Babylon Berlin is said to be the best drama series to ever come out of Germany. I disagree. My vote goes to Deutschland 83 (review here), in which border guard Martin Rauch (Jonas Nay) is recruited by East German intelligence and thrust into the middle of a nuclear standoff.
The series wasn’t hugely popular in Germany, but it found enough viewers abroad to warrant a sequel. Deutschland 86 takes place three years later. Martin has been exiled to Angola. His aunt, Lenora (Maria Schrader), who is also a spy, is working on an operation in South Africa. Naturally they run into each other again.
The ten episodes masterfully weave together the events of the time in a compelling narrative: the slow collapse of apartheid in South Africa, the civil war in Angola, Muammar Gaddafi’s support for international terrorism, the La Belle disco bombing in Berlin — all against the backdrop of the American-Soviet Cold War.
There are lapses. One man miraculously surviving a shootout in an Angolan oil refinery. The wife of an American spy being shocked when she discovers there might be listening devices in their East Berlin apartment — after they’ve moved in. An American general who wouldn’t look out of place in Dr Strangelove. Ludwig Trepte’s character, a holdover from Deutschland 83, reappearing for seemingly no other reason than to remind viewers the 1980s were also the time of the AIDS epidemic.
But on the whole — like the first season — Deutschland 86 succeeds in linking the big politics of the late Cold War with the lives of ordinary Germans.
Next: Deutschland 89, the third and last season, which takes place during the fall of the Berlin Wall.