Arts

Television: Germany will never be a happy place

Poor Germany. All that money, all that power. And yet it doesn’t seem quite at home with itself. Deutschland 83 (Channel 4, Sundays, 9pm) returns us to a time when the country was divided in two. It’s the height of the Cold War and Martin Rauch, a 24-year-old border guard, is sent by the Stasi to spy on the West.

Viewers might expect our hero to defect: East Germany is conformist, grey and cruel. But Rauch discovers a West Germany that is decadent and confused. Democracy is a cover for US militarism. There’s a nice moment in episode two when an attractive communist agent (they’re all hot for some reason) tells Rauch that he has to break into a Nato diplomat’s safe. He asks: “What’s a safe?” Such is his socialist innocence. His contact explains, with a smile, that capitalists like to buy things and then lock them away so that no one else can have them.

The Cold War stymied Germany’s process of self-examination. De-Nazification never happened in the full sense in the East because the communists convinced themselves that just by being communists they were no longer fascists. But totalitarianism quite obviously remained the order of the day.

Meanwhile, anti-communism in the West excused rehabilitating corporatism and large swathes of the fascist establishment. The accumulation of wealth became both proof that capitalism was superior to socialism and a convenient way of suppressing bad memories. The two societies that Rauch serves in Deutschland 83, with varying degrees of loyalty, dehumanise their subjects. Individuality is crushed by the state in the East and by consumerism in the West.

Deutschland 83 airs in Britain at a time when Germany is under considerable scrutiny. The publication of Mein Kampf raises old ghosts; the sexual assaults in Cologne hint at horror to come. German Catholicism has become, in some quarters, a milquetoast servant of the state. Faith in socialism has died. And the country uses its enormous economic power to crush democracy in Greece. Poor Germany. Even when on top, it has reason to weep.