After the success of Deutschland 83 and Deutschland 86, the German-American Cold War spy drama returns for its third and final series, Deutschland 89. After serving the East German secret service in West Germany and South Africa, secret agent Martin Rauch is back in East Berlin, and he’s a highly desirable asset. But how will Martin, and the cast of characters that have followed him across the first two seasons, weather the storm of 1989?
Photo: Deutschland89 via Facebook
Wenn ich’s nicht tue, tut’s niemand’ (If I don’t do it, no one will). Martin Rauch, Deutschland 89 ’s protagonist, is well aware of the central role he has played in the Cold War so far. After all, he is the man who prevented nuclear war in the climactic finale of Deutschland 83. In Deutschland 86, he extended that experience, seeking to save the GDR from bankruptcy by facilitating black market arms deals. He has even been immortalised in a bestselling novel in the West titled Die Legende von Kolibri (The Legend of Kolibri). With the Cold War coming to an end, it seems inevitable that the gutsy, globetrotting secret agent ‘Kolibri’ will be forced out of retirement. And in the chaos of 1989, his ‘legend’ is brought to a breath-taking conclusion.
It doesn’t take long before Martin (Jonas Nay), is thrust right back into the thick of the action. Initially, the HVA acquire his services as they seek to thwart Egon Krenz’s reformist government. In his first mission, he goes rogue once again, persuading a gullible party official that a radical relaxation of travel restrictions has the green light from the Kremlin. This, we are told, is the reason that Günter Schabowski, a member of the East German politburo, erroneously declared that East Germans would be free to leave the country with immediate effect. The result? The fall of the Berlin Wall. Martin’s Forrest Gump-like penchant for being in the right place at the right time continues, and, while ludicrous, loses nothing of its charm.
In terms of pace and scale, the third part of the trilogy is a return to the epic grandeur of Deutschland 83, with the focus of the series returning to Germany, and specifically to Berlin, the epicentre of the Cold War. Though we are faced with familiar powers and familiar faces from the HVA and the BND, in Deutschland 89, an array of new political players enter the fray. The far-left West German Rote Armee Fraktion (RAF), the Romanian Securitate and the Italian Communist Party all have a role to play.
In terms of pace and scale, the third part of the trilogy is a return to the epic grandeur of Deutschland 83, with the focus of the series returning to Germany, and specifically to Berlin, the epicentre of the Cold War.
And to make matters even more complicated for Kolibri, the KGB are on his tail, looking to reunite his son Max with his mother who is now living in Moscow. Jonas Nay’s performance as Martin reminds us of his remarkable versatility; on the one hand, he gives Martin the secret agent the send-off he deserves, while still developing the new dimension to his character: Martin the single parent. In moments of crisis and comedy alike, this is the series where Nay has really come into his own.
Jonas Nay as Martin Rauch. Photo: Deutschland89 via Facebook
Martin finds an invaluable new ally, and later a new girlfriend, in his son’s new teacher Nicole Zangen. As we have learnt from his ill-fated experiments in the previous two series, romantic relationships are never easy in Kolibri’s line of work. For the first time in the trilogy, Martin will have to learn to let his guard down and look to the long-term. The bumpy ride of this new relationship, as Martin looks to separate the personal from the political, is one of 89’s most intriguing elements.
Nicole expresses her nostalgia for the nation where ‘she knew the rules’ of the game, prompting Martin to lament that ‘there are no rules’ amid the turmoil of 1989. Portraying the collapse of the Cold War world order is no mean feat. It’s no easier when you’re looking to tie up loose ends in a franchise of epic proportions. On the whole, Anna and Jörg Winger, the husband-and-wife team behind the show, rise to the challenge. The many strands of the plot are interwoven with ease, and the frenetic pace of political change is kept in check by moments of smaller-scale personal drama. This is especially impressive given that they only had eight episodes to work with, two fewer than the previous instalment of the show, Deutschland 86. Expository dialogue is snappy and succinct, used smartly to fill in the gaps in the historical narrative.
The many strands of the plot are interwoven with ease, and the frenetic pace of political change is kept in check by moments of smaller-scale personal drama.
But not every strand of the plot proves successful. The interactions between the CIA agent Hector Valdez (Raul Casso), and his interactions with Brigitte Winkelmann (Lavinia Wilson) are the show’s weak link, and their wooden, unconvincing love-hate relationship takes away precious screen time from characters who played pivotal roles in previous series. Former mainstays Tobias Tischbier, Rose Seithathi, Ingrid Rauch (Martin’s mother) and Barbara Dietrich are relegated to the sidelines. Their comparative insignificance comes to feel like a cruel consequence of the fall of the GDR.
Though the show has often been billed as political drama or Cold War spy fiction, its third and final instalment devotes more energy to comedy than ever before. Beyond the principal characters, the world of Deutschland 89 is populated by caricatures of intransigent GDR bigwigs and stuck-up West German businessmen. And the creators don’t steer clear of farcical, laugh-out-loud comedy, either. Martin’s hilarious trip on magic mushrooms while tracking communist radicals proves to be one of the highlights of the series.
Another powerful comedic tool is the archive footage, with the montages at times reminiscent of those used in Wolfgang Becker’s Good Bye, Lenin! (2003), where the protagonist seeks to create a bubble of the GDR to protect his mother from a second heart attack. As in Becker’s film, a montage of images from the fall of the Berlin Wall is playfully set to music. In Becker’s film, the collapse of the GDR is accompanied by a triumphant rendition of ‘Auferstanden aus Ruinen’, the East German national anthem, as the protagonist Alex seeks to persuade his mother that the East had in fact emerged from the Cold War victorious, and that Germany would be reunited under the banner of socialism.
Another powerful comedic tool is the archive footage, with the montages at times reminiscent of those used in Wolfgang Becker’s Good Bye, Lenin! (2003)
In Deutschland 89, it is Bach’s Mass in B Minor, specifically Kyrie Eleison (Lord, have Mercy), the first movement of his Mass in B minor, that blasts out in the background as we watch East Germans crossing the border with glee. After the vocal crescendo of Bach’s first movement, Major General Walter Schweppenstette’s ‘Oh, mein Gott!’ (Oh my God!) is a hilarious anti-climax. Ultimately, even the secular Stasi need divine consolation when their so-called Anti-Fascist Protection Rampart comes tumbling down.
The Deutschland trilogy may stop short of German Reunification, but it doesn’t steer clear of its implications. Time and again, we are reminded of just how devastating the decline of the GDR has been. The East German old guard lament the fact that people have become ‘thin-skinned’, the world doesn’t make sense any more, and even with a whiff of new freedom, socialist solidarity slips away. Meanwhile, the BND and CIA proclaim the victory of capitalism over a drab and dismal East German state.
Helmut Kohl’s election promise of ‘blühende Landschaften’ (blooming landscapes) for GDR citizens is repeated endlessly, exposing the West German Chancellor’s empty election campaign rhetoric. Not every East German is convinced. Martin’s Aunt Lenora remains a stalwart supporter of the socialist cause. On hearing of the news that the Wall has fallen, she is far from convinced by the ideological shift: ‘People are screaming for freedom and capitalism is what they’ll get.’
The prosperity promised by Kohl and his allies is still yet to materialise for many East Germans, over thirty years down the line. With its eyes open to Germany’s past, present and future, this series is much more than a mere historical snapshot. Though the Cold War spy narrative is coming to a close, it gives way to the beginning of a new story: namely, that of reunited Germany. Ultimately, it’s a win-win: we get a satisfying end to our story, but also plenty of thought-provoking 'what-ifs' that turn our attention to the present day.
Watch the official trailer for Deutschland 89: