In three seasons, this spy series takes us through the final phase of life in communist East Germany. The story begins in 1983, when the Cold War tension between NATO and the Warsaw Pact was at its peak, and through the adventures of a young soldier, Martin Rauch (Jonas Nay), who will become a spy for the infamous secret police, the Stasi, through the episodes of 1986 and 1989. we find out how that experiment ended. And the strongest asset of the series designed by the American Anna Winger and her German husband Jörg is the high-quality contextualization of time, good monitoring of historical circumstances and capturing the spirit of the times. From the beginning to the end, with a fictional plot filmed in the style of similar American spy thrillers, with occasional documentary footage, we also follow real historical events that took place at the time.
At the beginning, we meet Martin Rauch as a 24-year-old border police officer whose aunt Lenora (Maria Schrader) is an experienced spy who works for the Stasi’s special division. Her sister and Martin’s mother Ingrid is seriously ill and needs a kidney transplant, and in this way Lenora will draw her nephew into the world of espionage. In exchange for being on the list for a kidney transplant, Martin will agree to work for the Stasi and will be sent as a spy to West Germany and to the General Staff of the army there as personal assistant to the general. And it is the time when the fear of a nuclear showdown is at its peak. Westerners are convinced that it is only a matter of time when the East will attack, and the East is convinced that the military exercises that NATO is conducting in West Germany are actually a prelude to a nuclear showdown.
Martin’s task is to find out what is really happening and whether NATO is really planning a nuclear attack. And unfortunately, the main story throughout all three seasons is a bit naive and unconvincing, really Hollywoodized. Three years later, we move to Africa, more precisely to the Republic of South Africa and neighboring Angola, which are at war, and these confrontations are actually a training ground for Cold War opponents. Again, Martin is dragged into action against his will, just as in the third and final season he will have his last task in the days when the Berlin Wall falls and when the communist order is counting its last days.
The differences between the West and the East of Germany are nicely shown here, and we understand that it really was a real police state where it was practically unknown who worked for the Stasi and who was an informer. We see what those methods of the infamous GDR secret service looked like, but also how the thorough brainwashing of the average inhabitants of the eastern part of Germany gave results and how many of them were really convinced that they were on the right side of history. In the second season, we understand that the GDR is in serious financial problems and facing bankruptcy, and they are doing business incognito with nominally hateful western neighbors who also find East Germany very useful as, say, a testing ground for as yet unexplored drugs.
This is very interesting in relation to today’s media, propaganda information war and how Fake News is not exactly a product of today, it’s just that today it has been raised to a higher and even more dangerous level. We see how the East and the West interpret the same situations completely differently, and while all this is happening, young Martin almost turns into Stasi’s James Bond. In every season, he almost completely unintentionally seduces at least one young or slightly older lady, and although he just wants a peaceful, quiet and secluded family life, fate has something else planned for him in the stars.
In terms of production, everything from 1983 to 1989 was performed at a high level and the cast is mostly of high quality, and you can feel how the mood changed in those six years among the inhabitants of the GDR. And while, for example, in 1983, practically everyone was still convinced that communism would last forever and that it was only a matter of time before it would defeat its decadent rivals from the west, we understand that three years later the leading team of the secret services realized that they were slowly losing the war. Of course, this does not mean the relaxation of the propaganda machinery, the totalitarian mistreatment of people, as well as the panicked attempt of many to flee from the other side of the border and the gruesome torture if they are caught by the GDR police, but we see that it is clear to many that this will not be the case for much longer. Three years later, the Berlin Wall falls, archives begin to be opened, the border disappears, and many prominent Stasi residents try to save their own skin.