′Babylon Berlin′ star Volker Bruch′s links to COVID skeptics polarizes | Culture| Arts, music and lifestyle reporting from Germany | DW

An investigation by independent reporters’ platform netzpolitik.org found that Volker Bruch, the star of the internationally acclaimed series Babylon Berlin, has documented ties to COVID deniers.

The article published on Monday states that the actor has applied to become a member of a party called Basisdemokratische Partei Deutschland, shortened to Die Basis (The Base).

The fringe party was created in July 2020 in reaction to the government’s protective measures to curb the spread of COVID-19. Its candidates include activists who have been spreading conspiracy theories about the pandemic.

The article further notes that Bruch does not wear a face mask on the set of Babylon Berlin. The series’ production company, X-Filme, confirmed to netzpolitik.org that Volker Bruch “has a medical exemption from wearing medical mouth and nose protection.”

According to research by nonprofit investigative newsroom Correctiv, such exemptions are easy to obtain, and the measure is promoted by a network of COVID-denying activists.

Initiator of #allesdichtmachen videos

Several social media users have been questioning the relevance of publishing this information about the actor. The article justifies the reporting by pointing out that it sheds light on the goals of a series of videos recently released under the hashtag #allesdichtmachen (“close down everything”).

The campaign featured some 50 prominent German actors doing short satirical clips criticizing the government’s handling of the pandemic.

While the creators of the project initially remained anonymous, Bruch has since been identified as one of the series’ initiators.

different stills from the #allesdichtmachen videos, German actors

The #allesdichtmachen videos sparked controversy

‘No links with COVID deniers’

Upon its release on April 22, the series of videos quickly went viral. Participants were accused of echoing the argument framing of COVID deniers, who also widely shared the one-minute clips on social media.

Responding to the controversy, some actors withdrew their contribution within hours of the project’s release. Others tried to defend their participation in the campaign.

Most prominently, Jan Josef Liefers, a star of the popular crime series Tatort and another initiator of the project, denied all links to COVID deniers, known as “Querdenker” (lateral thinking) in Germany. He added in his Twitter thread that there “was no party in the current German parliament he felt further apart from than the AfD.”

But many members of the far-right Alternative for Germany party, including leader Alice Weidel, voiced their support for the actor and the campaign. “Hats off to Jan Josef Liefers and all those who voluntarily accepted to be exposed to the ensuing witch hunt from government fans and the leading media,” she wrote on Twitter.

Irritated by the ‘Querdenker’ label

In his clip, Liefers criticizes the media for serving as the mouthpiece of the government.

In the week following the project’s release, the actor was a guest on numerous German talk shows, where he claimed to have been avoiding all news stories related to the coronavirus. Liefers said he found reports on the topic were too “homogenous.” Ironically, as it became difficult to avoid him in newspapers, television and online news outlets, he ended up illustrating that his position was also well represented by the media.

The director of Tatort, Dietrich Brüggemann, also contributed to the #allesdichtmachen campaign. He has since criticized the media, claiming that it automatically labels anyone who is opposed to government coronavirus measures as a Querdenker or COVID denier.

In addition to spreading conspiracies about COVID, the Querdenker movement has been particularly criticized in Germany for aligning with far-right activists. Some demonstrators have been using antisemitic imagery, comparing COVID restrictions to the Holocaust. Last week, Germany’s Federal Office for the Protection of the Constitution (BfV) announced that elements of the anti-coronavirus lockdown movement were under observation as they questioned the legitimacy of the state.

A man holding a 'Lügenpresse' sign at a protest

‘Lügenpresse’ (lying press) was a Nazi slur that has been picked up by movements such as the Querdenker

Polarizing views on social media

The netzpolitik.orgarticle documenting the Babylon Berlin star’s ties to COVID deniers has typically polarized opinion on social media as the #VolkerBruch hashtag trended following its publication.

For instance, director Tom Bohn compared the media’s focus on the actor’s affiliation to the COVID-denier scene to McCarthyist suppression of suspected communists in the US.

Meanwhile, a group of leftist activists branded the Zentrum für Politische Schönheit (Center for Political Beauty) pointed out on Twitter that Die Basis party promotes the idea that “the government is planning something ‘worse’ than the Holocaust and ‘a kind of concentration camp’ for the unvaccinated.”

The group also asked how Bruch’s reported political affiliations were compatible with Germany’s public broadcasters’ mission to support democracy — Bruch is the main star of the most expensive series produced by public television network, ARD, in co-production with private network Sky.

Many others felt that the political views of the actor were unrelated to his role in the celebrated series, but nevertheless expressed their disappointment.

Asked by DW to comment, producers Sky, X-Filme and ARD provided a joint statement: “We will not comment on any political activities or affiliations of cast and crew members as long as they are conforming to the law. Shooting of the fourth season of Babylon Berlin continues as planned and is not affected by the current discourse.”

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