Review: Deutschland 83 – TV-Series

Since when do Americans Watch German TV-Shows?

The show starts with the English version of a German eighties-pop song: Major Tom by Peter Schilling. And if you are a connoisseur of English or American TV-Series, Deutschland 83 might not even stand out that much, except for the language and the setting of course.

Maybe that’s the reason it is the first German series to ever be broadcasted in U.S. Television. On top of that, it received widespread critical acclaim. The show is a co-operation between the German branch of the European entertainment company RTL and the U.S. network SundanceTV, which was co-founded by Robert Redford but has no direct ties to his Sundance Institute or the Sundance Film Festival. Fun fact: Even though Deutschland 83 is a German production, set in Germany, with German actors, in German language, SundanceTV actually broadcasted the full 8-episode-miniseries long before its German release in Autumn 2015.

Spoiler: It’s About Germany in the 80’s

Here is a short synopsis without too many spoilers:

As can be taken from the shows title, it is set in Germany in the 1980’s, in the last chapter of the Cold War. Albeit the fall of the Berlin wall was not to far away, the times were volatile and Germany was a powder keg. East German intelligence is convinced the USA and the NATO are planning a preemptive strike using the Pershing missiles they aim to deploy all over Europe. The plot is based on historical events and spans to the infamous NATO maneuver Able Archer, which is nowadays viewed as one of the times the world came closest to a full on nuclear war.

Review: Deutschland 83 - TV-Series
© PD via Clker-Free-Vector-Images on Pixabay

A young GDR-soldier, Martin Rauch – played by the talented Jonas Nay, is coerced to infiltrate the western German Bundeswehr in order to gain access to vital NATO documents. Coerced by his aunt, a Stasi-Officer. His adventures take him to the former western German capital Bonn, to Brussels and of course to West Berlin. Rauch is caught between his mission, personal attachments to his objects of observation, the family drama of General Edel who’s office he infiltrated, his pregnant fiancée at home in the GDR – you can see Cold War Germany was a mess in all aspects of life. But Deutschland 83 never loses grip of all the strings and keeps pulling you into the sinister world it portrays.

You’ll get Hooked Up from the very First Episode of Deutschland 83

In a very powerful way the first episode shows how overwhelmed Rauch is by the capitalist manifold of a western German supermarket and thus draws a clear picture of the vast differences between two the countries that used to be one. In this manner, Deutschland 83 even shines a light on today’s differences between the “old” and the “new” federal states and the consequences of these differences.

Set design and costumes are beautifully crafted and look frighteningly realistic to everyone who remembers the 80’s in Germany. It is no bright or nostalgic retrospection of Germany. Everything looks rather dull – supported by the frequently used original news footage – and is contrasted by the booming and happy 80’s music that often makes its way into the foreground. The story itself grants you a look into life in the GDR that is seldom seen, even on German TV.

Weniger ist Mehr

Basically Deutschland 83 is a spy movie in 8 episodes, but we get to see more than just suspense and adventure. We get a glimpse into life in Germany under the fading experience of a nuclear threat. We witness the differences of young people grown up in eastern and western Germany, as Martin gets into trouble because he is not aware of the correct pop-culture references. But the show also brushes further topics, e.g. the upcoming spreading of AIDS, the offshoots of 70’s commune-life as well as social life in the 80’s in general. Moreover the series brushes typical generational conflicts in connections with peace- and anti-nuclear-movements. But one of the strongest motifs of Deutschland 83 lies in the coming-of-age of protagonist Martin Rauch and his fellow youngsters.

What Critiques have to Say

Critiques for Deutschland 83 have been quite glowing. The Independent even views the show as the first of many high quality German TV-shows to come. The New Yorker called it “a slinky thriller, well scored, well paced, cast with beautiful faces“. It is very often benevolently compared to “The Americans”, a show about to Russian sleeper agents in the U.S., even though it is regarded as less deep. According to “Indiewire” Deutschland 83 „is poised at the border between good and great television.“ So, if you are interested in Germany and are not opposed to a good TV-drama, you might want to give Deutschland 83 a chance.

The show’s language is clear and straight without being “unrealistic”, thus it is perfectly suitable to improve your German skills just by watching it. And if we’re lucky, we might even get to enjoy a second and third season.