When Joerg Winger did his military service in West Germany, he was assigned the job of spying on Russian troops stationed in the GDR, or East Germany, the authoritarian regime on the other side of the Iron Curtain. “It was the 80s,” says Joerg. “I was a radio signaller. And one Christmas, I remember the Russians wishing our officers seasonal greetings, using their names. So we knew we must have a mole. That was the origin of the story. “
Joerg talks about his edgy, exciting and gorgeously dressed television series Deutschland, which returns this month for its third and final outing. He created it with his wife, Anna, who had the idea to tell the story from the mole’s perspective. Enter our long-suffering young protagonist Martin Rauch, who infiltrates the west and never seems to be more than five seconds away from being exposed.
Through Rauch’s various poignant and nearly impossible missions, the trilogy (83, 86 and now 89) tells a larger story, chronicling the agony of a system that no one seemed to love, or at least not for long. East Germany begins to crumble in ’83. The regime tries to become capitalist to save communism in ’86. And in ’89, it’s just over. “One of the reasons we put the first part in 1983 was the music,” says Anna. “The show tracks the end of something, but the question was where did the end begin? And I felt like, in 1983, music was the kickoff. “
In the period, the music has been as spot on and evocative as the clothes, from Nena singing 99 Red Balloons, which topped the charts of 1983, about a group of children releasing the main toys and nearly sparking World War III, to the omnipresent. Adidas Stan Smiths. And when it comes to haircuts, half the cast looks like New Order from the Blue Monday era.
Sylvester Groth, returning as a Stasi officer and Rauch’s estranged father in the final series, was already living in West Germany when the Berlin Wall fell on November 9, 1989. “Groth was priceless as a source of details,” he says Joerg. The actor had escaped from East Germany after being allowed to cross the border five years earlier with his theater company and decided never to return. “The night the Wall fell,” says Groth, “I was on stage in West Germany. I thought, ‘My God, what happens now? Eighteen million people will come here. How are you going to handle that? ‘”
That question: what happens now? – is at the heart of Deutschland 89. Yes, things are ending, but in this final part of the trilogy, the fall of the Wall – or the Anti-Fascist Protection Wall, as it was officially known in the GDR – is just the beginning point. “We were looking for the overlooked pieces of cold war history,” says Joerg. “So we decided not to tell the story of how the Wall fell. The sub-narrated part of this era is what happened next. “
Speaking from their home in closed Berlin, Joerg and Anna explain how they set out to fill in those gaps. “We suppose it was simple: the Wall fell, the two sides embraced and united, and Germany became one country. But the reality is far from that. I had to remind myself of the chaos and power vacuum that followed. Suddenly there is no police, there is no structure. It is as if this country is being emptied and no one knows what will become of it. The country has to reinvent itself, like many of our characters ”.
Anna adds: “We were always writing in the gray areas of history. You know what happened, but there were still some murky questions about who, what, when, why. As with Able Archer. “This was a NATO war game, a simulation of an escalating conflict leading to a nuclear attack. In 1983, the Soviets thought it was a real thing and prepared their forces.” We still don’t know what happened there, but it was a lot of fun to include Martin in that. From the beginning, we cast this character as someone who was ultimately going to be the future of a united Germany, in the sense that he’s from East Germany but he has seen the world ”.
We first meet Martin Rauch, aka Moritz Stamm, codename Kolibri (meaning hummingbird), as a naive GDR border guard, living a relatively quiet life with his pregnant girlfriend and ailing mother in the socialist suburbs. East Berlin. During a gripping scene in the new breathless series, Martin takes time to reflect on his six-year journey as a spy. “He was actually a border guard,” he says, in this rare moment of sincerity. “Then my father appeared and broke my finger, just because I couldn’t play the piano. Then my aunt poisoned me and took me west. But I avoided a nuclear war! Then I had to hide, in Angola. So I just wanted to get my old life back, a normal life. It was nice but a bit boring. Now they won’t leave me alone. All the secret services keep bothering me. “
Jonas Nay, who plays Martin, takes off his mask after wandering the empty streets of Berlin to talk to me on Zoom. The actor has brought to his character a bewildered, wide-eyed and youthful humanity who, in the service of his country, has mutilated, murdered, lied, seduced, stabbed in the back and even flirted with the Rajneeshpuram cult (which was the theme of Netflix documentary Wild Wild Country). “Martin is one of the few people who has really seen both sides and has a very clear view of them. Has perspective. If you take Martin as a point of view on the cold war, he has a very broad vision. You have to find your own moral compass. That’s what writers always say. “
Nay is almost the same age as reunified Germany: she celebrated her 30th birthday a month before the 30th day of reunification last October. I ask him if he has any memories of Germany trying to rebuild itself. “It is not a problem for people of my generation. But if you look at people, the age of my parents, it’s part of how they define people: what is their political history in Germany, whether they grew up under socialism or capitalism. The German people have had to redefine themselves so often. “
Reinvention is a big theme at Deutschland 89. After all, the country has undergone four regime changes in just over a century, sweeping away a new currency, new borders, new political systems and new flags each time. Nay grew up in Lübeck, West Germany, 5 km from the eastern border. When he was initially researching his role, he started asking a lot of questions. “My parents told me how, the night the Wall fell, they went out into the street and everyone was honking their horns, hugging and waving. They said that harmony was in the air. They remember that all the Orientals came and went to the first supermarket they came to: Aldi. Within minutes it was empty. They took everything in case they had to return. “
Groth had to return to what was once Soviet East Germany almost daily during filming, as his set was in the former headquarters of the Stasi, or secret police. “It was horrible filming there,” he says. “This bad environment. You knew horrible decisions were made there. You can still feel it, because the furniture is still there, the curtains are still there. It is a museum of terror. I had a hard time saying, ‘No, don’t be intimidated by this shit. Do your part and go home. It was not easy “.
Memories of the cold war now seem very important to everyone, but when the Wingers first conceived the series, they had no idea how it would be received. “We never expected it to be so relevant,” says Anna. “When we were doing 83 for the first time, I said to Joerg, ‘Will people remember the cold war? Will we have to explain what it is? Then Russia invaded the Crimea and suddenly everyone was talking about it. In fact, you start to think, ‘Wait, is this happening because I’m writing it?’ In a way, the past is a prism to see our current struggles. “
One of the most striking things about the trilogy is how much of what we see seems to be reflected in the present: the paranoia of being monitored by the state; the violation of personal freedoms; the disinformation bubble; the reinforcement of borders; the questions about what nationalism and patriotism really mean.
“When the Wall fell,” says Joerg, “there could have been violence. The guards sitting on their watchtowers had been told that there were madmen who wanted to destroy the GDR. And these guards were willing to go out and kill everyone if asked, because of the propaganda. If you hear the same story over and over again, you will believe it. I think that’s what we’re up against now. “
George is Digismak’s reported cum editor with 13 years of experience in Journalism