One of the joys of the streaming era is the breadth and quality of international television now available to American audiences. Germany’s Babylon Berlin, now on Netflix, is the latest gem to makes it way to us from Europe. A historical conspiracy thriller that echoes with contemporary relevance, it’s a lavish, gripping, and immersive series rife with glamor, darkness, mystery, and romance.
Based on the novels of Volker Kutscher, Babylon Berlin takes us to the Roaring Twenties, Weimar Republic style, during the turbulent interwar period when German democracy faced extreme pressure from the burgeoning forces of fascism and communism. Inspector Gereon Rath (Volker Bruch) of Cologne is transferred to Berlin to cover up a scandal, an assignment that partners him with a shifty old-timer named Bruno Walter (Peter Kurth). A traumatized veteran of World War I, Rath gains an unexpected ally in destitute young typist Charlotte Ritter (Liv Lisa Fries), who helps him conceal a psychological condition in the wake of a violent event at the station. In the course of solving his case, Rath edges his way into a complex web of political intrigue, which pushes him ever closer to the ambitious young Charlotte—who has her own secrets. Together, they work to uncover an explosive political conspiracy that threatens to shape the future of Germany.
When director Tom Twywer (Run Lola Run, Winter Sleepers, Sense8) is attached to a project, it’s a pretty good bet to be high quality. Babylon Berlin is no exception, a rich, engrossing, multi-threaded mystery that is impeccably produced, leveraging its robust budget toward recreating a fascinating bygone era. Its twisty, complicated plot brilliantly mixes slow-building suspense with heart-stopping action, all while reveling in exacting historical detail and impressive political complexity. The acting is uniformly exceptional, with the principals—especially the enchanting Fries—really standing out. It all adds up to a riveting snapshot of an era under intense political duress, at once wildly entertaining and thought-provoking. Very highly recommended.