A STRONG SAGA OF EAST GERMANY’S STASI
& ITS IMPACT ON TWO FAMILIES
Set in and around Lake Weissense in the Austrian alps, this superior German series is about a family and its involvement with the Stasi, the secret force propping up the dictatorial Communist German Democratic Republic (Deutsche Demokratische Republik or DDR) from 1949 to 1991. The three seasons now on DVD offer a scary and meaningful example of how government can turn against its own people with invented news, secret police, mind-thought, and manufactured evidence against perceived enemies of the State (remind you any politician and party recently?).
Conceived and written by creator Annette Hess and director Friedmann Fromm, Weissense‘s saga involves the Kupfer Family: patriarch Hans (Uwe Kockisch, well-remembered from Donna Leon’s Brunetti), a high-up member of the Stasi; his eldest son, Falk (Jörg Hartmann), a rising member; his wife, Vera (Anna Loos), who yearns for freedom from him; Hans’ younger son, Martin (Florian Lukas), a low-level police officer who quits the authoritarian force; and their mother, Marlene (Ruth Reincke), a staunch supporter of the GDR.
The other family the show profiles consists of Dunja Hausmann (Karin Sass), an anti-government songwriter and singer, and her daughter, Julia (Hannah Herzsprung), who has fallen in love with Martin, thus threatening both families.
Eighteen episodes, six each season, were shot in 2010, 2013, and 2015, an odd spacing for such a popular show. But it allowed the writers to think through the evolution of the GDR during the 1980s, from its stronghold on its people to the fall of the Berlin Wall at the end of the decade, which destroyed the GDR and led eventually to a reunification between East and West Germany.
The individual stories–media manipulation, censorship, a kidnapped infant daughter, a tragic death, the dissolution of a marriage, the destructive blackmailing of an artist to become a Stasi informer–all end with a hopeful existence for the survivors who have never known the bright light of democracy.
Well-shot by cinematographer Michael Weiswegon in East Berlin locations, and starkly edited by Annemarie Bremer, Eva Schnare and Janina Gerkens, the three sections move firmly, giving us necessary facts about a failed state, illustrated by the personal hell individuals had to live.
The acting is particularly impressive, with Hartmann, Kockisch, Lukas, and Reincke doing standout work, but especially Sass, whose throaty singing is sensual, sad, evocative of a previous era, and lyrically complete. As a singing actress, she takes the cake.
Undoubtedly, none of the information revealed in the stories are known to most of us in the West–but there are important reveals that will be of use to our own folk who don’t understand Thomas Jefferson’s heart-felt admonition that “timid men prefer the calm of despotism to the tempestuous sea of liberty.”
This grim but fascinating series is one for the university library as well as individual home viewing.
photos by ARD/Julia Terjung