For many people, as living standards fall and geo-political tensions between Russia and the US rise again, it can seem like life is one collective experience of Déjà vu. Just last year, more people purchased music that isn’t a recent release than they did new releases, a first in human history. Hidden among the cinema listings, we’ll find reboots of the Terminator, Robocop and other 80s classics. Just as old political tensions push themselves to the fore, Nostalgia proves very bankable for the Entertainment industry.
As such, it comes as no surprise that Anna & Joerg Winger’s ‘Deutschland ’83’ has proven to be such a hit with Channel 4 viewers. The fictional drama is set in a divided Germany during 1983, Reagan has given his ‘Evil Empire’ speech and the Stasi concoct a plan to obtain intelligence in order to prepare Honecker’s DDR for a first strike. The plan? Take an unassuming Border Guard and plant him in the West German Military as an Aide to General Edel, the man who is in charge of West Germany’s military, as well as being in the middle of negotiations with the US over the deployment of Pershing II nuclear missiles in the country.
As much as anything without Smartphones will look like an outdated period drama to our generation, through the use of stock footage, a particularly great ( if not cheesy) 80s soundtrack and a very accurate recreation of life in the Stalinist DDR, mean the Wingers create an atmosphere that feels like it is real, and that makes the paranoia that is an almost visible fog throughout the series, just as inescapable for the viewer as it is for the Stasi and NATO officials who choke on its grasp.
Unlike our history books which tell a very certain story about the Cold War; the Wingers don’t opt for an obsolete moral plot device of good versus evil. Instead this is a story about a divided humanity blinded by their respective ideologies and paranoia, where both sides have their moments of balancing the fine line of morally good and morally questionable actions in pursuit of their goals. As Martin plants bugs and seduces secretaries, you understand the DDR doesn’t have the luxury of the Snowden era levels of Mass Surveillance across Europe (even if it came close with its 90,000 Ministry of State Defence staff and 180,000 informants) and wants to be able to defend itself from a nuclear strike. Likewise the West, believing the ‘Domino Theory’ and exaggerated estimates of Soviet strength, feared an attack from the East. In ‘Deutschland ’83,’ there are no heroes, but you are never sure who the villains are either.
‘Deutschland 83’ has many strengths, the ability to make us empathise with people involved in almost every facet of the Cold War, from NATO to Peace movements and even the Stasi. It’s accurate portrayal of life behind the ‘Iron Curtain’ with the omniscient Stasi and loyal informants and even the cheesy 80s soundtrack. Now that they have ensnared a global audience, the Wingers have the opportunity to create something as memorable and poignant as ‘This is England.’ Deutschland ’89 and ’91 anyone?
‘Deutschland ’83’ is on Channel 4 at 9pm every Sunday, alternatively you can catch up online.
Tyler is the Editor of The Last Round, you can follow him on Twitter.