Sympathy for the Devil: Seeing the World Through the Eyes of the Stasi in Deutschland 83

Schutzwall stamp
East German postage stamp commemorating 25 years of the “Anti-Fascist Defense Rampart” or as it is better known, the Berlin Wall.

Some spoilers for the first four episodes of Deutschland 83 as well as the general plot points of the films The Lives of Others and Bridge of Spies.

The voice of Ronald Reagan ominously calling the Soviet Union an Evil Empire opens the new television series Deutschland 83, but our perspective as the viewer comes from the woman listening: Stasi agent Lenora Rauch. She sees the speech as an open threat of war and a dire warning of imminent attack by the West. Rauch’s (Maria Shrader) interpretation is shared by her colleagues in the German Democratic Republic’s intelligence services who also see Reagan’s bellicose rhetoric as the first step toward nuclear war. Throughout the whole series, the driving force of the narrative is the quest of Martin Rauch (Jonas Nay) – Lenora’s young nephew – to find proof of this impending attack and eventually to prevent an all out atomic conflagration.

7 days map
Anticipated nuclear strikes in Central Europe according to Warsaw Pact military exercise “7 Days to the River Rhine” held in 1979.

What is remarkable about this series, is its willingness to stake the plot around the worldview of the Stasi. Rather than portraying Rauch and her colleagues as war-hungry paranoiacs,  their fears are treated as the logical outcome of ideology, Cold War tensions, and American saber-rattling. The series does not take the side of the Stasi, but it demands that the viewer takes it seriously and engages with a perspective in which the communist bloc is existentially threatened by the ever-present danger of western capitalist imperialism. Deutschland 83 does not shy away from showing the horrific actions perpetrated by the security services from censorship to arbitrary detention to murder, but it never reduces the Stasi to cartoon villains or mindless sadists. These are professional agents who see themselves as defending their nation against invasion and destruction and they will stop at nothing to prevent this.

Tagx
East German pamphlet “Day X: the Failure of the Fascist War Provocation of June 17, 1953.” Pictured at top is US Secretary of State Dulles, Chancellor Adenauer, West Berlin Mayor Ernst Reuter and CDU politician Jakob Kaiser.

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