Hats off to Channel Four for realising that there is a world outside UK and that there are countries other than USA and Britain that make television programmes. This excellent series was broadcast under the umbrella ‘Walter Presents…’, the channel’s attempt to celebrate the best of world television.
I was hooked on this series about the young East German man sent into West Germany to complete a mission to ‘save his country’. There may have been some plausibility issues about an untrained and ordinary person sent to do a highly complex spying mission behind enemy lines but the programme had such heart that I ‘allowed’ these gaps and enjoyed the story.
Martin Rauch is a border guard when we first encounter him. He is compelled to go to West Germany as Moritz Stamm, a young soldier in the West German army and an aide to a top ranking General. Martin/Moritz is played by Jonas Nay the loyal East German whose commitment to his country owes more to family and the familiar than to any ideology. Unfortunately for him, his Aunt is a high ranking official in the Stasi and her need of an agent overrides her sister’s objections about losing her only son. Martin’s reservations about leaving his single mother are ignored when he is drugged and taken across the border against his will.
The Cold War was frozen in place in 1983 and the suspicion each side had for the other was clearly seen. Martin/Moritz sees up close the ease with which misunderstandings can have serious consequences and he becomes the ordinary person who tries to get his superiors (on both sides) to see that misunderstandings could lead to war. Even though the history is known, the series builds up the suspense and I was reminded that we did live through a period when we thought the other side wanted to kill us.
What the drama did best of all was to show that fear of the other side provided motivation enough to keep the Cold War going. As with many global conflicts winning is less important than making sure the other side didn’t win. Generals, diplomats, spies and politicians all play a part in perpetuating the mistrust.
The best scene of all: an overwhelmed Martin/Moritz in a West German supermarket for the first time facing the range of goods on offer.
‘Deutschland 83’ is in my hinterland. What’s in yours?
In the mid 80s I lived without a television. When, for various reasons, I bought a new set, I discovered this American series. It was broadcast by Channel 4 each Sunday evening and for the first three series, at least, I was charmed by its portrayal of growing up in the 60s. As this was the era when I grew up, it particularly appealed to me. This was an age when the differences between America and Great Britain were still remarkable so it still had the sense of a different world and I thought all things American were bigger, brighter, better than what we had in the UK.
Fred Savage as Kevin was truly remarkable, mostly because he was so unremarkable as a school kid. He could have been the school kid next door.
The evocation of an era played well with my age group as we had reached the age when we realised that we could be nostalgic for an earlier time just as our parents had been, and which we found so annoying! For this reason the narration by an older Kevin, voiced by Daniel Stern, worked particularly well.
Kevin, his best friend Paul Pfieffer, and Winnie Cooper formed the small circle around which the normal trials of childhood and adolescence played. We had Kevin’s point of view to guide us. Later series moved the story on from the 60s to the 70s but I tuned out before then, not though without keeping fond memories for this slice of television history.
‘The Wonder Years’ is in my hinterland. What’s in yours?
This novel by David Grossman is an amazing work of art. The story of a relationship between three friends and the families they build is explored against the backdrop of a walk through the land of Israel. It was translated to English by Jessica Cohen.
Ora, Avram and Ilan met as teenagers when all three were confined in hospital. Ora fell in love with both boys and the boys remained firm friends as they grew up. In the present, we learn that Ilan and Ora married but have split up. They have two sons from this marriage. Adam, the older, is abroad with Ilan. Ofer, the younger son is due to trek through Israel with his mother to celebrate the end of his period of compulsory service.
There is a military emergency, though, and Ofer volunteers to extend his service, much to his mother’s dismay. Fearing a visit from the notifiers that her son has fallen in battle, she decides to take the trek anyway and she insists that her old friend Avram comes too. The original Hebrew title translates as ‘A Woman Escapes from a Message’. This expresses more closely the sense of doom Ora feels at her son’s return to the army.
As she and Avram walk, we learn the story of the complicated relationships between the three friends and the even more complicated way their family was constructed. The story is also a story of key moments in the history of the country. Battles for survival, imprisonment, peace campaigns and the dilemmas faced when dealing with Palestinians all form part of this story.
Part of the power of the book comes from the sense of doom that Ora feels. The fate of her son, off fighting, hovers over the novel as you read. The experiences of the older generation led to a hope that things would be better and that their children would not have to go through the same things.
‘To the End of the Land’ is in my hinterland. What’s in yours?
When in Birmingham, I went in search of the peace gardens I had heard about. It is a small park in the centre of the city, in the grounds of a church that was bombed in a 1940 bombing raid. Part of the church still stands but the area around it is now a monument to peace and a memorial to those killed in global conflicts.
Each religion is represented with a message to peace and individuals and groups are honoured with plaques. The park has been here since the 50s but it was in 1995, to mark the anniversary of the end of the Second World War, that the Peace Garden idea was created here. In 1998 global leaders, in the city for the 1998 G8 conference, planted trees here to act as a living reminder of the need to strive for peace in the world.
I came on a very wet day with nobody else around. It meant that there was a sense of calm. I felt as I always do in areas dedicated to peace. The references to the military and those who died fighting are meshed with messages of hope for peace. It is not always a happy combination of ideas.
However, the principle of remembering what happened here during a war is an important one and the messages of peace at least express the hope that future wars will be avoided. Perhaps some form of indicator is needed to show how many wars we have been involved in since 1995 would be a good addition.
I was in Birmingham so went off in search of a relatively new public work of art, one that was unveiled just after my last visit to the city in 2014.
The statue is of an ‘ordinary family’. It shows two single mums who are sisters with their children. One of the mothers is pregnant. They are holding hands and are ‘captured’ as if walking forwards. The statue is in Centenary Square outside the amazing Library of Birmingham. Artist Gillian Wearing wanted to represent a real family and the people immortalised here show just how different families can be in this modern age. The children are both boys and there is no sign of a father for either. Neither do we know where they live and that, I suppose, adds to the symbolism of being one family representing all others.
‘A Real Birmingham Family’ is in my hinterland. What’s in yours?