sat 25/09/2021

Deutschland 89, Channel 4 review - the Wall comes down, what next? | reviews, news & interviews

Deutschland 89, Channel 4 review - the Wall comes down, what next?

Deutschland 89, Channel 4 review - the Wall comes down, what next?

Compulsive start to final series of the East German spy drama that's much more

Guarded confidence: Jonas Nay as Martin Rauch

Joerg and Anna Winger’s gripping drama of East Germany, a loose portrait set over the final decade of that country’s existence, has reached its culmination, and this first episode of Deutschland 89 landed us right in the unpredictable maelstrom of history.

Following on from Deutschland 83 and Deutschland 86, the thriller and espionage elements of those two predecessors have been folded with true aplomb into the real-life events that reached their unforeseen conclusion with crowds of East Germans breaking through the Berlin Wall – or the “Anti-Fascist Protection Rampart”, as it’s occasionally referred to in certain quarters here – late on the night of November 9 1989. The forces of fear, not to mention the ideology, that had ruled the GDR seemed gone in a moment.

Jonas Nay picks up as the series’ winning hero, Martin Rauch – surely no one else could manage quite that look of wide-eyed, puppyish innocence – with a growing, if still carefully guarded confidence. He has come a long way from the naive border guard whose recruitment as a spy became a baptism of fire which saw him narrowly averting nuclear meltdown at the end of Deutschland 83. The follow-up series felt like something of a detour after that, with Martin put out to grass in Africa, before his inimitable aunt Lenora (Maria Schrader) brought him in to assist with her arms-dealing shenanigans. Though we were kept abreast of events back home, the thrust of the drama moved into rather more predictable thriller territory.

Martin was at another crossroads of history, hovering Zelig-like around the edges

Deutschland 86 ended with Lenora in custody in West Berlin – her shock was considerable, but if anyone is going to rebound, it will be her! – and Martin back in the ranks of the HVA, the foreign spy branch of the Stasi, where he had begun six years earlier. Quite which master he was serving now remained another matter, however – was it the KGB in Moscow, where childhood sweetheart Annett has somehow ended up, or the BND, the West German Intelligence Service, with which he had been developing more recent romantic attachments? The acronyms alone were daunting. The Wingers have cleverly left certain plot details between the series loose, meaning that we were plunged into the ongoing action, rather like Martin himself, and left to work out just what was happening. Or did he actually know very well, and was off on his own path, just as he had with that “Able Archer” nuclear standoff back in 1983?

Anyway, here he was at another crossroads of history, hovering Zelig-like around the edges. The creators of Deutschland 89 have gleefully tweaked their history, but they certainly captured to the full the drama of those fateful hours that saw crowds of East Berliners flocking through Checkpoint Charlie. The immediate issue at stake was when travel restrictions for East Germans, who had anyway been crossing to the West for some time via Czechoslovakia, would be relaxed. In almost off-the-cuff closing remarks at that evening’s press conference we witnessed Party spokesperson Günter Schabowski coming out with those fateful words, “As far as I know... effective immediately, without delay...”.Deutschland 89 textThe rest, as we all know, is history. It certainly caught everyone by surprise, from the gatherings of dissidents whose dreams had suddenly come true to the CIA listening room in the American Embassy, where the euphoria seemed somehow less infectious. Nowhere more so, however, than at HVA headquarters itself, a location we have come to know rather well from the organisations’s hopeless attempts to earn foreign currency that were a recurring leitmotif in series two. It’s practically second home for Martin now, given that his mother Ingrid seems to have found a job there, not to mention Walter, the father he had only discovered back in the first series, who's still a fixture even though his career hasn't recovered fom the upsets of what happened back then. It was a priceless moment as the whole crowd, gathered in that joyless conference room, watched those television images of border guards letting people through the Wall, accompanied by the Bach Mass “Kyrie Eleison” that gave this first episode its title. (Pictured above: Jonas Nay with Niels Bormann, as Fritz Hartmann)

Spy boss Markus Fuchs was speechless, but was soon reassured out of his dark thoughts by his secret girlfriend Barbara, the one who has actually been pulling the strings at the outfit for ages, that any radical change meant “new opportunities and new winners”. There was a wonderful bathos as she reminded him that she was no Eva Braun and this was no bunker, bringing home how the Wingers have added a subtly parodic slant to their depictions of these unlikely, often really rather incompetent apparatchiks who have somehow ended up at the apex of GDR power. Their future antics look set to be no less improbably comic.

“The country has to reinvent itself, as do a lot of our characters,” the co-writers have said of the protagonists of this final series, and their Deutschland trilogy has been at its best when it’s stuck close to the human emotions of the individuals who make up the population of the nation that is here heading towards oblivion. We have taken them seriously, we have believed in, and with them. The observation of the details of everyday life has been no less insightful than the humour has been generous, all of it accompanied by a lovely (though more muted here than before) musical score from Reinhold Heil, and foregrounded in the production design of Lars Lange that catches the inhuman style of the public spaces particularly well.

Martin looks like he has a new love interest coming along in the form of feisty teacher Nicole, who turned up unexpectedly in the long bar scene at the centre of this first episode. She exclaimed at one point that it would be better “if this shitty country just collapsed”, a sentiment widely shared by all present. But a moment before Martin has been talking with his Robotron friends, who have just received the new apartment that they thought would take years to materialise. What’s better, they ponder, a new flat – or the chance to head for the West, where they will feel almost refugees? Bliss was it in that dawn to be alive. No doubt. But the longterm adjustments will be far more gruelling, as East Germany recedes into history: it’s even harder, after all, to go home again when that home itself has gone for good.

We were plunged into the ongoing action, rather like Martin himself, and left to work out just what was happening

rating

Editor Rating: 
4
Average: 4 (1 vote)

Share this article

Add comment

newsletter

Get a weekly digest of our critical highlights in your inbox each Thursday!

Simply enter your email address in the box below

View previous newsletters