German reviews I’ve seen for Berlin Station #richardarmitage

[Thanks to the German Richard Armitage Board for most of the reconnaissance. If you know of others, please let me know.]


[3.5/5] The tone is grim, the tempo more slow than anything else, but of course Steinhauer does not reinvent the genre. The plot’s building blocks are familiar, occasionally much too worn … the conversations of the scenes delivered only in German are simply a failure; additionally the scenes involving decoding (with tarot cards and crossword puzzle magazines) miss it by a hair. The exciting thing in this series, it becomes clear quickly, is not the what of the plots, but the how of the setting.

And in that point, “Berlin Station” does a lot right, because they hired the right people [Roskam, Heil, Bogdanski] … The way the series orients itself topographically and narratively in the city is clearly superior to these attempts in “Homeland,” even if the selection of backgrounds seems to be oriented primarily toward the insider tips in the Lonely Planet travel guides. They buy vegetables in a neighborhood store in Wedding, they drink coffee in a hot Kreuzberg bar, they munch falafel next door, they conspire in a a record store, and a lot of scenes play around Kottbusser Tor (which the boulevard press recently designated a no-go-area). […] Namedropping from Merkel to Union Berlin hails down, and of course the chief spies dine at Borchardt. Why Miller has to bike past the Reichstag on his way from Alexanderplatz to Kreuzberg is unexplained, as well as why the spies meet clandestinely at the former Teufelsberg listening station (which is heavily guarded), or why exactly a high level whistleblower would pick the Berliner Zeitung as his publication partner. But other than that, even non-Berliners would get a better impression of the city than from some of the Berlin Tatort episodes. So independently of whether the meticulously initiated spy story of the first episodes has enough substance for ten whole episodes, at least the substructure of the urban atmosphere and the pleasingly facet-rich roles raise the desire to watch the series over its whole span.

Berliner Morgenpost (this is a Berlin city paper):

In order to feel the drama, the viewer would have to be able to identify with the characters, share their sympathies. But it’s difficult. […] all this is only introduced, not deepened or made psychologically plausible.  Apathy is thus the predominant feeling when one sees the agents in dark meeting rooms, at clandestine meetings at the Teufelsberg (who goes that far out of the city just to have a secret meeting?) or as they steal and read others’ cell phones.

Of course, it’s the city that allows at least the Berlin audience to play the “where is that again” game. […] But this pastime wears out. The fifth season of “Homeland” […] showed us most recently how Berlin’s unique backdrop can be used in service of an exciting story – American writer Olen Steinhauer’s (“The Tourist”) story only offers cultivated boredom in comparison. Even such established German actors in the supporting roles as Bernhard Schütz and Claudia Michelsen can’t do much to save anything.

The effect that might provide an interesting exoticism for the American audience passes by the German viewer almost without notice: the constant change from German into English doesn’t register at all for those who see the dubbed version, but even Germans who watch the original version will not recognize anything exciting.

Thus “Berlin Station” remains a disappointment and at the same time a symptom for the speed with which the market for TV series is currently changing. Ten years ago these sedately narrated episodes might have found an audience and even shocked with some of the nightclub scenes. Today, in the age of brilliantly written dramas …. one finds oneself asking after every episode if one really wants to watch another one. It’s a bad report card in a format that counts on binge watching and wants to bind the viewer as much as possible to the screen for several hours.

Die Zeit (this is a center-Left national weekly paper that focuses on culture, art, politics):

All the series production companies seem to employ the same Berlin location scout. At least the filming locations of the fifth season of Homeland, Wanted, and now Berlin Station are interchangeable according to whim […] So anyone who wants to watch a capital city travel guide is in good shape.

Within the Berlin panorama, the story drip drops solidly, but also somewhat blandly onward. […] German women have long blond hair, are called Claudia and get murdered or they have short brown hair, work for the Berliner Zeitung and are called Ingrid(!). If nothing else, the German-speaking characters are cast in an interesting way with Bernhard Schütz, Claudia Michelsen, Kida Khodr Ramadan and Sabin Tambrea. At least the casting agency thought of something interesting.

