Oh, to be a “young urban Kreative international” in Berlin. Sounds like the dream, doesn’t it? Well, until your obnoxious co-worker’s app design trumps yours. Or the elite artist community shuns you at a party. Or (shudder) you have to work on a Sunday. Five Berlin-born web series understand your plight – and they’re all free to watch online.
ECKE WESERSTRAßE: "Job + girlfriend = future."
THE SHOW: Tom, Emma and Vincent are hovering somewhere between adolescence and adulthood; work and play; the good life and real life. One place they definitely want to stay, though, is Berlin. In Episode 1, Tom frets about unemployment and his crush on friend-of-a-friend Bea, Vincent looks for a lads’ afternoon and escape from his work-obsessed (but apparently loaded) father, and Emma eats a vegan brownie.
THE TEAM: Johannes Hertwig writes the scripts, and co-directs with Hayung von Oepen. Our three lead 20-somethings are played by Christian Wagner, Lotta Löffler and Maximilian Seidel. “We wanted to show how normal Berlin actually is,” say Hertwig and Von Oepen – and for this, they wanted to get rid of the “hype” that surrounds the city.
THE BUDGET: “For the first episode we had maybe €300 or €400,” says Von Oepen. Those five days of filming were “really DIY,” he remembers, “really rough and fast.” Through crowdfunding, the pair raised around €3000 for the next two episodes.
IS IT AUTOBIOGRAPHICAL? The locations – like the Nowkoelln Flowmarkt and the bars and cafés along the titular street – certainly are: “We just shot in places where we usually go!” And cycling to the canal with an inflatable boat is something Hertwig did actually do, one summer afternoon…
WHO SHOULD WATCH? Are you a shiny new graduate, flipping out because you’ve no idea where your life’s now headed? So is Tom. Or a writer struggling to find jobs that actually pay? Head Vincent’s way. This isn’t a laugh-a-minute story like Bigheads or Das Apartment, but the cynical way our three young creatives navigate the ‘real’ Berlin is compelling. If they can do well here, so can you.
WHAT’S NEXT? According to Hertwig, we’d better watch out for parties, drugs and scenes that were “very fun” to film in episode 3, finally out April 25. Things are about to take a more dramatic turn, though. “The big story arc is planned,” he reveals, “but we have to make plans for how to continue financing the show.”
BIGHEADS: "I can't even stand up for my right to orgasm!"
Four episodes (6-7 minutes each, #5 coming soon), in English, premiered September 2014
THE SHOW: Anjuna is a writer. One who hasn’t actually written anything yet. But that’s alright, because she lives in Berlin: the city where “everyone’s an artist, whether they've made any art or not.” Anyway, it’s all about to change, because she’s finally had an idea for her blog: why not follow other wannabe artists as they try and make it big? Expect tears, tantrums and cut-throat bitchiness as we claw open the world of the “non-artist artist.”
THE TEAM: Best friends Marlene Melchior (British-German) and Alex Forge (French) co-write and direct the show, and Melchior stars as Anjuna. The pair started working on Bigheads in 2012, back when, as Melchior laughs, “Berlin was where you came when you were a loser dork who was an art nerd at high school. That’s what we were!”
THE BUDGET: Through teaching English and waiting tables, the creators scraped together €2000 for the first three episodes. “And most of that went towards feeding people,” Melchior explained.
IS IT AUTOBIOGRAPHICAL? Kind of. “Alex and I were miserable and 20, and hanging around with a load of contemporary dancers,” Melchior remembers. “I think the whole joke of the series is that we’re the artists we're making fun of!”
WHO SHOULD WATCH? If you’re a frustrated wannabe artist struggling to make a name for yourself in Berlin, Bigheads will make you snort, cringe and nearly weep in despair – at the characters and your own life. Melchior also reckons it could resonate with “people who’ve just moved away from home, and are finding their feet”, or parents wondering what their children are up to over in Germany.
WHAT’S NEXT? “We’ve got two episodes coming up,” Melchior says. “One’s about coffee and gentrification… and one’s about the May 1 riots.” The tone’s shifted a bit since the earlier episodes, she admits: “It started as a fairly black comedy, because we were in our mid-twenties, feeling disappointed by life and wondering why we weren’t doing better. But now we’re getting older and thinking: maybe we could soften it up, make it a bit sweeter...”
POLYGLOT: "I need to really arrive in this city, you know?"
Three episodes (5-13 minutes each), in English/French, premiered April 2015
THE SHOW: Speaking several languages makes it easy to adapt to new and daunting situations, right? Not always. Polyglot is an intimate look into the lives of a diverse group of young Berlin newcomers, from flat-searching and homesickness to the struggles of finding work.
