German Series Projects Impress With Timely Subject Matter

Political assassinations, war, espionage, royal scandals, teen angst and magic: new German series are setting the bar ever higher in terms of challenging and risky subject matter.

The Berlinale Series Market’s Up Next: Germany showcase on Monday presented four forthcoming series projects that look set to entice international buyers:

  • Sperl Film’s political drama “Herrhausen – Lord of the Money,” about Deutsche Bank Chairman Alfred Herrhausen, whose mysterious assassination remains one of Germany’s most infamous unsolved murders;
  • Studio Zentral’s “Feelings,” a coming-of-age mystery tale that boasts an innovative multi-platform distribution strategy;
  • Contrast Film and Letterbox Filmproduktion’s German-Swiss co-production “Davos,” a spy-thriller set in the Alpine resort town during the World War I;  
  • and Gebrüder Beetz Filmproduktion’s “Juan Carlos,” an investigative documentary about the disgraced former Spanish monarch.  

Presenting “Herrhausen,” creator Christer von Lindequist and actor Oliver Masucci discussed the impact of the 1989 assassination, which continues to reverberate in Germany. It was also the subject of Andres Veiel’s acclaimed 2001 documentary “Black Box BRD.”

“If you were born in the ’70s like me I think you remember where you were when this happened because it was a big event,” said von Lindequist. “It happened right after the fall of the Wall.”

Particularly as a native of Frankfurt, Lindequist said the mystery of Herrhausen’s death had always intrigued him. The former Deutsche Bank chairman was on his way to the city when he was killed near his home in nearby Bad Homburg by a roadside explosion that pierced his armored Mercedez-Benz.

Set against the backdrop of fall of the Berlin Wall, shifting geo-political alliances, the closing of the East-West divide and Herrhausen’s controversial support for debt relief for developing countries that pitted him against many Western bank executives, the series is particularly relevant today, von Lindequist noted.

“Herrhausen” is produced by Gabriela Sperl’s Sperl Film in cooperation with X Filme and in co-produciton with ARD Degeto, RBB, SWR, HR, Belgium’s Beside Productions and Avriofilms in Greece.

In “Feelings,” presented by head writer Riccarda Scheemann, director Clara Zoë My-Linh von Arnim and producer Christine Hartmann, a teenage girl moves with her father to a small village near the woods. As she struggles to adjust to her new life and make new friends, she feels the pull of the mysterious woods.

In creating the story, Scheemann said she sought “to find a dramatic expression” for feelings she herself experienced as a teenager, of not fitting in, “being different, being a freak. I think a lot of young people can relate to this feeling.

“With this story, I really wanted to dive into this emotional state.” At the same time, Scheemann sought to “make this connection between teenage emotion and magic.”

The magical story is also a message to young people who are having similar emotions that they are not alone, “and that there might be some magic in what you are experiencing.”

“Feelings” is produced by Studio Zentral, a Berlin-based division of ZDF Studios’ Network Movie, for ZDF.

Traveling back to the Great War in 1917, “Davos” follows a desperate nurse who is trying to find her child in the midst of a relentless spy war between the world powers raging in neutral Switzerland.

Producers Ivan Madeo of Contrast Film and Lisa Arndt of Letterbox joined creator and head writer Adrian Illien to discuss the project.

At the height of the war, Davos hosted high-ranking members and political elites of all the warring parties who were suffering from tuberculosis. Brits, Germans, Russians and Italians ended up neighbors as they recovered in the town’s famed sanitorium, resulting in high tensions and an ideal setting for espionage activities.

The series, which stars Dominique Devenport (“Sisi”), Jeanette Hain and David Kross (“A Stasi Comedy”), is co-produced by Amalia Film, Swiss public broadcaster SRF and ARD Degeto.

Gebrueder Beetz Filmproduktion/Picture Alliance/Associated Press/Daniel Ochoa de Olza
Daniel Ochoa de Olza

Set to further shake Spain’s battered royal establishment, “Juan Carlos,” from documentary production powerhouse Gebrueder Beetz, promises a look at “the dark side of the Spanish crown” with its uncompromising examination of the former king, who was celebrated for helping to reform the country in the immediate post-Franco years until scandals and allegations surrounding his financial arrangements led to his abdication in 2014.

The four-part documentary offers perspectives of Juan Carlos’ close friends and confidants, palace insiders, former intelligence officials and critics, shedding new light on his personal life and the affairs, allegations of corruption and alleged abuse of power, leading up to and including the events and circumstances of his abdication.

Underscoring the danger the filmmakers faced in taking on the project, producer Christian Beetz recounted his first trip to Madrid to speak to journalists about the planned documentary. While there, he received threatening phone calls from lawyers who warned against producing the project. The company’s website was later hacked and his team was forced to change to a more secure email system.  

Director Anne von Petersdorff noted that the Spanish crown may no longer have “explicit power,” but it does have “implicit power,” adding that the project was indeed “quite challenging.”

Indeed, Christian Asanger, VP of entertainment at Sky Germany, which is co-producing through Sky Studios, stressed that the investigative documentary was so “very risky” that its legal team had been kept very busy providing vital assistance.

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