Deutschland 83 – TV Series Review
Deutschland 83, created by Anna and Jörg Winger and released in 2015, is a spy thriller about a young East German agent in West Germany. It stars Jonas Ney.
Deutschland 83: Logline
In 1980s Germany, the East German secret police send a young soldier to West Germany as a spy. When the spy’s masters misinterpret the strategy papers he steals as a plan for an imminent attack on East Germany, he tries to prevent the Cold War turning hot.
Deutschland 83: Plot Summary
Warning: My plot summaries contain spoilers. The major spoilers are blacked out like this [blackout]secret[/blackout]. To view them, just select/highlight them.
Aside: Episode Titles
If you’re wondering why the episode titles are so odd, it’s because they’re the names of NATO military exercises.
Episode 1: Quantum Jump
It’s 1983. Martin Rauch is a 24-year-old East German border guard. His aunt, who works for the Stasi (East German intelligence) recruits him as a spy. Martin is reluctant, but his aunt promises him that his mother will be given life-saving surgery for kidney failure if he complies. Martin is given a new identity and sent to infiltrate the office of a West German general.
Episode 2: Brave Guy
The Stasi order Martin to steal a NATO analyst’s report on nuclear strategy during a conference. He succeeds, but a mysterious Chinese woman attacks him. [blackout]After he fights her off, the blame for the missing report falls on her rather than Martin.[/blackout]
Episode 3: Atlantic Lion
In Brussels, the Stasi assign Martin to seduce the NATO analyst’s secretary, Linda. [blackout]Martin succeeds in seducing Linda, and uses his new access to plant a bug in the NATO analyst’s desk.[/blackout]
Episode 4: Northern Wedding
Linda, who has fallen in love with Martin, comes to West Germany to meet him. Meanwhile, a cleaner finds the bug in Linda’s desk. Martin comes under suspicion because of his relationship with Linda. [blackout]He tries to recruit Linda, but she refuses and a Stasi assassin kills her. Suspicion falls on the NATO analyst, who had also had an affair with Linda. Disgraced, the analyst kills himself.[/blackout]
Episode 5: Cold Fire
Martin’s mother needs to have her kidney transplant, and the only possible donor is Martin. He must get to East Berlin after delivering a package. [blackout]The package is the detonator for a bomb, which is immediately used. Appalled, Martin chases the bomber and kills him.[/blackout] Martin’s friend in the West German Army, who has become more and more disenchanted with the danger of nuclear war, offers his services to the Stasi.
Episode 6: Brandy Station
Martin’s friend takes an American general hostage. The Stasi order Martin to release the general so as not to destabilise East-West relations. [blackout]Martin succeeds, but another agent dies, leaving Martin even more isolated.[/blackout]
Episode 7: Bold Guard
NATO’s war game Able Archer starts. Martin realises the East Germans and Soviets think it’s a real attack. [blackout]He blows his cover to warn his West German superiors that the exercise risks a nuclear war. They don’t believe him and arrest him instead. Martin escapes and heads back to East Germany in an attempt to convince his superiors that the exercise is not a cover for a surprise attack.[/blackout]
Episode 8: Able Archer
The Soviets prepare a pre-emptive nuclear strike against the West as Able Archer starts its (simulated) nuclear attack. [blackout]Martin sneaks into Stasi headquarters and convinces them the exercise is just an exercise, averting the Soviet missile strike.[/blackout]
Deutschland 83: Analysis
Deutschland 83 has a Mission plot (see spy movie plots).
The ‘Mission’ Plot
- Is given a mission to carry out by their Mentor.
- Will be opposed by the Antagonist as they try to complete the mission.
- Makes a plan to complete the Mission.
- Trains and gathers resources for the Mission.
- Involves one or more Allies in their Mission (Optionally, there is a romance sub-plot with one of the Allies).
- Attempts to carry out the Mission, dealing with further Allies and Enemies as they meet them.
- Is betrayed by an Ally or the Mentor (optionally).
- Narrowly avoids capture by the Antagonist (or is captured and escapes).
- Has a final confrontation with the Antagonist and completes (or fails to complete) the Mission.
Deutschland 83 is a secret history (see What is Alternative History?) Secret history is fiction that supposedly shows ‘what really happened’ or ‘what happened behind the scenes’. As a secret history, Deutschland 83 has a strong background in real events.
In the early eighties, the Reagan administration’s rhetoric and weapons build up had brought Cold War hysteria to a peak, convincing many Soviet leaders that Reagan was preparing a nuclear first strike.
So, when NATO launched Able Archer, an exercise designed to test procedures for nuclear weapon release, the Soviet leadership became convinced it was a ruse de guerre for a surprise nuclear attack and readied their own missiles. Deutschland 83 dramatises that crisis.
In reality, NATO noticed the Soviet preparations, but didn’t react with further escalation, reducing Soviet panic. The exercise eventually wound down without NATO realising quite how close a nuclear war had been.
Later, spies reported how seriously the Soviets had taken Able Archer. President Reagan said those reports convinced him that the Soviets were genuinely afraid of America, and that revelation persuaded him to negotiate nuclear arms reductions.
Many other events mentioned or shown in Deutschland 83 were also real: Reagan’s depiction of the Soviet Union as an ‘Evil Empire’, the Korean aircraft shot down by the Soviets, the peace movement, the controversial deployment of Intermediate Range Missiles, and the bombing of ‘La Maison de France’ in West Berlin, for example.
Also, Deutschland 83 was filmed at the real Stasi headquarters, which is now a museum.
Deutschland 83 reminded me a bit of The Americans – it’s set in the same era, around the same events and with a similar underlying premise – Eastern Bloc concern about a NATO attack, fed by President Reagan’s rhetoric. Both series revolve around attempts to use espionage to discover NATO’s true intentions.
Atomic Blonde is also set in Germany in the same era, although slightly later, in 1989, and with a plot not based on real events. It’s stylistically quite similar to Deutschland 83 with a terrific soundtrack of 80s hits and featuring retro 80s gadgets and fashion.
Reality: Rainer Rupp
The story in Deutschland 83 is partly based on the activities of a real spy, Rainer Rupp. The main difference is that Rupp was not an East German infiltrator but a West German recruited by the Stasi whilst at university.
The Stasi asked Rupp to join the NATO staff, which he did in 1977. Throughout the 1980s Rupp passed thousands of documents on NATO strategy to the Stasi. Rupp claims that in 1983 he transmitted documents proving that Able Archer was not a surprise attack to his Stasi handlers, and that this prevented a nuclear war.
In 1993, Germany finally caught Rupp, and he received a twelve year prison sentence.
Deutschland 83: My Verdict
A great series. One of my favourites of the last few years.
Want to Read or Watch It?
Here’s the trailer:
The producer has plans for Deutschland 86 – with Martin returning to Germany after years abroad, and Deutschland 89 – covering the fall of the Berlin Wall and the end of the Cold War.
Let’s hope so.
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