It's been a long wait for fans of the brilliant German crime drama Babylon Berlin. The last series of the show, in which a police detective with PTSD and a young would-be policewoman in 1920s Berlin end up becoming entangled in the dark political developments of the period, finished airing in March 2020, which now feels, for many reasons, about as far away as the Weimar Republic. But now - Gott sei Dank! - after almost three years, one of the best drama series of the last decade is back. And based on the first episode of the new season, it was worth the wait.

When the first episode begins, it’s the beginning of 1931, and anyone with a basic awareness of European history will know that the future is not looking bright for Germany. Things are, however, going well for our hugely likeable heroine Charlotte Ritter, who is now officially part of the Berlin police - until she makes a shocking discovery about a man she thought she knew.

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Listen: RTÉ Arena on the return of Babylon Berlin

Babylon Berlin’s depiction of Berlin in the late 1920s, with its mixture of desperation, creativity, violence, sexual liberation and feverish excitement, is so astonishingly vivid it can feel like time travel. The series has always brilliantly captured what it feels like to live in a society that, in the words of the Weimar Republic’s foreign minister Gustav Stresemann, was "dancing on a volcano". Andin 2021, as we face economic collapse, food shortages, the rise of political extremism and a backlash against LGBT rights, the world it depicts feels worryingly closer than ever.

Squid Game

Babylon Berlin, a co-production of Sky and German public broadcaster ARD, airs here on Sky/Now TV, but there are plenty of other places to find international drama these days. In fact, it’s never been so easy. Some of Netflix’s biggest hits in recent years, such as Squid Game and Money Heist, have come from outside the anglophone world. Amazon has belatedly got in on the act, commissioning new series from India, Spain and France. All4 even has a whole section, Walter Presents, devoted to TV from around the world – though with some notable exceptions, Walter focuses a little too exclusively on gritty crime dramas for my taste. And thanks to streamers, Korean TV series, aka k-dramas, have become a worldwide phenomenon.

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I, for one, am grateful for all of it. During the long lockdowns of 2020 and 2021, I found myself glued to the Spanish period melodramas made by the Madrid-based production company Bambú Producciones. As soon as the opening credits of Gran Hotel (now sadly removed from Netflix) began, I could feel the tension melt away from my shoulders. Foreign-language dramas became not only a form of escapism – when I couldn’t go anywhere in real life, they transported me to Spain and France and Korea – but having to focus on the subtitles ensured that I couldn’t look at my phone or get distracted while watching.

Gran Hotel

And so for as long as each episode lasted, I was fully immersed in the intrigues of the Gran Hotel residents in early 20th century Spain, or the murder mystery in a 1940s ocean liner in High Seas (another Netflix Bambú show, still available), or the Spanish Civil War in Cable Girls (ditto). When I discovered k-dramas, I was swept away by the romance, humour, drama and charm of the phenomenally successful Crash Landing on You (Netflix), in which a South Korean lifestyle mogul finds herself trapped on the other side of the Korean border.

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These days we can leave the country again – on a recent trip to the Basque Country, I was able to use some of the Spanish words I’d picked up from watching all those period dramas – but I’m still immersing myself in international TV. Being able to watch these programmes not only entertains us, it gives us a window into places we might never be able to visit, into worlds and cultures that are not our own.

FIVE MORE INTERNATIONAL DRAMAS TO WATCH

NB: If you automatically get the dubbed version you can turn off dubbing and play in the original with subtitles.

All of Us Are Dead (Netflix)

When a Korean city is overwhelmed by a zombie outbreak, a bunch of teenagers band together in their high school, determined to fight their way out and find safety. Thrilling and emotionally engaging.

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The Seven Lives of Léa (Netflix)

In this gripping and moving French series, a teenage girl in 2021 uncovers a skeleton that belongs to a boy called Ismael who vanished thirty years earlier – and wakes up the next day in 1991, in the body of a stranger. For seven days, Léa travels back and forward between two eras and attempts to discover the truth behind Ismael’s death.

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A Private Affair (Amazon)

The latest Bambú Producciones series is a delightful romp set in late 1940s Galicia. Aura Garrido and Jean Reno are a joy to watch as a rich girl detective and her trusty butler, teaming up to solve a string of murders. With fabulous costumes and some stunning set pieces, it’s a feast for the eyes too.

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Standing Up (Netflix)

Shamefully this fantastic series about Parisian stand ups by Fanny Herrero, the creator of Call My Agent, hasn’t been renewed for a second season. But with its complex, sympathetic, funny and brilliantly acted characters and its fascinating depiction of the Paris comedy scene, it’s very much still worth watching.

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Deutschland 83/86/89 (All 4)

The story of Jonas, a young East German who is set to the West to spy on a military base, Deutschland 83 – and its sequels set in 1986 and 1989 – is both a gripping cold war thriller and a complex family drama.