Deutschland 83: Quantum Jump
June 17, 2015 9:24 PM - Season 1, Episode 1 - Subscribe

A coming-of-age spy thriller set in 1980s Germany. The first German language series to air on US TV.

East German's Foreign Arm of the Secret Service is concerned by Reagan's "Evil Empire" rhetoric and American military plans in West Germany. East German Secret Service employee, Lenora Rauch, sends her nephew, Martin, to West Germany against his will to become an undercover spy as an aid to a top officer, General Edel. He receives intensive training from field operative Tobias Tischbier, and arrives at the army base under a new identity: Officer Moritz Stamm. His job is to collect intelligence on NATO plans to station American nuclear missiles in West Germany.
posted by dnash (15 comments total)

Thanks for posting this! We watched the first episode last night. Kind of enjoyed it, but it felt a little flat, the story a little too straightforward. Loved the period German settings though, particularly Berlin. And the hints of modernity; the Nina Hagen at the party, the young east Germans wearing jeans, the ubiquitous pleasures of youth culture.

Comparisons to The Americans are inevitable. So far I think that show is significantly stronger; The Americans's scripts have taken a series of really dark and upsettingly nuanced turns. But Deutschland '83 has its own things to offer, particularly the sweet naivete of Martin.

So odd that Sundance produced a TV show in German, about Germany. I'd assumed this was an import like all the BBC shows we get. Nope.
posted by Nelson at 7:08 AM on June 19, 2015

(Whew, I was beginning to wonder if I was the only one who liked it...)

I haven't seen The Americans (yet) so I can't compare. But this had a lot of things I liked. The period visuals are, of course, a highlight for me (as a Mad Men lover). But also, period-wise, in 1983 I was around 14 years old, and it was right around then that I became more and more aware of the world, including the politics of the Cold War, and lot of that came to me through pop music like "99 Luftballons" (well, in its English version anyway)... Sting's "Russians," the entire Live Aid phenomenon, then the number of acts like U2 and Simple Minds who vocally supported Amnesty International, etc. So I'm definitely reacting to this show as a fun look at another part of the world from a time I have lots of memories of.

Also, for me the fact it's in German - like when Sundance aired "The Returned" in French - is a particular plus in that it forces me to pay attention and focus. Maybe it's just me these days but I find it really easy to have my attention split - sure I'm watching something, but maybe I'm tapping through my Simpsons iPhone game too, or scanning Facebook or whatever at the same time, because when a show's in English I can still hear it and follow along well enough. When it's in a foreign language I have to commit. (Which is really a lesson I should apply to other shows more often, I understand.)
posted by dnash at 8:10 AM on June 19, 2015 [1 favorite]

I'd assumed this was an import like all the BBC shows we get. Nope.

It's co-produced with a German TV network: “Deutschland 83” is produced by Germany’s UFA Fiction for RTL Television and SundanceTV. FremantleMedia International, part of RTL Group, is handling international distributon."
posted by dnash at 8:11 AM on June 19, 2015

Thank you so much for pointing this series out to me. That was great.
posted by joost de vries at 10:40 AM on June 21, 2015

This ticks up plenty of my buttons. Cold war, (realistic) spies and the 80s. Should be fun.

Of course, they had to squeeze a banana joke (or two). Also, at what point did Moritz thought it would be a good idea to call East Germany from a 2-star general's home? How likely is that someone will notice that call and start making questions?
posted by lmfsilva at 12:18 PM on June 21, 2015 [2 favorites]

One of my teammates at work was in US Army Intelligence stationed in Germany around this time. I'll be very interested to hear what he has to say after he's watched it.
posted by scalefree at 4:33 PM on June 21, 2015

I just discovered this through FanFare! There was a time -- an embarrassingly short time ago, actually - that I could easy-breezy watch this without subtitles. Without any use, my German is sliding away from me at breakneck speed, so it's wonderful to watch something engaging in a language I love.
The main character is great! He's young and nervous, but smart, a loyal family man, and dedicated to his ideas, ones that I'm sure will break apart the more time he spends in the West. Although it was very obvious, I did enjoy the parallel conversation he had with both East and West denizens about "the stakes are high at home." I'm a sucker for a good coming-of-age story, and this has delightful tension and intrigue to boot.
I had forgotten how if you have seen any German movie of the last twenty years, it is basically the same actors over and over. I think I recognize almost every face!
posted by missmary6 at 7:50 AM on June 24, 2015 [1 favorite]

Re-watching this episode before the second, some random thoughts:

- At the party in East Berlin, Martin and his friends are watching Nena perform "99 Luftballons" on TV. So East Germans knew that song too? It simply never occurred to me that this was possible, though of course a West Berlin TV station would also be broadcasting over East Berlin.

