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Medical shows tend to be common and popular in the United States, but the new German series, Charité, available on Netflix, distinguishes itself with its period setting and treatment of scientists more as celebrities than nerds even to those outside of the medical profession. I am not even mad that Charité had me Googling topics like diphtheria; there is an interesting show here, despite Pilot being what many if not most Pilots are, a table setting episode.

The year was 1888. Ida Lenze was an 18-year-old orphan who stumbled into the teaching hospital feverish and in severe pain due to appendicitis. Dr. Behring, with whom she had some sort of antagonistic history not yet revealed (perhaps it was connected with Ida's father, who was a physician), decided to operate on her, though she was clearly not one who could afford to pay. Despite being given only a 20% chance of survival, Ida lived. Since the family she worked for as a nanny refused to pay the hospital's services, and indeed dismissed her from employment, Ida had to remain at the hospital and work as a nurse until she could pay off her debt. 

Though she was still weak from her surgery, Ida's questions about the procedure Dr. Behring performed on her demonstrated a sharp mind and an interest in medicine. That would serve her well, for she was at Charité at a time when great scientific minds were at work. Dr. Robert Koch was working on a cure for tuberculosis. Dr Emil Behring was just edged out by Dr Paul Ehrlich in applying for a position to work with Dr. Koch. I freely admit that I have never even heard of these men until I Googled them because of Charité; just for the extra dose of knowledge it gave me today, I like this show already.

There are some rather graphic presentations of the human body here, including a close up on the appendectomy performed on Ida. I was fine with it, but I thought to include that for the sake of those with more sensitive disposition. Visuals of the human body aside, Charité looks good, like money was well spent to turn it into a polished production (this is coming from a decidedly non expert point of view, by the way, I have no insider knowledge of productions). I am writing this after having seen just the first episode, and the only standouts for me so far was Georg Tischendorf, because of his good looks, and the tragic young Mariechen. Georg was a medical student who appeared taken by Ida. He was also asked by one of the nurses to perform an illegal abortion on her very young looking niece Mariechen, which he refused. Mariechen, called Marie, threatened to kill herself if she could not get an abortion. Later, Marie was admitted to the hospital with broken legs; she had tried to jump to her death. Marie died whilst at the hospital. Based on Georg's conversation with another medical student, I am not entirely clear if he ended up performing the abortion, or if he gave Marie some kind of medicine to potentially abort the baby, or if he simply did not do anything. Can someone who speaks German please clarify this?

There was some political backdrop on this episode, with the doctors and nurses discussing the medical condition of Crown Prince Frederick. Professor Rudolf Virchow was convinced that the Crown Prince did not have cancer of the larynx, as another doctor suspected. After the Emperor died, Frederick succeeded him.

As much as I enjoy shows that incorporate historical figures, I do understand that they can be tricky to watch when these are figures we are unfamiliar with. When I watched this episode, I struggled with putting unfamiliar names with unfamiliar faces, and reading the English subtitles, and Googling so I could have a bit of context on what I was watching. The thing is, I only exerted that kind of effort because I wanted to recap this show. It is perfectly possible to just chill and watch it, and not do as much Googling as I did. Charity is not a great first episode, but it got the job done in introducing the tale. I am excited about this show and look forward to watching the entirety of it.


■ A young actress, Hedwig Freiberg, saw a portrait of Dr. Koch at the studio of a painter for whom she modelled nude and declared how much she admired him. She left a ticket to her show for the doctor. Just as a warning, reading Dr. Koch's Wikipedia page will spoil part of the story.

■ Dr. Koch was also much taken by the portrait of Hedwig when he saw it, and went to see her show.

■ Ida wanted to leave the hospital, though she was not yet discharged. Sister Therese tried to help her but they were caught by the head nurse.

■ Ida's appendectomy was done in front of a large class, all of them male. As someone who spent more time than I care to think of inside hospitals because of my father's rather complicated illness, I cringed at how unsanitary the whole setup was.

■ I have not verified this but, according to the show, at this time, every fourth person in Berlin died of tuberculosis. This gave context to the urgency and importance of Dr. Koch's research.

■ Dr. Virchow did not believe the new instrument called telephone would catch on because people preferred to talk face to face. I wonder what Dr. Virchow would say about our smart phone dominated world.

■ Dr. Ehrlich was sick with tuberculosis. 

Image from Charitè, currently streaming on Netflix

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