Der Tagesspiegel (Berlin local paper):

Narratively conservative … also the visual language has a conventional effect. Breathless chase scenes lead through empty buildings while men in grey suits hold important conversations in cafés with high ceilings. What distinguishes the newest US-series to play in Berlin is above all its fresh glance at the city. In contrast to the Berlin season of “Homeland,” which shows its characters most notably on the grand boulevards of the city, Berlin Station shows the German capital more from a seamy perspective.

Berliner Zeitung (Berlin local paper):

The plot hardly sounds surprising, but the series puts across a sympathetic glance to the viewer. Because it’s not only about the lovely and familiar tourist destinations … “Berlin Station“ leads its viewers as well over construction sites, courtyards filled with trash, graffiti-sprayed houses, empty and decaying buildings, as well as late night convenience stores, laundromats and apartments that weren’t arranged by an interior decorator … about a quarter of the series was shot in Babelsberg, the other scenes in original Berlin locations. This is different than in (for example), the successful US spy series Homeland, whose fifth season was produced in Berlin. In that case the Americans weren’t very exact about original locations. Scenes from tidy Kollwitzplatz in Prenzlauer Berg were transferred to a grimy corner in Kreuzberg, along with the street sign. […] In „Berlin Station“ the city plays itself: a raw, authentic backdrop, that doesn’t seem threatening or artificial, but rather molds the positive image of the hip, garish capital. Casual, liberal, lascivious, lovable.

~ by Servetus on July 22, 2017.

13 Responses to “German reviews I’ve seen for Berlin Station #richardarmitage”

  1. Not all that positive so far. They seem to like the use of Berlin and its seedier parts. Sounds like the German language scenes just don’t cut it though.


    • well — one thing I will say about German criticism in general: it’s point-blank annihilating. Die Zeit reviewed three or four new TV shows for July and didn’t recommend any of them. And Germans are aware of this about their cultural attitude and their criticism, i.e., that they are always very blistering and way more negative than their English or American counterparts would be.

      That said, I actually didn’t think the German scenes were that bad and I strongly suspect, after watching the episodes so many times, that they were provided as translations on the basis of the US script, but by a native speaker. It also doesn’t surprise me in the least that Germans differ strongly on what is “authentically German,” insofar as the country is still so heavily regionalized. (I wrote about this a long time ago.) So on that point, I’m taking it with a grain of salt. Like someone said, a German would only very rarely say “Danke schön” so it’s wrong for Daniel Miller to say it. I’ve heard Germans say it many times, and it’s definitely something Americans say. So it probably depends a lot on your perspective as a German as well.

      Liked by 1 person

      • Thanks. It’s nice to get a bit of context.


      • I do use “Dankeschön”. It’s probably not as common as “Danke”, but you can hear it often. It’s a bit of a special ‘Thank you’, as a way to put slightly more emphasis in your gratitude.😊


  2. Ouch ouch ouch. The Germans are not going easy on this show. I’m not really surprised (because I share some of their criticism), and yet it does hurt me (despite sharing the criticism) cos I do want the show to excel, and Richard with it.
    On the German bits – well, I really think that it was to be expected that the German audience would be critical about that. You know what we are like – we like things to be hyper-realistic, perfect, authentic. Generalisations are always dodgy, but from my perspective I’m inclined to say that the German reviewers (and audience?) also tend to be less willing to overlook some errors and just think ‘ah, it’s only entertainment’. Maybe we lack that lightness of touch/mind? But yeah, we have a strong feeling about what is authentic and what is not, and maybe we are also a tiny bit hindered by decades of stereotypical representation on film as the eternal baddies/humourless gits/know-alls… which has put some reviewers into the defensive?
    After the professional reviews, I would now like to know what ‘normal’ viewers think about the show. And whether Armitage is being spotted by them as an outstanding actor.


    • This could get complicated because I don’t see German TV in the aggregate as a big cultivator of the realistic and authentic. (There’s a reason so much German TV is imported from elsewhere.)

      I understand the criticism of the German, although I don’t agree with all of it (and as we’ve discussed, there isn’t enough consensus even among Germans to say what is right or wrong; some Germans find some of it convincing and other parts not, and so on).

