One of my all-time favourite films – partly due to having to watch it over and over again for A Level German coursework – is the 2006 masterpiece Das Leben der Anderen (or, as it’s better known in the English speaking world, The Lives of Others). Set during the Cold War, it tells the story of a devout Stasi captain from East Berlin coming to learn about the horrors of the socialist government when he is tasked with spying on a playwright. So, imagine my pleasant surprise when I discovered Deutschland 83, an eight-part TV drama series set during the same era with a similar premise. Although it’s already broadcast on German and US television channels, it’s only just seen its UK premiere earlier this month, surrounded by much hype and accolade – but is it worth tuning in for?
The similarities between Deutschland 83 and Das Leben der Anderen, on paper at least, seem abundant. The main character works for the East German cause and is set a mission by the higher-ups to go undercover in order to retrieve some vital information. Where Deutschland 83’s Martin Rauch differs from the infamous Gerd Wielser though is in his age and purpose – here, a sprightly 24 year old is forced into doing the East Germans’ bidding by infiltrating the West German government. Jonas Nay provides an excellent portrayal as the loyal yet vulnerable protagonist, who is initially hesitant to accept the mission but has his arm twisted into it (almost literally, as it happens). So, against his better judgement, he is swept to the other side of the Berlin wall and now must go undetected as he seeks out a set of important documents. The reason? The Western world appears to be threatening the Eastern forces with nuclear warfare, and someone needs to discover the truth.
Martin sacrifices everything for the mission – his home, his family, his girlfriend, even his identity. Now Moritz Stamm, he collaborates with East German sympathisers to take up a position working for a West German general. To begin with, he is like a fish out of water and completely out of touch with the Western influence, but soon he adapts and hones in on his target. There’s some real suspense towards the end of this first episode as Martin struggles to break into an office and then later nearly blows his cover completely, but ultimately he succeeds in getting the evidence he seeks. It’s a bittersweet ending though, as his breakthrough leads to the reality that his home is very much in danger – and, despite being recruited for one mission and one mission only, he will have to keep up the charade if he is to stand any chance of saving his country and everyone he loves. The next seven episodes are going to take an intriguing turn of events, that’s for sure…
First things first, it rather goes without saying seeing as this is a series produced in Germany, but the dialogue is all spoken in German. This doesn’t cause a problem though, as the English subtitles are more than serviceable, and if anything the use of the native tongue adds an air of authenticity to proceedings that might have otherwise been missing. Stylistically, Quantum Jump is beautifully shot with some great contrasts between the hushed tones of East Germany to the vibrant colours of West Germany. The acting, not just from Jonas Nay but from the entire cast, is solid and they have been gifted a well-written script that grips you along for the ride and leaves you wanting more come the closing credits. The soundtrack is undoubtedly one of the highlights though, perfectly capturing the feel of Germany in the 1980s. From the unsurprising addition of Nena’s “99 Luftballoons” to other big hitters like “Sweet Dreams Are Made of This” by Eurthymics and “I’m Not in Love” by 10cc, there’s some great contemporary music to accompany the equally satisfying original score.
Packing plenty of character, action, and wit into its debut, Deutschland 83 is off to a fantastic start. It’s a testament to the story and the writing that you’re ultimately rooting for the enemy throughout – the East Germans are the ones being underhanded in their schemes, yet you’re left sympathising for them and their cause. Or at the very least, you’re rooting for Martin, proving (much like Gerd Wiesler before him) that not every bad apple is rotten to the core.
Let’s hope the rest of the series keeps up this level of quality. Sehr gut, Deutschland 83, sehr gut!