ARD series The Truth about the Famous Doctors at the Charite
One wrong word and Bismarck would have shot one of his best doctors, a world-renowned researcher and the founder of modern pathology.
This Rudolf Virchow plagued Bismarck. Never gave rest. Instead of doing his work in the Charite morgue, the physician also raised his voice as a politician: railed against the Prussian kingdom’s high military spending, fought for better living conditions for the working class, pushed for the construction of a new sewer system in Berlin to finally contain epidemics.
On 2. June 1865, after a heated debate in the state parliament, Otto von Bismarck had had enough. He was no longer willing to put up with these constant violations of honor. Bismarck, Prime Minister of Prussia, challenged Virchow to a duel with a pistol. Virchow hesitated – and refused. A gun duel is "not a contemporary way of discussion", the professor coolly lectured his adversary.
The greatest physicians researched in the Charite
Virchow was the most courageous member of a group of German physicians who, in the late 19th century. The research that caused such a sensation in the early twentieth century. And far beyond the borders of the country. Robert Koch, Emil Behring, Paul Ehrlich and Rudolf Virchow all conducted research at the Charite, Berlin’s largest hospital, at that time. Their discoveries revolutionized the science of the human body. They examined cells, sera and bacteria, and their findings opened up completely new possibilities in the treatment of diseases. The doctors developed important cures, for example against diphtheria and syphilis, they were celebrated and honored many times, three of them even with the Nobel Prize.
Four men who achieved great things – and were bound to each other above all by envy and ill will. They blasphemed, they mocked, they leered at each other, they drove and betrayed each other. Each wanted to outshine the other.
The television series "Charite" tells the story of this tense relationship, which has been broadcast since Tuesday (Das Erste, 20.3 p.m.). Sonke Wortmann directed the six-parter, a production by Ufa, which, like the stern belongs to Bertelsmann. Wortmann portrays the complicated network of relationships between the doctors in calm, unagitated images.
ARD-Six-Part "That was an unparalleled scandal": Sonke Wortmann on "Charite
"Charite" is not a typical hospital series, even if you think you know enough about the medical profession’s thirst for recognition and extramarital affairs from other TV films. Wortmann widens his view, he sketches a panorama of the time. In his work, the Charite becomes a microcosm in which the turmoil of the Prussian kingdom at the end of the 19th century is reflected. The period depicts the social unrest of the twentieth century, the burgeoning anti-Semitism, industrialization with its few profiteers and countless victims.
The forces of perseverance were enormous
These were watershed years. The country was on the threshold of modernity, both economically and technologically, but medical research had to contend with resistance. The forces of perseverance at the Charite were enormous. In nursing, it was still necessary to trust in the mercy of God. "Almighty, we thank you for sending us diseases as tests to purify us, This is how the daily morning prayer of head nurse Martha, played by Ramona Kunze-Libnow, begins.
Young physicians such as Emil Behring and Paul Ehrlich in particular have great difficulty in gaining freedom for their experiments. Behring (Matthias Koeberlin), later the inventor of medicines against diphtheria and tetanus, is almost in danger of breaking down from it. During the day he works in the clinic, at night he stands in the laboratory, hardly sleeps, and when he is at the end of his rope, he drags himself to the medicine cabinet and swallows opium.
The figure of Behring may seem overdrawn, but Dorothee Schon and Sabine Thor-Wiedemann’s screenplay is quite close to the historical persons. The two authors spent eight years researching, primarily in the archives of Charite. Supported by the director of the Museum of Medical History, Thomas Schnalke, they drew up psychograms of the four physicians and also described the strong political pressure under which the researchers stood in the empire.
The 47-year-old physician and his 17-year-old lover
There is Robert Koch, bacteriologist. In 1882, he discovers the tuberculosis pathogen Mycobacterium tuberculosis, a scientific sensation at the time, but Koch is immediately expected to perform the next heroic feat. Just in time for the "Tenth International Medical Congress" 1890 in Berlin, Kaiser Wilhelm II demands. von Koch to develop a cure for the lung disease. One wants the "hereditary enemy" To beat France at least in the field of science, the emperor says.
But Koch cannot deliver. He has mixed up something in his laboratory that he calls tuberculin, but he has not tested the supposed drug seriously. The 47-year-old physician himself and his 17-year-old lover Hedwig are the only test subjects.
Nevertheless, Koch presents the tuberculin to the congress. The hall sings praises "Hail to thee, father of bacteria Koch!", resounded to him. Koch is carried on his hands out of the converted Circus Renz, the meeting place of the medical profession.
Doctors, emperors, nurses – that's what "Charite" is all about
Koch’s public success is particularly hard to bear for one competitor: Rudolf Virchow. He began to examine numerous dead bodies on his autopsy table that had been treated with tuberculin – and proved with scalpel and microscope that tuberculin not only did not alleviate the course of disease, but actually made it worse. The emperor’s hopeful is disgraced. Koch’s failure becomes Virchow’s triumph.
Virchow (Ernst Stotzner) and Koch (Justus von Dohnany) are the two great antipodes of the series. Two proud, eloquent men who contradict each other in their interpretation of diseases: Virchow believes that disturbed cells cause diseases; the cause lies in the human being himself. Koch, on the other hand, claims that external influences are the decisive factor, bacteria and their toxins that have an effect on people. Virchow dismisses this as a bold, unproven thesis.
Emil Behrin receives the Nobel Prize in 1901
The fact that both explanatory models are correct and not mutually exclusive is not proven until years later. Too late for Koch. His scientific reputation is tarnished after the tuberculin debacle, and he also has to watch his two younger assistants, Emil Behring and Paul Ehrlich, overtake him.
Behring is an ambition hound who bullies colleagues wherever he can. In 1901 he receives the Nobel Prize for his research on antitoxins. These are used as agents against infectious diseases. Paul Ehrlich, who plays a major role in the development of antitoxins, is forced out of the project by Behring. Behring is the main beneficiary of the economic success of the preparations against diphtheria produced in the Hoechst dye works. Years passed before Koch (1905) and Ehrlich (1908) were finally awarded the "Nobel Prize for Physiology or Medicine" receive.
Paul Ehrlich is still the mildest character in this quartet of egomaniacs. He leads a modern, equal marriage – at least by the standards of the time. And he has a fine sense of humor, including self-irony, which always deeply disturbs the manic Behring. Paul Ehrlich is a Jew, which is also considered a stigma at the Charite, the forge of genius; even subordinates and nurses make derogatory remarks. Nevertheless, Ehrlich pursues his path unflinchingly: he specializes in the human immune system and establishes a new, groundbreaking method of treatment, antibiotic chemotherapy.
Heroic stories in medicine are written exclusively by men at the turn of the century. Women are excluded from studying medicine in Germany.
Women are not allowed to study medicine until 1908
To create a female perspective and break the dominance of the rushe-bearded, nickel-bristled men, the screenwriters added a fictional character to their series: Ida Lenze, an auxiliary nurse at the Charite hospital and the daughter of a doctor. Lenze (Alicia von Rittberg) is not deterred by the big names of the researchers. She seeks out conversation, squats in their lectures, tries to assist them in operations. She feels bullied and kept down. "The head nurse treats us like underage children", she complains.
When she shouts to her colleagues that she wants to become a doctor herself!, they laugh at her. What an absurd idea! Ida Lenze is a lonely fighter on the clinic grounds, a fictional one to be sure, but the encrustation of the Wilhelmine age, the patriarchy that denies women social participation in all spheres, does not spring from the imagination of the screenwriters. This is German history.
It wasn’t until 1908, one of the last countries in Europe, that the Kaiserreich allowed women to study medicine.