Culture Decoder

Babylon Berlin

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The DECODER series — to which SEMIOVOX has invited our semiotician colleagues from around the world to contribute — explores fictional semiotician-esque action as depicted in books, movies, TV shows, etc.

Babylon Berlin, the German neo-noir TV series (2017–present; it’s loosely based on novels by Volker Kutscher) begins in 1929 and follows Gereon Rath, a police inspector who has been transferred to Berlin to dismantle an extortion ring. Along the way, he investigates criminal cases involving murder, drugs, and arms trafficking.

The latter years of the Weimar Republic were a time of turmoil: rising poverty and soaring unemployment following the Wall Street Crash of 1929, as well as the rise of National Socialism contrasted with the excessive nightlife, the creative art scene, and cosmopolitanism in Berlin. Germany was “dancing on the edge of a volcano.” All of which is alarmingly topical today, nearly a century later: the increasing hostility towards democracy, the unification of right-wing forces, the rise of anti-Semitism. Babylon Berlin illustrates this parallelism via scenes set in the wild Moka Efti club — where ecstatic dancers gyrate to 1920s jazz mixed with contemporary techno beats.

Inspector Rath may be the show’s main character, but I’m more intrigued by Charlotte Rath (Liv Lisa Fries), a police stenographer and flapper from the slums of Neukölln who occasionally moonlights as a sex worker… and who dreams of becoming the first female homicide detective in Berlin’s history. Charlotte asserts herself confidently in a male-dominated world — saying exactly what she thinks. She is fun-loving and fashionable, but at the same time socially minded and nurturing. Above all, she is a passionate decoder whose characteristics we should emulate.

Because she is new to police work, Charlotte evinces a naive and therefore unbiased view of Berlin milieux that are new to her. As a result, she notices things that others don’t — and scrutinizes their significance, thus advancing Rath’s investigations. Driven by curiosity and by ambition, she never allows herself to be distracted from her goal of finding the truth. She immerses herself body and soul into each case.

Charlotte offers a counterbalance to her male colleagues in the Berlin Police because she approaches her investigations not only rationally, but with empathy and emotion. At the same time, she is a sharp analyst — capable of seeing the big picture, and of drawing connections between salient points within a confusing jumble of clues.

Semioticians could learn a lot from Charlotte, as we seek to analyze various subjects with a fresh eye, empathy, emotion, and a knack for spotting signals within the noise. We could also learn from her passion, commitment, and fun-loving attitude.

DECODER: Adelina Vaca (Mexico) on ARRIVAL | William Liu (China) on A.I. ARTIFICIAL INTELLIGENCE | Tim Spencer (England) on VURT | Ramona Lyons (USA) on BABEL-17 | Rachel Lawes (England) on NICE WORK | Alfredo Troncoso (Mexico) on THE ODYSSEY | Gabriela Pedranti (Spain) on MUSIC BOX | Charles Leech (Canada) on PATTERN RECOGNITION | Lucia Laurent-Neva (England) on LESSONS IN CHEMISTRY | Whitney Dunlap-Fowler (USA) on THE GIVER | Colette Sensier (England / Portugal) on PRIESTDADDY | Jamin Pelkey (Canada) on THE WONDER | Maciej Biedziński (Poland) on KOSMOS | Josh Glenn (USA) on LE GARAGE HERMÉTIQUE | Antje Weißenborn (Germany) on BABYLON BERLIN | Ximena Tobi (Argentina) on SIX FEET UNDER | Mariane Cara (Brazil) on ROPE | Maria Papanthymou (Greece) on MY FAMILY AND OTHER ANIMALS | Chirag Mediratta (India) on BLEACH | Dimitar Trendafilov (Bulgaria) on THE MATRIX | Martha Arango (Sweden) on ONE HUNDRED YEARS OF SOLITUDE | Becks Collins (England) on THE HITCHHIKER’S GUIDE TO THE GALAXY | Gemma Jones (Netherlands) on EVERYTHING EVERYWHERE ALL AT ONCE | Ivan Islas (Mexico) on THE NAME OF THE ROSE | Paulina Goch-Kenawy (Poland) on THE SENSE OF AN ENDING.

Also see these international semio series: COVID CODES | SEMIO OBJECTS | MAKING SENSE WITH… | COLOR CODEX | DECODER

Tags: Decoder, TV