      I also don’t think that Berlin Station makes Germans look bad (in fact, I think that the way that Hans Richter in particular is portrayed is very sympathetic until almost the end, and even then, when he states his rationale for what he’s done, it’s something that at least half of Germany, if not more, would agree with — being sick of having Americans run wild in his country). There are definitely no Nazis here, and only one GDR person (and she, too, is given a sympathetic cast until the very end).

      None of the reviews I’ve seen so far make a mention of any individual actor, I think. However, it seems like there’s a lot of cannibalization of reviews with the same words and extremely similar sentences appearing across different outlets. (which is not a criticism, just an observation).

      The criticism that I agree with most here is the one that appears least, which is that the show is just not emotionally deep enough to create sympathy for the characters. I find the fact that they all refer to “Homeland” interesting, but I can’t say anything about it because I haven’t seen it (and have no desire to do so). And I’m on the same page with the reviews that point out the diversity with which the series views Berlin — but even there (as with language) there are reviews who enjoy that but others who find it tired and or repetitive, so again no broad consensus.

      And I’m amused by the criticism that the show is to slow — now, The Night Manager, that was a slow moving spy show. I’m yawning just thinking about it.


      • No, I don’t think German TV is particularly realistic and authentic either. I am just saying that many German TV viewers – particularly those who watch shows like BS – prefer spy thrillers and other dramas which are set in the present and in a real place, to be authentic, and maybe that was one of the reasons why the reviewers zoned in on the inauthentic German? Just a theory.
        BS doesn’t make Germans look bad – but again, I suspect that reviewers are particularly sensitive to unkind stereotypes because up until recently that was how Germans tended to be portrayed – hence a particular sensitivity and also an über-critical approach to shows that are set in Germany but produced by non-German studios. (I certainly find myself being extra-critical in such cases…)
        Interesting point that the German reviews do not focus on any individual actor – not even the German ones. Maybe they are just not familiar enough with the actors?
        Your last comment stresses once again how subjective it all is. I loved NM and did not find it slow at all. For me it was the exact opposite of BS – fast-moving, exciting, interesting characters (plural), relevant, attractive to look at.


        • I guess I just don’t understand what you’re saying. Half of the Berlin Station production staff was German including the cinematographer, all the crew, all the supporting cast, the location scout, the set designers. It was subsidized by a German organization. So it’s produced by a US studio but it’s rarely the case that a US series involves this many professionals on the ground and this much care about the background . The reviews agreed this was true (most of them). I think in a lot of cases it’s justified when Germans feel colonized by US people, and by depictions of them in film, I just don’t see this show as a provocation quite on that level. So if that’s what’s raising the hackles all I can do is shrug.

          I do think that German arts criticism is generally more negative across the board than that in the US. I’ve watched some of this up close at times (at panels for historical movies and museum openings that invited critics for panels and discussions) and I’ve been kind of surprised. It’s a cultural preference.

          I got through about 40 min of NM before I gave up and went to bed early; it actively put me to sleep. But I don’t watch much TV (ceterum censeo), so I probably don’t understand very well what’s generally considered to be exciting on screen.


          • I was trying to explain why the reviews were so bad. But never mind.


            • I understand that; I just don’t think your explanation corresponds to the content or the mood of the actual texts I read. I apologize if I did not communicate that well.


              • Maybe I’m just too convoluted in expressing myself. My impression was that the reviews are all written from a very German POV – which lacks a certain lightness, is over-serious, basically expecting too much from a show that is entertainment. Die Zeit calls the show “solid, but also a bit boring”, obviously expecting more and implying that the show is full of stereotypes. Wunschliste labels BS “not really particularly original” and summarises it “the tone is grim, the show runs rather slow, and of course Steinhauer is not really reinventing the genre”. “The dialogues of the German-language scenes fail”… and the exciting thing about the show is not the plot but the location. Tagesspiegel finds the imagery “conventional” – it all sounds to me as if they expected more, none of them are full-blown enthusiastic about the show as such, even if they praise the German cast or the authentic locations.


  3. At least ‘Wunschliste’ referrs to RA as being charismatic!! 😊


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