THE TEAM: Self-taught Rwandan-German filmmaker Amelia Umuhire writes and directs the series; her sister Amanda Mukasonga plays lead character and rapper Babiche Papaya. Both women are polyglots themselves – fluent in English, German, French and Kinyarwanda.
THE BUDGET: “We have no budget!” Umuhire laughs. “I write, direct and edit it on my own, so we don’t really have much that you’d need a budget for.”
IS IT AUTOBIOGRAPHICAL? The show revolves around characters you don’t see a lot in German television, Umuhire says, but this wasn’t the original plan. “We just thought, let’s make it about our own lives.”
WHO SHOULD WATCH? Anyone who’s ever felt like an outsider here, but especially those who don’t fit our perceptions of the “typical Berliner”. The show’s becoming popular with the multicultural expat set, Mukasonga tells us – and not just in Berlin. After scooping up “Best German Webseries” at the Berlin Webfest in September, Polyglot won “Best International Web Series” at the Tous Écrans festival in Geneva.
WHAT’S NEXT? “We’re planning,” Umuhire says. She’s not desperate to get the show picked up by a television network, though. “Right now, it only exists because we want it to exist. I think that’s a very privileged way of working.”
TRANSLANTICS: "It's so crazy... like a huge LSD trip!"
Six episodes (15-30 minutes each), in English/German, premiered April 2015
THE SHOW: This is the story of BiBi, a young, mysterious model and artist living in Berlin. We don’t learn much about her in the initial episodes – except that she sees a therapist, and once starred in a dry shampoo advert. Eerie music and washed-out landscapes make the whole thing deliciously unnerving.
THE TEAM: German digital artist and model Britta Thie writes and directs the series, and also stars as main character BiBi, while Annika Kuhlmann and Julia Zange play best friends Anni and Yuli.
THE BUDGET: Around €30,000. The series was commissioned by Schirn Kunsthalle Frankfurt and ARTE Creative.
IS IT AUTOBIOGRAPHICAL? Thie admits she and her fellow actors are basically playing distorted versions of themselves, although the show’s abstract, elevated vibe keeps things from getting too navel-gazy.
WHO SHOULD WATCH? Anyone who’s ever been cold-shouldered by one of those egotistical arty types. But first and foremost, it’s for those who want a more “out there” viewing experience: before Thie turned it into a web series, Translantics was planned as a “digital art piece”.
WHAT’S NEXT? “Plans for the show are currently in development, and I can’t say much officially,” Thie says. One thing she’s keen to do, though, is take the show out of the digital world and recreate her “chamber play” in real life.
DAS APARTMENT: "You just ate that from face..."
Six episodes (6-8 minutes each), in English, premiered April 2015
THE SHOW: Meet Chris, Rachel and Lenni. They’re French, Canadian and Finnish. One’s saving the world, one’s finding her noodle (it’s an inside joke) and one’s just enjoying being single, free and utterly weird. They fall out a lot. Rachel may be the only one with an actual job, but Chris and Lenni find plenty of stuff to busy themselves with, from political honey-making to becoming parking lot superheroes. Prepare for a show stuffed full of cringes, belly-laughs and weirdly heart-warming moments.
THE TEAM: The series is directed by Indo-Portuguese expat Reinaldo Pinto Almeida, and stars Nicole Ratjen (Rachel), Edvard Lammervo (Lenni) and Mathieu Pelletier (Chris).
THE BUDGET: “The first episode we financed out of our own pockets,” says Almeida, but in May, Das Apartment won the 2015 Your Turn award, presented by Medienboard BRB, Youtube and Endemol Beyond. They used the €25,000 prize money to crack on with Season 1.
IS IT AUTOBIOGRAPHICAL? “I’d say Chris definitely represents some small part of me, but amplified,” Pelletier says at the episode 6 screening. Ratjen agrees, saying, “I’d like to think I’m not as stressed out as Rachel.” Lammervo also agrees – hastening to add: “I definitely don’t masturbate in real life, though. That’s all fiction.”
WHO SHOULD WATCH? This is lighthearted entertainment with a Berlin twist – but that doesn’t mean you’ve got to be a Berliner to understand. Ever felt like screaming when your flatmate uses your yoghurt to make a facemask? Or been unable to use the bathroom because your Finnish flatmate’s having intimate time with a dominatrix? You’ve also gotta be able to withstand a fairly vigorous shower masturbation scene in episode 1.
WHAT’S NEXT? Season 2 is on the cards, but funding it could be tricky. “We’re looking at our options,” Almeida tells us. Rumour also has it that Lenni’s mum might show up next season – and while this can only end in disaster, it’s something we’re totally up for seeing.