Critics of Berlin Alexanderplatz (WDR, West Germany, 1980) most often focus on the extended love plot between Franz (Günther Lamprecht) and Reinhold (Gottfried John). This focus is not surprising, given that the vexed relationship between Rainer Werner Fassbinder's leading men is the most prominent storyline in the miniseries. However, across nearly sixteen hours, Berlin Alexanderplatz also introduces us to Paula (Mechthild Grossmann), Minna (Karin Baal), Ida (Barbara Valentin), Frau Bast (Brigitte Mira), Polish Lina (Elisabeth Trissenaar), Eva (Hanna Schygulla), the widow (Angela Schmid), Fränze (Helen Vita), Cilly (Annemarie Düringer), Trude (Irm Hermann), the Whore of Babylon (uncredited), the waitress (Elke Haltaufderheide), and Mieze (Barbara Sukowa). Across successive episodes, these minor characters offer a version of seriality inside the serial form that is Berlin Alexanderplatz. Ultimately these figures make up one vast composite character, a combinatory form that echoes the superimposed photographs from the Weimar era that appear in the miniseries's credit sequence. Both the credit sequence and the serial women offer ways of representing Germany's past as a variegated, multidimensional site. Though often peripheral to the miniseries's major plot arcs, the female characters upend the interpretive authority of the voice-over. Their presence unsettles the voice-over's construction of a somewhat monolithic, omniscient, and in many ways melodramatic historical imagination of the Weimar period.
Through the placement of the female minor characters, Berlin Alexanderplatz challenges the traditional terms of value often associated with the historical television miniseries. Contra contemporaneous miniseries like Heimat (WDR/SFB, West Germany, 1984), Roots (ABC, 1977), and Days of Hope (BBC, UK, 1975), Berlin Alexanderplatz does not utilize its extended running time to create an increasingly complex or multigenerational story line. Instead, the extensive breadth of the miniseries allows for an experiment with minor character forms, offering the intimacy often associated with extended serial viewing but refusing legible modes of sympathy and attachment. In Berlin Alexanderplatz, this inscrutability becomes an irritant within the miniseries's larger narrative arc, preventing the mourning of the dead women across the series and the mourning for the lost past for which they often provide a symbolic counterpart.