The German-language drama set in 1983 bowed last year on SundanceTV to generally rave reviews and a small but devoted audience. Creators Anna and Joerg Winger envision the political thriller running three seasons, taking viewers up to the fall of the Berlin Wall in 1989.
The series stars Jonas Nay as an earnest East German soldier who is reluctantly recruited to go undercover in West Berlin as a spy for the Stasi. “Deutschland86” will jump three years into 1986, when Nay’s Martin Rauch is sent off to Africa to fight in the last gasp of combat waged in the name of Communism, in Angola.
“Deutschland83,” which earned a Peabody Award, debuted with much fanfare last year on German broadcaster RTL. The show garnered generally strong reviews but the ratings were a disappointment. The second season has been picked up for Germany by Amazon as one of its first original German-language original series.
The shift of the show from RTL to Amazon was one of the factors that complicated the dealmaking for the second season. SundanceTV is a co-producer of the show with UFA Fiction, Amazon and FremantleMedia International. UFA, Fremantle and RTL are all corporate siblings under the Bertelsmann umbrella. But it still took some time to work out the details of a second season.
“Deutschland86” will lense in Africa and Germany next summer and air once again with subtitles on SundanceTV in 2018 — three years after the first season aired in the U.S. Season two may run as long as 10 episodes, although the specifics are still being worked out. Joerg Winger, Sebastian Werninger and Ulrike Leibfried are producers with Anna Winger serving as head writer.
The 1986 period was a fraught time in Europe with terrorist activity in France and Germany and the ever-present concern about nuclear threats. By the time the Soviet Union intiated its “Perestroika” policy, East Germany was in desperate economic straits and nervous that the Soviets would soon abandon them.
“By 1986 East Germany was doing anything that was necessary to stay afloat,” Anna Winger said. The show will have a bigger budget and wider scope in season two, introducing more West German characters and some Americans in addition to the African storyline.
Winger notes that Russian president Vladimir Putin was an ambitious young agent working in East Germany for the Stasi around 1986. She hinted a character like Putin could find his way into “Deutschland86.”
“We love to play with history as metaphor,” Winger said. “There are a lot of interesting things to explore in this time.”
Winger said she has spoken to many current and former diplomats and foreign service workers in Germany and elsewhere who have shared “amazing” stories of the atmosphere in Berlin as the Soviet Union slowly but began to unravel.
Like the first season, “Deutschland86” will focus on what that experience was like from the eastern side of the Berlin Wall, as East Germans gradually lose faith in the ideology they had been raised to revere. Maria Schneider and other key cast members will return for the second installment.
Joerg Winger said “Deutschland83” stirred conversations in Germany about “the secret history behind the official history” of the then-divided country. “It made people also think about what may be going on now that we don’t know of yet but we’ll know about in 20 or 30 years,” he said.
For UFA Fiction, “Deutschland83” was a breakthrough in demonstrating that German producers could deliver high-end dramas that travel around the world. The franchise has been picked up by Channel 4 in the U.K. and Canal Plus in France, among other territories.
“‘Deutschland83’ opened a lot of gates for us,” Joerg Winger said.