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?