Long a backdrop for big-screen productions, Berlin is building buzz as a hot spot for television shows, too.
Germany’s dynamic capital, whose name simultaneously conjures up the Cold War and hipster cool, makes an ideal setting — especially when the subject matter is espionage.
SundanceTV this summer debuted the fantastic German-language drama “Deutschland 83” about a young East German soldier (Jonas Nay) who gets sent to do the Stasi’s bidding on the flip side of the Berlin Wall.
Premium cable network Epix is at work on “Berlin Station,” starring Richard Armitage (“The Hobbit,” “Hannibal”) as a CIA case officer tasked with ferreting out an overseas informant. Michelle Forbes (“The Killing”), Richard Jenkins (who just won an Emmy for “Olive Kitteridge”) and Rhys Ifans (“Elementary”) also have been cast in the 10-part series, slated to start filming this fall in Berlin for a 2016 launch.
The most high-profile example of Berlin capturing the television zeitgeist happens Sunday, when “Homeland” says Guten Tag to season five. The bulk of the action for the latest installment of Showtime’s political thriller unfolds here, in modern-day Europe’s cradle of power.
The cable net says it’s the first time an American TV series has shot a full season entirely in Germany.
“Berlin is a city charged with ghosts like no other, and that makes it the ideal location to explore the emotional and geopolitical terrain of season five,” showrunner Alex Gansa said in press materials for the prescient drama.
“Berlin was once famously divided, and it still has some of that split personality,” he added. (Last year marked the 25th anniversary of the fall of the Berlin Wall, and this Saturday, Germany celebrates another reunification milestone: 25 years since the former German Democratic Republic officially became part of the Federal Republic.) “It’s the border between East and West, between the new multicultural Europe and the dark volatility of Russia, the Balkans and ISIL’s would-be caliphate in Syria. It’s a fantastic proving ground for Carrie this season.”
Sunday’s “Homeland” premiere picks up roughly two years after Carrie’s (Claire Danes) blood-soaked tenure as CIA station chief in Islamabad, Pakistan.
The Drone Queen has gone into self-imposed exile, ditching the CIA — and, apparently, those nasty fantasies about drowning baby Franny in the bathtub. She’s been living a quiet, happy life in Berlin’s affluent Dahlem neighborhood, raising her daughter with her new boyfriend (Alexander Fehling, “Inglorious Basterds”) while working as head of security for a deep-pocketed German philanthropist (Sebastian Koch, “The Lives of Others”).
This being “Homeland,” it doesn’t take long for all hell to break loose thanks to a data breach. This season’s thrilling early episodes cement the notion that the whip-smart, timely drama is back on top.
“Homeland” shooting locations include landmarks like the iconic Brandenburg Gate, East Berlin’s Alexanderplatz and the picturesque square known as Gendarmenmarkt — all featured in the mesmerizing opening credits for Netflix’s original series “Sense8,” which also tapped the artsy, cutting-edge capital as a setting. (“Sense8’s” main title sequence includes images of Berlin’s Festival of Lights, an annual extravaganza that takes place Oct. 9-18 this year.)
“Homeland” turned Schlosspark Theater into a mosque, and a Syrian refugee camp was made out of an old factory in Rudersdorf, a village east of Berlin. Scenes from “The Hunger Games” franchise and George Clooney’s “The Monuments Men” were filmed there, too.
Given all this fascination with espionage and Berlin, it shouldn’t take much sleuthing to figure out the name of the city’s newest museum.
Spy Museum Berlin opened last month on Leipziger Platz. Visitors can learn about poisons and drugs that have been used for centuries to get people to talk. Or to stop talking. Permanently.
Exhibits feature curiosities like lethal umbrellas and covert cameras, and how the Stasi, East Germany’s secret police, archived the body odors of dissidents.
Among the offerings at the museum café: the favorite dish of Mata Hari, the Dutch dancer whose alleged espionage during World War I landed her a fatal date in front of a French firing squad.
The season five premiere of “Homeland” airs at 8 p.m. (Central) Sunday on Showtime. Rating: (5 / 5)
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