long Pork Pies: A trademark of the Armenian. He is introduced inviting a criminal conspirator to eat dinner served by his club, only to reveal that the food is made from the criminal conspirator's brother's tongue. He later threatens Charlotte to butcher her in his kitchen.
  • Secret Police: The Soviet OGPU is featured, hunting down and assassinating Russian Trotskyists in Berlin. Additionally, the Berlin political police are tasking with fighting extremists from both the left and right.
  • Sesquipedalian Loquaciousness: A trademark of both Samuel Katelbach and Leopold Ullrich, neither of whom seems capable of putting anything in plain German.
  • Shellshocked Veteran: Most adult men are veterans of the Great War. Rath and Krajewski are suffering PTSD much more than others and take morphine to combat their nervous seizures. Rath hides this fact from others due to the social condemnation of "tremblers."
  • Shoot the Shaggy Dog: Charlotte's titanic efforts to stop her friend Greta's execution are dashed when a guard who's been paid off by Wendt simply refuses to allow her to serve the stay of execution order.
  • Shout-Out: Plenty. The series is very much a Homage to Weimar culture and the artistic movements of the day:
    • The assassination of Stresemann and Briand is supposed to happen at a performance of Brecht's Threepenny Opera. The famous Moritat also serves as the episode's Leitmotif.
    • Some camera angles (particularly the overhead shots of streets and corners) are direct homages to M.
    • Dr. Schmidt, his hypnotic shellshock treatment and cooperation with the criminal underworld subplots borrow heavily from both The Cabinet of Dr. Caligari and Dr. Mabuse, the Gambler, both of which were famed German psychological thrillers of the 20s and 30s.
    • The scenes of Charlotte, Greta and the others hanging out at Wannsee Lake are themselves direct references to People On Sunday, an influential silent film from 1930. The film itself also makes an appearance in spite of being a year too early.
    • The little abstract animations playing in the backdrop of every episode are actually taken straight from Lichtspiel: Opus, a series of abstract experimental films made by Walter Ruttmann in the early 1920s.
    • The film-within-the-show of season three is obviously inspired by Fritz Lang's Metropolis.
  • Soap Opera Rapid Aging Syndrome:
    • Since there was a gap of about 2-3 years between the second and third seasons, Ivo Pietzcker, who plays Gereon's nephew Moritz, comes back noticeably taller and with a deeper voice than the previous season, even though the Time Skip between the two is only a few months. Downplayed as it's certainly possible for a 14-year-old boy to have a major growth spurt over that time period, however.
    • Also applies to Charlotte's younger sister who outgrew her between Season 2 and 3.
  • Theme Tune: Zu Asche, zu Staub, which in-universe is Svetlana Sorokina's jazzy cabaret song.
  • Sorting Algorithm of Mortality: Dr. Benda is Jewish, and the story takes place in Berlin, only a few years before the Nazi Party grabs power. Even before he is ultimately killed by a Nazi-planted bomb, it was almost a given that he wasn't going to make it to old age alive.
  • Stupid Evil:
    • When Gereon takes the Armenian hostage to get out of the Moka Efti with the blackmail films. While any reasonably prudent person would take some measure — any measure — to tie up this loose end (arrest the Armenian for blackmail, detain him unofficially as they later do with Krajewski, etc.), Gereon simply tells him to "get lost" and seemingly forgets about him entirely. He then proceeds to get blind drunk at a nightclub mere hours later, leaving himself to be drugged and kidnapped by the Armenian's agents with no fuss whatsoever.
    • The Soviet secret service agents are incredibly sloppy. Besides using a gun that's easily traceable back to them to murder 15 people — honestly, why even have a special gun reserved for covert operatives? — they leave a paper trail that the greenest newbie cop could follow, kidnap a Trotskyist on a public street in front of a crowded apartment building with an obvious witness (Gereon) that they take no measures to silence, bury those murdered dissidents in shallow enough graves that a fox can dig up the corpses, and spend their time taking part in illegal dogfighting bets, which gives the Berlin cops a perfect opportunity to arrest them. Justified, however, in that they are practicing Diplomatic Impunity.
  • Through the Eyes of Madness: Gereon's sanity is a bit cracked, and it doesn't help that he's being brainwashed by his brother-in-hiding, so he's prone to occasional hallucinatory madness. Perhaps the most overt of his hallucinations is the final scene of season 3, when he sees the Leviathan snaking its way through the Berlin sewers.
  • Title In: All locations are introduced with on-screen text.
  • Took a Level in Jerkass: Helga and Toni become nastier and selfish individuals then they were when they made their debuts following their falling outs with Gereon and Charlotte in Seasons 3 and 4. Even Gereon and Charlotte have their lows in the third season.
  • Voiceover Letter: Whenever a letter is read out, it's done with the voice of the letter's originator.
  • Wall Bang Her: Gereon initially starts to have sex with Helga up against the wall before moving onto the floor.
  • We ARE Struggling Together: Both the Conservative Revolutionaries and the Nazis have somewhat comparable goals for Germany and are also cooperating to make it happen. They also don't trust each other one bit.
  • Wham Line: Bruno invites Gereon to a small get-together where he and a few of his old war buddies show a small model reenactment of a battle they took part in, and then commemorate the fallen. The true nature of the group — and the nature of his mysterious meetings with Seegers et al. — is revealed during the final chant after reading off the names of the dead: "Who betrayed us? Social democrats!"German The idea of a "betrayal" by the Social Democratic Party (and its perceived Jewish leadership and voter base) leading to Germany's defeat in World War I is the central thesis of the "stab-in-the-back myth," or Dolchstoßlegende, that would become a crucial part of the Nazi propaganda machine on its rise to power. Suddenly Bruno, and the rest of his entourage, are put in a much darker light, and the sinister nature of their plans is much clearer to the viewer.
  • Where Everybody Knows Your Flame: Many night clubs in Berlin are shown to have drag performers and open same-sex affection among patrons (although they don't have exclusively LGBT+ patronage). This is Truth in Television: Berlin at the time was something of the queer mecca, because the local government refused to enforce Germany's law then criminalizing same-sex activity and let such clubs operate unmolested there. As a result LGBT+ people from all over Germany came there.
  • Young Future Famous People:
    • Konrad Adenauer gets name-dropped as the mayor of Cologne. Twenty years later, Adenauer would become the German Federal Republic's first chancellor, as well as "the oldest statesman ever to function in elected office" (according to historians). In fact, "young" is stretching it in his case since he was born in 1876 and thus already in his 50s at the time of the series.
    • Two studio executives are watching dailies of Marlene Dietrich from the movie The Blue Angel; this film would serve as her launch pad to international fame.


Video Example(s):


Hypnosis Session

In the very first scene of the series, protagonist Gereon Rath is lulled into a hypnotic trance and instructed to remember all that he has experienced up to this point, at which point the series proper begins.

The show will ultimately catch with this moment at the end of Season 2.

How well does it match the trope?

5 (2 votes)

Example of:

Main / HowWeGotHere

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