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Deutschland 86: East German spy drama rebooted

October 19, 2018

The German drama series Deutschland 83, which gained a global cult following, returns for a new season set three years later. Undercover spy Martin Rauch, who's been banished to Africa, is called back to the field.

Screen grab from Deutschland 86
Image: UFA Fiction/A. Molnár

Jonas Nay in conversation: Deutschland 86

It is 1986 and communism is crumbling. The German Democratic Republic (GDR), or East Germany, is going broke, while across the Soviet Union, there's talk of major reforms, with Soviet President Gorbachev's policies of glasnost and perestroika.

After being banished to Angola following a botched mission to West Germany, undercover spy Martin Rauch — played by Jonas Nay — is called back to work with his Aunt Lenora (Maria Schrader), a top official at the East German foreign intelligence agency (HVA).

The GDR government is desperate for foreign currency to prop up its ailing economy. So the agency tasks Rauch — codename: Kolibri (hummingbird) — with selling weapons to apartheid-dominated South Africa, which have ironically been manufactured in West Germany.

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And so begins Deutschland 86, the much-awaited sequel to the German-American spy drama Deutschland 83.  

The first series kept die-hard Cold War-era fans gripped when it was first screened around the world two years ago. In Germany, the show's popularity grew during its run and it was labeled a sleeper hit.

Set on two continents

Set three years after the original, Deutschland 86 focuses as much on resistance and oppression in Africa as on events behind the Iron Curtain, where change is afoot.

The new storylines were something of a revelation for lead actor Nay, who was born in 1990, a year after the fall of the Berlin Wall.

"They (the GDR government) tried in every way imaginable to get money into this bankrupt state. There were so many things happening, like illegal weapons deals and pharmaceutical or medical experiments, and they were things I've never heard of before," he told DW.

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His character, Rauch, is on a mission to save East Germany from destruction, which takes him to Tripoli, Paris, West Berlin and beyond.

Having experienced so many traumatic events during the first season, Rauch is conflicted between a need for space and a desire to return home.

"[In season one] he killed a man, and had to bury a woman he loved, in the forest — really, really heavy stuff — and that changed him a lot," explained Nay, in an interview with DW's Inside Europe radio show.

"At the same time, he also has a 3-year-old son living in East Berlin with his ex-girlfriend, who he's never seen."

Florence Kasumba in Deutschland 86
Florence Kasumba (center) plays Rose Seithathi, a revolutionary African National Congress operative in Deutschland 86Image: 2018 Amazon.com Inc.

Season 2 promises more shadowy and dangerous missions for Rauch, against the backdrop of perestroika, dirty proxy wars, the fight against apartheid and a year of terrorism in Western Europe.

Filmed in South Africa

Nay promised that Deutschland 86 will have "a lot of crazy scenes," half of which were filmed in Cape Town, South Africa.

"One sequence that I really love was shot in the dunes of Cape Town. It's like a desert but only for a few kilometers. But you're driving 4 x 4 vehicles into the dunes and you feel like you're in the Libyan Desert."

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Fans of Deutschland 83 praised the way early 80s hits were creatively weaved into the story, including from Nena, Blondie, Duran Duran. The show's theme tune — Peter Schilling's "Major Tom" — also helped it become instantly identifiable.

Season 2, similarly, features much-loved tunes from the mid-80s, namely by Talk Talk, Falco, Salt n' Pepa and the Talking Heads.

"Music always has the ability to transport you to a [specific] time really, really fast. For viewers, if you hear a certain type of song, you can paint your own picture, and get back a very personal feeling that you had back then," Nay said.

Deutschland 86 premieres on Amazon Prime in Germany on October 19, and on SundanceTV in the US on October 25.

The second series is due to air in several other countries in early 2019.

The writers have, meanwhile, promised that a third season, Deutschland 89, will be produced, from the year the Berlin Wall fell. 

DW's Keith Walker contributed to this report.