Seeing characters who have existed only in your imagination suddenly appear in the real world can be disconcerting, even more so when it happens three times in the same year, but this is what happened to me in 2017. First, the Graphic Novel Der nasse Fisch was published in March. Drawn by Arne Jysch, it retold Gereon Rath’s first investigation in 1929’s Berlin in captions and pictures. Second, my new short story Moabit, set in 1927 and featuring a younger version of Charlotte Ritter, has been brilliantly illustrated by the marvellous Kat Menschik, and will be released on October 5th. Finally, Babylon Berlin, Tom Tykwer’s epic TV series, will be aired in October 2017 on Sky Atlantic (Netflix in North America) and is, by far, the largest and most expensive project of all these Gereon Rath visualisations.
When a novel is adapted, the author usually has to accept editorial cuts. No novel of 500 pages could be fully contained in a two, or even three, hour movie. However, the 518 pages of Babylon Berlin have been adapted into sixteen television episodes amounting to twelve hours of film, and what happens here is just the opposite. Tykwer and his co-authors, Henk Handloegten and Achim von Borries, edited a lot in, telling not fewer but more stories. And yes, they really tell big. Still more importantly, they bring 1929’s Berlin so much to life that you smell the cigarette smoke and the sweat, the blood and the champagne, which is exactly what I strive to achieve with my books. I want readers to experience the world of Babylon Berlin from the inside and not to be just observers. Visiting the Babylon Berlin sets in autumn 2016 was an overwhelming experience, not least when walking through a crowd of 120 extras in period clothing. A sort of mixing of past and present, it was like time travel. About an hour later, when the cameras started rolling, the experience became a solid touchdown in the past with all these people dancing and drinking and celebrating in 1920s Berlin. Most amazingly, seeing Liv Lisa Fries as Charly Ritter, Volker Bruch as Gereon Rath and Peter Kurth as Bruno Wolter prompted a sort of arcing back into my own imagination. I was delighted when I heard that Babylon Berlin was to be a television series and not a feature film. As a fan of The Sopranos I very much believe that the high quality television series is the best way to tell epic stories on screen. With The Sopranos the small screen ceased to be truly small, and David Chase has showed us that a television series can be even bigger than Hollywood itself.
So, I am very excited to see the world of Gereon Rath and Charly Ritter come to life in this way and, of course, I hope the first sixteen episodes will not be an end. Babylon Berlin has to go further than the year 1929, Gereon Rath has to investigate the movie business of Babelsberg in The Silent Death, has to meet the American Gangster Abe Goldstein and many more characters. Above all the television series has to follow Rath and Germany through the years in which a hopeful young democracy turned into an indescribable barbaric dictatorship. Since we know this happened once we cannot be sure it will not happen again, and must always be vigilant about who or what might undermine our way of life. Hopefully, we can do better than the Germans of the 1930’s. The Gereon Rath novels will end in the year 1938. Let’s see how far the television series can travel.
Babylon Berlin is published by Sandstone Press