Over a decade ago the New York Metropolitan Museum put on a major exhibition of painting of the Weimar Republic called Glitter and Doom. Glitter and Doom describes perfectly Babylon Berlin - the most binge-worthy series now available in the US on Netflix. The show presents a tableau of late Weimar (the year is 1929) lifted from a George Grosz painting. Babylon Berlin has both the glitter - here the sequences in the Moka Efti cafe - and doom - the myriad sinister forces seeking to destroy democracy. The plot is convoluted, the production over-the-top, but the series captures perfectly the anarchy of Berlin at the time - when, for a brief period, the city was the world capital of modernist culture. Berlin is the real protagonist here - just as in Alfred Döblin's Berlin Alexanderplatz (1929) - number five on my list of the Ten Greatest German Novels. That's not to dismiss the actors, who are uniformly terrific. Liv Lisa Fries steals the show in the role of Charlotte Ritter - one of the supremely self-confident, sexy young women lifted from Irmgard Keun's Das kunstseidene Mädchen (1932). Also, the plot by the ultra-nationalists to assassinate Gustav Stresemann could have been modeled on Ernst von Salomon's 1930 novel Die Geächteten. In addition to Stresemann, Paul von Hindenburg and Brecht's Dreigroschenoper make cameo appearances. There are also some parallels to events taking place today: then and now there are forces seeking to undermine liberal democracy; then and now these forces were aided and abetted by the Russians.
How fitting that the opening sequence for each episode of Babylon Berlin features a kaleidoscope. Kaleidoscope is the perfect metaphor for the rush of competing forces that ultimately doomed the Republic. The late political historian Kurt Sontheimer attributed the cultural brilliance of the Weimar era to a "kaleidoscope of contradictory political currents."
"Kaleidoscop scheint mir ein passendes Sinnbild zu sein für das Durchschütteltwerden einer Naion und für die Summe er Erschütterungen, welche die Weimarer Epoche in allen zentralen Lebensbereichen und an sich erfuhr." (Sontheimer "Weimar - ein deutsches Kaleidoskop")
Babylon Berlin is based on Volker Kutscher's 2008 novel Der nasse Fisch, which I look forward to reading.