Spy stories from the fall of Stalinism

Submitted by AWL on 11 May, 2021 - 6:18 Author: Bruce Robinson
Deutschland 89

Deutschland ‘89 (currently available on All Four) is the last series in a trilogy following Martin Rauch through the 1980s. He is an East German border guard who has been coerced into becoming a spy for the HVA, the external wing of the Stasi.

Each of the three series is concerned with a major crisis of the East German state: 1983 with NATO’s stationing of nuclear missiles in West Germany; 1986 with the desperate need for foreign currency that leads the GDR into supplying arms to the South African apartheid government and pimping its citizens as guinea pigs for West German Pharma companies to test their drugs on (both historically true); and 1989 with the opening of the Berlin Wall and moves towards German reunification.

Each time we see Martin unwillingly put to work by the HVA to deal with the threat to the regime’s continued existence. He becomes Kolibri, an accomplished spy, who becomes sought-after by other secret services who also force him to work for them. Around him there are a number of other central characters: his aunt Lenora, a hardened ideologically committed Stalinist; Walter Schweppenstette, an ambitious but more ambivalent high-ranking HVA operative who also turns out to be Martin’s father; and Markus Fuchs, the head of the HVA, who is loosely based on his real counterpart, Markus Wolf. Also in 1989, there is Nicole, the teacher of Martin’s son Max, who falls for Martin and gets drawn into his espionage activities almost by accident. As an innocent East German exploring the post-wall world, she questions whether his enforced role has cost him his humanity.

More than a thriller

What makes the Deutschland trilogy more than a spy thriller with several subplots and a somewhat unsatisfactory ending that leaves open questions (will there be a Deutschland ‘92?) is its firm roots in historical events and the picture it paints of the decline and collapse of the East German Stalinist state.

Deutschland ‘89 shows how, the HVA having failed to prevent the fall of the wall, the characters make their way in the new world. Lenora becomes a terrorist, who, hoping to jolt the people out of their growing infatuation with the West, joins forces with the remnants of the Red Army Fraction who have been given sanctuary in the GDR and who successfully assassinate the head of the Deutsche Bank. (Both of which happened.)

Markus Fuchs absconds with his PA and much of the country’s gold and foreign currency to live in luxury in Italy, while still plotting how to keep the State Bank out of the hands of the Deutsche Bank. He sends Walter on a joke mission to Frankfurt to try and ensure the HVA has someone placed high up in the Deutsche Bank.

Other characters try to bury their past and remake themselves. Some are unmasked as Stasi agents. One HVA agent, who at the start of 1989 kills a socialist dissident, uses his training to seize control of the firm where Martin was working and to brutally transform himself into a capitalist computer entrepreneur. Other socialist dissidents plan a radical takeover and transformation of the economy that is never more than a vague hope on paper.

Alongside characters and realistic presentation of the atmosphere of the time, the trilogy also takes care with detailed depiction of everything from wallpaper and furniture of the GDR to scenes filmed in the actual Stasi headquarters. It is spot on about the corruption and cynicism of a desperately decaying regime which must know the end is near.

If you are having post Line of Duty withdrawal symptoms or if you’re interested in a fictionalised but convincing account of world historic events, binge watching of the Deutschland trilogy is recommended.

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