Deutschland 83 is the story of an undercover Stasi agent, Martin Rauch, who is exposed to the liberated ways of the west when working as a spy for East Germany. The world is different for Martin on the western side of the *ahem* Anti-Fascist Protective Wall.
To better understand the world Martin has left, here are five odd things about East Germany that you may not have known:
The Stasi were everywhere... or at least it felt that way
East Germany had one of the most comprehensive secret police agencies in the world, collecting information on as many citizens as possible through interrogation, phone taps and informants. So many citizens were signed up to report on their friends and family members that post-regime estimates put the number in the hundreds of thousands. Which meant, of course, you had to be careful who you told jokes like this to:
Q. Why do the Stasi work together in groups of three?
A. You need one who can read, one who can write and a third to keep an eye on the two intellectuals.
The name of their vehicular pride and joy, the Trabant, means “satellite”
One of the finest moments in East German history was when they rolled the first model of their homegrown car, the Trabant, off the factory line. Little did outsiders know the frame was mostly made from resin mixed with cotton, or that people would wait up to 12 years to get their hands on the little two-stroke monster. Such a glorious vehicle needed a name to match, so the Trabant was named in honour of the Soviet Union’s satellite, Sputnik.
Citizens were raised together in almost every way...
...and that included the toilet. Kids’ bathrooms in the east lacked cubicle walls, so everyone could poo together in joyous socialist community. There were more obviously positive elements to this belief system – childcare was comprehensive and cheap (and came free with indoctrination), the Young Pioneers were the equivalent of the Scouts for healthy outdoor activities (and came free with indoctrination), and there was even a widespread program of breast-milk collection to assist mothers who had trouble producing their own (indoctrination optional).
There was nudity as far as the eye could see
Egalitarianism is at the core of the nudist ethos: when you’re naked, no one has fancier clothes than anyone else. In the Democratic Republic of Germany, there was nothing suss about stripping down to nothing with your neighbours and going for a swim, sunbake, and stroll. So you’re looking at a culture where, generally speaking, people were less uptight about their bodies. And you are looking.
In 1989, the Berlin Wall fell by mistake
After an enormous amount of political pressure caused by the collapse of Soviet influence in Eastern Europe, as well as overwhelming protests at home, the powers-that-be in East Germany decided to ease restrictions on people visiting West Germany. This was to be an orderly process still requiring official permission and plenty of paperwork, and wouldn’t be law until a day later. Sadly for them, Günter Schabowski, the man who announced the changes live on television wasn’t fully across the details, and when pressed by reporters on when they would take place, he responded, “As far as I know, it takes effect immediately, without delay.” Before anyone knew it, crowds swarmed the Wall and the border guards on duty decided to let them through.
Deutschland 83 premieres on SBS Thursday 9 February at 8:30pm. Episodes will be available on SBS On Demand soon after.