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Dark: Why it’s time to binge Netflix’s successful original German series

Netflix’s first German-language series ‘Dark’ premieres its third and final series on June 27th, much to the delight of legions of fans.

Dark: Why it's time to binge Netflix's successful original German series
Photo handout: DPA

The complex, layered story of four families in the small German town of Winden has captured the imagination of millions in a way that few of the streaming service’s productions have. Haven’t seen it yet?.

Here’s five reasons why ‘Dark’ is the German TV show you should be binging.

It’s all about time…

It’s hardly a spoiler to say that ‘Dark’ concerns itself mostly with time travel. Characters travel between a few distinct eras of Winden’s recent history, each 33 years apart.

A scene from the third episode of Dark. Photo handout: DPA

Their actions in each of these periods, deliberate or otherwise, have knock-on effects that reverberate across the decades to cause some truly mind-boggling complications.

If you enjoy the knotty nature of time travel narratives, trying to tease out paradoxes, then this is mostly definitely something that you will enjoy.

Just make sure that you have a pen and paper with you – you’ll need it to work out some of the more complicated relationships.

…but at the heart of it, it’s all about love.

If the time travel elements can be confusing, then the motivations of the characters may not be. Everyone is acting out of love – romantic, paternal or otherwise. Unrequited, forbidden and first loves all feature throughout the three seasons, and the family relationships forged are utterly central to the show’s narrative.

READ ALSO: Ten top films and TV shows to discover Germany from your couch

The Kahnwalds, Dopplers, Nielsens and Tiedemanns are all connected in various ways, some very surprising, and only revealed over time. What matters, however, is that it’s very easy to empathise with the characters and their actions. Most of the time, they just want to be with a certain someone, even if they are separated across the years.

It looks amazing…

Director Baran bo Odar, co-creator Jantje Friese and cinematographer Nikolaus Summerer have together created some of the most striking visuals and painterly shots of the 21st century throughout ‘Dark'’s three seasons, working off a dark palette to imbue a heavy, portentous atmosphere.

Characters mutter that Winden is ‘cursed’ more than once, and the way the town and surrounding forest are shot, one can easily believe it.

It’s not just about creating mood, however. ‘Dark’s’ complex narrative requires the occasional break to make relationships clear, or give the viewer the opportunity to fully ponder the full implications of a twist. It’s here that bo Odar and Summerer come into their own with beautiful montages that impart a lot of information without a word being spoken.

…and it sounds great.

Just as important to ‘Darks’ success is its soundtrack. You may have heard the show’s distinctive and melancholy theme, ‘Goodbye’ by Apparat, and the show’s composer, Ben Frost has created a harsh, but beautiful electronic score that manages to tell as much story as the visuals.

The actors Louis Hofmann und Oliver Masucci at the European premiere of Dark on November 19th in Berlin. Photo: DPA

However, as a show that takes place across three time periods, select songs from various time periods play a very significant role, and even comprise various plot points.

Bright, optimistic big band tunes from the 1950s, punky, aggressive music from the 1980s and moody electronica from the 2010s all set the stage and feature in those montages previously mentioned.

Really, it’s just so incredibly German.

‘Dark’ is a show made by Germans, for a German audience, despite its worldwide following. From the ubiquitous yellow revision textbooks on the desks of some of its teenage protagonists, to the strong opposition over the nuclear power plant that makes up one of the shows’ major locations, the show oozes the little details of life in Germany over sixty-six years.

Watching with Germans, I’ve been surprised at the number who’ve noted with glee some aspect of household furnishing, popular culture or simply the attitudes expressed by characters. Indeed, the show’s focus on questions of free will, in itself speaks to a very deep philosophical Teutonic mindset.

Want to better understand those somewhat serious neighbours around you? Why not give ‘Dark’ a go?

All three seasons of ‘Dark’ are available on Netflix now. 

 

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GERMANY EXPLAINED

Why are shops in Germany closed on Sundays – and will it ever change?

Germany's strict ban on shops opening on Sundays can be a shock to foreigners. We looked at the culture around it, and spoke to one of the country's largest trade unions to find out if things are ever likely to change.

Why are shops in Germany closed on Sundays - and will it ever change?

It’s Sunday. You’ve invited people for dinner, but you’ve forgotten the most important ingredient. Tough luck – you’ll either have to do without or wait until Monday because your local shops are shut. 

Most of us are familiar with this inconvenience, and perhaps you’ve even found yourself screaming: “Why?” in frustration in front of a locked-up supermarket. 

But it’s something us adopted Germans have had to get used to. We decided to take a look at the reasons behind Germany’s ban on Sunday shopping – and to find out if it might change in future. 

Where does the rule come from?

The Sonntagsruhe or ‘Sunday rest’ principle is an integral part of German culture, so much so that it is enshrined in the German constitution (Grundgesetz).

Article 140 of the law, which has remained unchanged since 1919, says: “Sundays and state-recognised public holidays remain protected by law as days of rest from work and spiritual upliftment.” 

