Set in Germany at a hot moment in the Cold War, with the Able Archer exercises and downing of Korean Airlines Flight 007 etched in sharp relief, Deutschland 83 is an entertaining spy drama—and considerably more. The critical viewer will find surprises in the first Germanophone series on American television. The hero is an East German spy who goes undercover on a West German military base, and his crossings over the iconic border are not the only traversals as he forms relationships and acculturates to a “foreign” land. Deutschland 83 performs a neat trick: while the series powerfully reconstructs a world starkly split between West and East, it simultaneously challenges this separation, as well as divisions between domestic and foreign, capitalist and communist, hero and villain, and family and outsider. Through the interweaving of actual media coverage of the historic events of 1983 with the fictional plot, the television narrative also chips away at the difference between reality and fiction. This paper will draw on Milica Bakić-Hayden’s theory of “nesting orientalisms” and the work of Anikó Imre and others to explore how this popular drama, among some enjoyable thrills and testosterone, deserves scholarly scrutiny. As it undercuts a clear Other and destabilizes foreignness, this German drama could be a valuable lesson in an increasingly nativist world.
Presented at the Popular Culture Association National Conference 2018, Indianapolis, Indiana