Yes I know this was broadcast on British TV months ago, and was broadcast on German and American TV a year ago, but it’s the kind of show that needs time taken on it! I’ve decided to do an episode by episode review, as there is so much to talk about, and with hindsight I wish I’d have done that with My Mad Fat Diary. So Deutschland 83 joins Doctor Who and Inside No. 9 in the club of shows I’ve done an episode by episode review.
Deutschland 83 has been very popular here in Britain, it has the honour of being the highest rated foreign language drama to be broadcast on UK TV. The theme tune in Germany is ‘Blue Monday’ by New Order. I like ‘Blue Monday’ as much as anyone, but it’s been played so much in the UK and seems a bit “on the nose” for an ’80s set drama. The theme tune for the UK broadcast is ‘Major Tom (Coming Home)’ by The Shermer High Brat Pack, and I think suits the feel of series a lot more. Also the title sequence we got in the UK is a lot artier, the German one has stock footage of ’80s news reports projected on Jonas Nay’s topless torso.
So, after that lengthy introduction, let’s get down to the first episode, ‘Quantum Jump’.
It’s 1983 in Germany, which is divided by the Berlin Wall, West Germany is capitalist and allied with Western Europe and the United States of America, East Germany is communist and allied with the Soviet Union.
American President Ronald Reagan is shown calling the Soviet Union “The Evil Empire” on TV. East Germany are concerned about this, seeing it as a possible threat of attack. Walter Schweppenstette (Sylvester Groth) a general in the East and Lenora Raunch (Maria Schrader), the cultural attaché for East Germany in the West, talk on the phone about it. They decide they need to send in a spy.
Martin Raunch (Jonas Nay), is a 24-year-old border patrol a guard in East Germany. He is Lenora’s nephew. He is good at his job, and likes football and chess. He has no formal training as a spy, but the East German army wants him to go undercover. Walter and Lenora go over to visit him and ask him to become a spy in West Germany. He says no, as his girlfriend Annett (Sonja Gerhardt) lives in the East and his mother, Ingrid (Carina Wiese), is ill. She needs dialysis and a kidney transplant. Her condition is getting worse, and she will soon requires medicine only available in the West.
Unfortunately for Martin, they aren’t taking no for an answer. Walter spikes Martin’s coffee and sprains his finger!
Martin wakes up in Bonn, West Germany, with his hand bandaged. Lenora is there, and he also Professor Tobias Tischbier (Alexander Beyer) who is also an undercover spy for East Germany. Lenora gives Martin Western clothes, but after changing into them he escapes.
Martin runs to a supermarket, and is stunned by the amount of choice on offer, all the fruit and vegetables. Tischbier catches up to him and grabs him. Martin tells him he wants to go home, to which Tischbier replies he’s been there since 1961 and they can’t be selfish and have to do it for the good of all of East Germany.
Tischbier takes Martin to a park and gives him a doughnut. Martin thinks its tasty, Tischbier tells him it is “full of chemicals” and “people’s health is irrelevant here”. He says Western food is full of chemicals to keep the citizens lazy and complacent. Martin imagined the West differently, and wonders where they hold their parades. He is told the West doesn’t have parades. “The luxury of the West is that no-one pays attention to you”. This conversation was interesting to see from a modern perspective, as people today have said similar things about the amount of chemicals we put in our food. There’s also how someone such as Martin raised in an oppressive regime and given little information about the world outside would have an effect on how he thinks it would be like.
Martin is given the identity of Moritz Stamm, a West German soldier who the East have murdered, and who Martin fits the profile of in all but ability to play the piano (that’s why they sprained his finger). His code name is Kolibri.
Moritz (as all the characters call him while he’s in West Germany) goes to the West German army base. There he reports to General Wolfgang Edel (Ulrich Noethen) where he is to work as his aide, and finds that his room mate is Alex Edel (Ludwig Trepte), who is the General’s son, and we find out Alex is a supporter of the Green Party.
General Edel is meeting with his American counterpart General Arnold Jackson (Errol Trotman Harewood). General Edel is worried about West Germany being caught in the crossfire of conflict between the US and the USSR, as were many people in Western Europe at the time. A nuclear attack from either side would have terrible consequences for Western Europe. “The fallout alone would destroy us”. Later on in the episode he says to Moritz the same thing, it’s easy for Reagan to call the Soviets an evil empire when he doesn’t have to worry about missiles coming to his house.
When both the generals are gone, Moritz picks the lock on General Jackson’s briefcase and photographs the intelligence files.
Moritz is invited to General Edel’s family barbecue. We meet Edel’s wife Ursula (Anna von Berg) and his singer daughter Yvonne (Lisa Tomaschewsky).
While Moritz is there, he makes a call to Annett in East Germany, and is spotted doing so by Ursula’s sister Renate (Beate Maes)! Another East German spy, Lieutenant Karl Kramer (Godehard Giese) gives him something to put in her drink, which makes her appear drunk and will block her memory of tonight’s events.
Lenora meets Moritz, and tells him his photographs gave them reason to believe the West are planning an attack on the East, so she wants him to find out when. She blackmails him essentially, saying she can get Ingrid on a kidney transplant list if he co-operates, but not if he doesn’t. Moritz says how can Lenora seem so uncaring about Ingrid, who is her sister, Lenora replies similar to what Tobias did, reasoning that “there are millions of East German lives at stake, not just one”.
What I found most interesting about this drama at first was the historical context. I liked that the English language subtitles also explained who people in the archive footage were. While I was born in the ’80s, I don’t really remember anything about the Cold War. The closest thing that I do remember is Linka from Captain Planet being from the Soviet Union! In that respect, I found this series informative.
A woman I work with who was living in West Germany in the 1980s said it has got how it felt at the time spot on.
East and West Germany don’t look that different. I had imagined the East looking very different, but it doesn’t really, other than the East looking like it has less money. But culturally, they are massively different. The West is more cosmopolitan and racially diverse, and has more influence of English and American words. There’s a brief sequence where Martin has to learn to say different words for things. Essentially it’s like being divided by a common language.
People of Martin’s generation would have lived their whole lives in a divided Germany, and would only been babies before the Berlin Wall was built, so they won’t know any different, and it is quite an interesting layer that they are played by actors who have only ever known a unified Germany, Jonas Nay for example was born in 1990.
Some little moments here and there I liked about this episode:
’99 Luftballons’ by Nena is playing in both the East and the West. Ironic and suitable, as it is about fear of being in the middle of a nuclear apocalypse.
Lenora sneaks some Nescafe into West Germany. It’s implied she does this regularly for Walter, but on this occasion she lied to Walter that she forgot to bring any, and keeps this one to give to her sister Ingrid.
Seeing Woolworths. That doesn’t exist anymore, in the UK anyway.
Generel Edel’s stern, humourless, bespectacled tweed wearing secretary Frau Netz (Michaela Caspar) gained a bit of a cult following here in the UK.
Wolfgang calls his pet fish his “silent friends”. Those poor fish get anger at Wolfgang taken out on them later in the series.
‘Quantum Jump’ was a very strong first episode and the acting is great. Jonas Nay in particular is very good in the lead, he is very likeable, and it has to be said he is gorgeous too.