20 years on, Germans flock to Cold War 'Dallas' show
Saturday 02 October 2010
The first television series about everyday life in communist East Germany is creating a sensation 20 years after national unification, with the soap opera dubbed as entertaining as a Cold War "Dallas".
As Germany prepares on Sunday to mark the day East and West Germany merged into one nation after four decades of division, the programme "Weissensee" on ARD public television has become a runaway hit.
A kind of East German "Romeo and Juliet", the show is serving as a powerful - if melodramatic - reminder of the awful choices faced by citizens of a repressive state and the courageous ways they manage to carve their own paths.
Drawing around five million viewers or about 16 percent of the television audience each week, the show was launched this month for a six-week run but its producers have already won an extension.
"Weissensee", named after a district of East Berlin, has drawn comparisons in the press to "Dallas", the smash 1980s US family saga set in oil-rich Texas, with its breathless portrayal of good guys and bad guys, high drama and low comedy, an alcoholic mother and even a love-struck American.
At the heart of the action are two families: the Kupfers and the Hausmanns, living in the year 1980, nine long years before the Berlin Wall fell.
The former is an ambitious clan of Stasi secret police officers and their enablers, some of whom begin bearing the psychological scars of their duplicitous work.
Meanwhile the matriarch of the second family, Dunja Hausmann, is a bohemian dissident cabaret singer, an enemy of the state who is linked to the Kupfers by an illicit love affair.
The two clans become further entangled when the prodigal son of the Kupfers, who has opted to remain a humble cop on the beat instead of pursuing his family calling, falls in love with Hausmann's beautiful daughter Julia.
Julia has been dating Robert, a flashy half-German with a US passport whom she sees as her ticket out of the country. But she abandons her plans of escaping the East when she meets the charming, big-hearted Martin Kupfer.
The two families try to little avail to keep the lovers apart, with the Kupfers deploying the nefarious machinery of the Stalinist state.
The Kupfers enjoy all the privileges of the Stasi network including a plush villa with a garden and three Trabant cars. They see Julia Hausmann as a threat to their future in the apparatus.
They prevent the couple from gaining official approval to rent an apartment together, and Martin's conniving brother even tries to use his young daughter as a weapon against him.
"Weissensee" has won critical praise for authenticity, from the suffocating atmosphere of suspicion and treachery to the pitch-perfect Orwellian language of the Stasi officers and the scarcity of consumer goods.
"It is balanced and without a doubt quality television," wrote the daily Thueringer Allgemeine in east Germany.
"Twenty years after German unity, the series is finally here that grants some 'Ossis' their dignity," wrote the influential weekly Die Zeit, referring to east Germans.
It noted it was the first series to show "the other Germany" entirely from the inside, with a sympathetic look at the joys and struggles of its citizens.
Many of the actors taking part grew up in the German Democratic Republic, as the communist rulers called their state, and suffered repression.
Katrin Sass, who played the mother in the international hit "Goodbye, Lenin!", appears as Dunja Hausmann. In real life, she was spied on and betrayed by several people close to her including her purported best friend.
Another actress in the series spent time in a Stasi jail while a co-star fled for the West at the age of 17.
"It is a kind of credibility guarantee," the daily Hamburger Abendblatt said of the actors' real-life experiences.
tv Jenny Lee may have left, but Miranda Hart and the rest of the midwives deliver the goods
Film The critics but sneer but these unfashionable festive films are our favourites
TV We're so close to knowing what happened to Oliver Hughes, but a last-minute bluff crushes expectations
Arts & Ents blogs
- 1 Christmas comes early to Hong Kong, as millions of bank notes spill out onto busy street
- 2 The 'Black Museum': After 150 years, public can visit police’s grisly crime museum
- 3 British actor Idris Elba cannot star as James Bond because he is black, says shock jock Rush Limbaugh
- 4 Vagina canoe artist facing two years in jail defends herself over ‘obscenity’ charges
- 5 The Queen’s speech 2014: Recap and Twitter reaction to Game of Thrones reference
Felicity Jones on being Stephen Hawking's wife in The Theory of Everything: 'I didn't want her to be a saint'
EastEnders Christmas Day special, TV review: It's all about the Carters this Christmas - and Danny Dyer is brilliant
Game of Thrones season five: First preview clip shows a beardy Tyrion, a moody Cersei and a distressed Arya
Doctor Who: Jenna Coleman to stay on as Peter Capaldi’s assistant Clara Oswald in next series
The Interview finally gets US release after Sony hack and terror threats – but reviews of North Korea satire are mixed
British actor Idris Elba cannot star as James Bond because he is black, says shock jock Rush Limbaugh
Rozanne Duncan: Ukip expels councillor for 'jaw-dropping' comments made in BBC TV interview
Germany anti-Islam protests: 17,000 march on Dresden against 'Islamification of the West'
Ukip member gets into Christmas spirit with Union Flag plea to Santa 'for our country back'
BBC director Danny Cohen: Rising UK antisemitism makes me feel more uncomfortable than ever
Alex Salmond has 'broken his word to the Scottish people' says Scottish Lib Dem leader