- The Nescafe instant coffee. In the opening scenes where Lenora meets (that guy whose name I haven't caught) he says something about "did you bring me real coffee?" Shortly after she gives a canister of Nescafe to her sister in East Berlin who is quite happy about it. So... I guess the East Germans thought western instant coffee was somehow superior? Why, just because it was western, I wonder? Because nowadays instant coffee is seriously despised.

- Episode title "Quantum Jump" echoes name of TV show "Quantum Leap" (although wasn't that more a 90s series?) Anyway, just like on Quantum Leap, Martin wakes up in Bonn and has to learn about where and "who" he is now.

- Offering Martin a set of Puma sneakers, t-shirt, and blue jeans - all items I believe where highly sought after in Soviet/Eastern Block black markets. They're preaching the superiority of Socialism while almost openly lusting for Capitalist products.

- The guy who teaches him about spying: "I came to the West in 1961, around when you were born." So, I guess he's lived as a spy in West Germany for 20-ish years? How does one live amid a culture one presumably hates for that long?

- Teaching Martin stuff - there's a shot where I swear he's using a Pentax K-1000 camera. I have one in my closet. It's the camera I learned photography on.

- A line about learning different words for things like "plastic" and "supermarket" - I had just moments ago been wondering how much East and West German might have diverged as languages during the Cold War years.

Although, in another sense, the shared language must've made East/West German spying SO much easier than, say, US/Soviet Union spying.

- "The Pershing II's are mostly a psychological deterrent." Ah yes, that Cold War "logic" that scared teenagers like me deeply. "I hope the Russians love their children too," as Sting memorably sang a couple years after this.

- The general has a Noguchi coffee table in his office. Not that that means anything necessarily but it's an interesting note amid the hodgepodge of design style periods represented. Like how some of the East Berlin scenes have looked ossified in the 50s/60s, yet the house in Bonn that the East German spies are in looks far older, with Art Nouveau architectural details.

- The American General's briefcase doesn't have a lock? Really? My Dad's briefcases had locks back then and trust me he had no Top Secret clearance.

- Calling East Berlin? From the General's house? How does he not realize how stupid that is, even aside from the fact he got overheard. They had phone records back then too, someone might've noticed a call from a high ranking West German general's house to the enemy.

- "A lively wire." I guess Martin got his slang wrong, but in a way that sounded like an inventive joke.

- Using Matin's mother's kidney transplant as leverage to keep him involved. It's almost impossible for me to imagine a mindset in which something like that seems reasonable.
posted by dnash at 8:50 PM on June 24, 2015 [2 favorites]

I'm no German, but...

- GDR consumer products were of... questionable quality. Coffee in particular was just a few years detached from this, and I can imagine it didn't exactly pick up a lot in quality over a handful of years. (Good Bye, Lenin! gets a lot of mileage from chasing GDR products nobody else wanted once the borders were open - if you haven't seen it, now is a good time).

- On, Tobias (the trainer) is presented more as a mole than a spy like Lenora (And I mean, it's not like he trained him that well), not to mention the differences between one side and the other weren't as deep as, say, if he was a russian spy in the US.

- You don't even need a hard border to have regional differences on generic names for some things. In here we have the same borders for 760 years, give or take, and it's possible to pick up if someone is really out of town by the way they ask for an espresso, for instance.
posted by lmfsilva at 1:27 AM on June 25, 2015

East Berlin scenes have looked ossified

posted by Nelson at 7:00 AM on June 25, 2015 [4 favorites]

So has anyone else watching in the U.S. noticed how weird the frame rate is? It looks soap-opera smooth, I'm thinking because they did a euro PAL 25fps -> NTSC 29.97fps conversion, as opposed to doing what they usually do for films, which is just slowing down the video by 24/25ths, and sometimes re-pitching the audio to compensate.

I'm finding it a bit distracting, I might see if I can find the German version.
posted by JauntyFedora at 1:27 PM on July 1, 2015 [1 favorite]

After checking, the online SundanceTV version doesn't have the frame rate issue, nor a 25fps version online, just the one on my cable's on-demand. (It's not my TV, I have all the smoothing features turned off). Can anyone else corroborate?
posted by JauntyFedora at 6:00 PM on July 1, 2015

I've been watching via Sundance Channel on cable, and have not noticed anything unusual about the frame rates.
posted by dnash at 9:27 PM on July 1, 2015

I'm a little late but watched tonight, fun so far.

at what point did Moritz thought it would be a good idea to call East Germany from a 2-star general's home? How likely is that someone will notice that call and start making questions?

Would he even know how to dial a long distance number? Country codes existed then, right?

Also felt like the young women in the first couple episodes were a little aesthetically anachronistic, a common thing when a period piece wants to make women look conventionally hot to a contemporary audience.
posted by latkes at 9:23 PM on July 5, 2020

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