German Series in the USA
Cold War Series: History as Binge-Worthy Drama
German showrunners have discovered that life on opposite sides of the Iron Curtain makes for gripping television. In the years following reunification, depictions of life in East Germany were relatively rare in German popular culture. The history was still too unsettled to fit easily into movies and TV shows. But as contemporary films like The Lives of Others (2006) and Barbara (2012) have shown, life under the Stasi offers fascinating material for dramatists. The tension is built-in, and history provides the most dramatic plot twists. Little wonder that German TV creators are now looking to their own recent past for material. The following series dwell on the history of the Cold War and the rise and fall of East Germany.
By Mark Thompkins
Line of Separation (Tannbach)2 Seasons / 6 Episodes
Set in a provincial village far from Berlin, Tannbach offers a novel perspective on the Cold War. The show’s real-life historical model is the town of Mödlareuth on the border of Bavaria and Thuringia (West and East Germany, not so long ago). Consisting of three movie-length episodes, the first season opens in the final days of WWII as the Nazi regime collapses and US troops draw near. Part Two moves on to 1946, as the Soviets seize the local estates in their sector of the town. The third installment continues until 1952, when Tannbach is officially divided and onetime neighbors find themselves citizens of separate countries. The first season won multiple awards and is available on Amazon Video under the title Line of Separation.
The second season, again made up of three feature-length parts, continues the historical sweep, following the town(s) from 1960 through the Prague Spring in 1968. Viewers outside Germany will recognize Jonas Nay (Deutschland 83) and Martina Gedeck (The Lives of Others, The Baader-Meinhof Complex) among the sprawling cast.
Directed by Alexander Dierbach; starring Alexander Held, Jonathan Berlin, Senta Auth, Henriette Confurius, Nadja Uhl, Natalia Wörner, Heiner Lauterbach, David Zimmerschied, Ronald Zehrfeld, Florian Brückner, Ludwig Trepte, Johanna Bittenbinder, Maria Dragus, Jonas Nay, Inga Busch, Martina Gedeck.
Watch ”LINE OF SEPARATION“In the USA:
Amazon Prime / PBS Masterpiece
The Same SkyMiniseries / 6 Episodes
A six-episode miniseries that all but dares the viewer not to binge-watch, The Same Sky is inspired by the infamous Operation Romeo hatched by GDR spymaster Markus Wolf. In 1974 East Berlin, the Stasi grooms a young agent (Tom Schilling) to go undercover in West Berlin where his mission is to seduce a woman who works for the US military and to obtain intelligence from her. Much of the suspense in The Same Sky is quiet as we watch to see how well Schilling’s character performs the part of a Westerner and how he feels about betraying the women who fall for him.
Directed by Oliver Hirschbiegel (Downfall), the series boasts movie-quality production values. The Cold War atmosphere is thick, but not overdone; both halves of divided Berlin are vividly rendered without making the ‘70s feel like a costume party.
Weissensee4 Seasons / 24 Episodes
The time was right for Weissensee when it premiered in 2010; the series was an immediate popular and critical success. Season 1 opens in 1980 as a Stasi officer’s son (Florian Lukas) becomes involved with a dissident’s daughter (Hannah Herzsprung), putting both families at risk. Season 2 jumps to 1987, and Season 3 follows the characters during die Wende, beginning with the Fall of the Berlin Wall in November 1989 and climaxing with the public storming of the Stasi headquarters two months later. The fourth season covers the final months of the regime in 1990.
Striving for authenticity, the show has filmed in the former Stasi headquarters, and the production credits include an expert on the history of the GDR’s socialist party. The series has also been successful in Russia, where presumably the themes are directly relevant to the audience.
Seasons 1 through 3 are available as The Weissensee Saga on Amazon Video via MHz Choice. Unusual for a German series, the first three seasons have also been released on DVD in the US. Here’s hoping Season 4 makes it over to the US soon; we’re dying to see how die Wende turns out.
Watch ”Weissensee“In the USA:
Amazon Prime / MHz Choice
Amazon Prime Video
Deutschland 83 / Deutschland 86Season 1 / 8 Episodes; Season 2 / 8 Episodes
Last but certainly not least, the eminently binge-worthy Deutschland 83 (and its subsequent follow-up Deutschland 86) was the first German serial drama to make more of a splash internationally than at home. It aired with subtitles on the Sundance Channel in the US and on Channel 4 in the UK, a first for both networks. It’s available to stream on Hulu and via iTunes, so you can catch up before watching the sequel Season 2 Deutschland 86 which premiered on Amazon Video in December 2018.
Read our feature article on ”Deutschland 83“.