But the practice of not working on Sunday has been around for much longer. The idea that the seventh day of the week is a day of rest dates back to the old testament and was declared a general day of rest across the Roman Empire as early as 321, by Roman Emperor Constantine.

In the centuries since, however, most of Europe has gradually relaxed the strict ban on commercial activities on Sundays. 

But in Germany, the rules remain restrictive. It’s unlikely to change anytime soon partly because of religious reasons, and also in relation to the interests of workers.

Germany’s biggest trade union Verdi spelled out their view. “It’s not ‘modern’ to work seven days a week,” they told The Local. “That’s the Middle Ages.” 

What exactly does the law mean?

On the face of it, the German law forbids all forms of work on Sundays and public holidays, though numerous exceptions are laid out in the Working Time Act. 

As well as emergency and rescue services, hospitals, nursing and care facilities, exceptions include cultural and sporting activities, and the hospitality sector. 

Another notable exemption to the rule is bakeries, which are allowed to open for three hours on Sundays – which is why you may often find a long queue at your local baker if you want to get your freshly baked Brötchen on Sunday morning. 

A saleswoman reaches for a loaf of bread in a bakery.

A saleswoman reaches for a loaf of bread in a bakery. Photo: picture alliance/dpa | Mohssen Assanimoghaddam

Illustrating how seriously the rule can be taken in Germany, there have even been cases of bakeries being sued for selling bread for too long on Sundays.

Shops, however, aren’t exempt from the rule and, the only way they can legally open on a Sunday is on a so-called verkaufsoffener Sonntag – Sunday trading day.

In most federal states, shops are allowed to open on between four and eight Sundays per year, and the States can decide when these should be. The chosen days must, however, be linked to a relevant occasion – such as a local festival, a market, a trade fair, or a similar event. 

Sunday openings also have to be recognisable as an exception to the general rule and Sunday openings that have already been approved can often be later overturned by the courts.

How strictly is the rule enforced?

Retailers who break the rules and open for business on Sunday can face fines ranging between €500 and €2,500.

The strictness of enforcement can vary widely between different regions.

In Berlin, for example, you can still find lots of Spätis (late night shops) open on Sundays. Although this is technically illegal, the authorities in the capital seem to take more of a relaxed approach to enforcement than in other states. 

A "Späti" late-night shop in Berlin.

A “Späti” late-night shop in Berlin. Photo: picture alliance/dpa | Florian Schuh

In the traditionally Catholic state of Bavaria, for example, the law is much more strictly guarded and enforced.

READ ALSO: Why Germany has strict shop opening hours

Is the law likely to change?

A survey by Spiegel in 2017 showed that 61 percent of Germans wanted to be able to shop on a Sunday, and this desire is shared by the trade industry.

The German Trade Association, for example, which represents around 400,000 independent companies, has strongly criticised Germany’s refusal to budge on the issue of Sunday openings on several occasions and argued that Sunday opening is also popular with staff, with many shop assistants appreciating the work in a more relaxed atmosphere.

In its latest statement on the issue, the association stated that, especially after following the economic impact of the pandemic, many retailers would benefit greatly from being able to open on Sundays. 

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“It is remarkable that in no other EU country Sunday opening is as restricted as in Germany,” the association said. “Even in strongly Catholic EU countries such as Italy and Poland, shoppers can generally shop on Sundays. The same applies to France, although they place great value on culture and socialising.”

However, even if there is a widespread desire in some quarters to allow Sunday trading, an amendment to the constitution would require the consent of two-thirds of the German parliament. Also, there remains strong opposition to changing the rule from many workers’ groups and trade unions.

Trade union Verdi, which regularly files complaints against states and organisations which seek to deviate from Sunday trading restrictions, said that Sunday rest is still very important for workers.

A sign reads “Spring for Frankfurt – Sunday trading day” in front of a shoe shop in Frankfurt.

A sign reads “Spring for Frankfurt – Sunday trading day” in front of a shoe shop in Frankfurt. Photo: picture-alliance/ dpa/dpaweb | Arne Dedert

A spokesperson said: “We have just one day a week when employers can’t stop us from going to football together, meeting friends, attending cultural events, or spending free time with the whole family.

“And we want to keep it that way. There are six days a week when we can go shopping, take the car to the garage, do our banking, or get the package delivered from the online retailer. On Sunday, there has to be peace and quiet.”

The Verdi spokesperson added that it’s important to think about “work-life balance, and not about being available 24/7 for a company”.

We also asked the union if the law looks set to change in the near future.

The spokesperson said: “Sunday, which is a non-working day for most people, has so far been protected by the majority of political parties in Germany.

“Verdi, with its almost two million members, continues to work to ensure that working on Sunday does not become an everyday occurrence.”

So it appears that the culture shock for many non-Germans of shops being closed on Sundays won’t change anytime soon. 

READ ALSO: From nudity to sandwiches – the biggest culture shocks for foreigners in Germany

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