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German drama KuDamm is more than a feminist response to Mad Men

Scandi noir was our gateway drug into the world of international television. From there we go to dirty Italian crime Korean science fiction and South African absurdist comedy. And now comes this gem a fabulous feminist period piece from Germany set in postwar Berlin.

Opening in 1956 the next season is set in 1959 and the last in 1963 Kudamm follows the fortunes of the three Schollack sisters negotiating the changing mores of the mid20th century. The hype describes it as Germanys answer to Mad Men but thats not entirely correct. Kudamm is both less and more.

Less so because its less polished less selfconsciously highconcept with nothing like the budget of Mad Men. More so because it is firmly rooted in a common reality for women both then and now the struggle against patriarchy against double standards to find a place in the world that allows their intellects and souls to flourish. This at times plays wide but is also capable of great subtlety and brings a generosity of spirit not only to its energetic leads but also to its complicated male characters and the unlovable matriarch of the Schollack clan.

These are people whose journeys quickly become completely immersive. In the first season we meet the girls Eva Helga and our protagonist Monika in their late teens and early 20s preparing to leave a nest ruled by their magnificently hideous mother Caterina. Helga is about to make what appears to be a great marriage. But is it? Eva works as a nurse in a psychiatric hospital and has a crush on the much older head psychiatrist. And Monika has just been ignominiously expelled from a third level school.

All predictable notes are played. The girls face all the obstacles prejudices and bleak perspectives of any young person of the time. When a girl is raped and the man involved later apologizes her mother urges her to put the mishap behind her. Another of the sisters comes home hungry after a dinner because says Mom women who chew are not attractive. But the oppression definitely goes both ways and that same sister scolds a male visitor to the psych ward for crying. She later apologizes and says its okay for a man to cry but not too much.

We also see rocknroll arriving electrifying Berlins youth and breaking down all sorts of moral certainties. And if some women are succumbing to social pressures others refuse to be pushed back into the kitchen after the freedom of the war years.

Then theres the context in which this all takes place which makes it much richer than Mad Men or any Western drama could ever hope to be. While the good burghers of Berlin would like to put the war behind them and embrace this bright and clean future it is not that simple. The past its horrors and injustices are ever present and become more so as the series progresses. Moral questions are raised and few of them are easily resolved. This is a world defined by trauma.

About Yashwa Malik

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