CANNES, France — Directing Berlin-set Cold War thriller “The Same Sky,” which world premieres at Mipcom on Monday, brought back memories for Oscar-nominated Oliver Hirschbiegel, including of losing his virginity behind the Iron Curtain.
The six-hour series, written by British author Paula Milne, portrays the fate of two families on either side of the Berlin Wall. The action revolves around the relationship between an East German “Romeo” agent – a spy who uses seduction as a way to unearth secrets — and his female target in the West.
Growing up in West Germany in the 1970s, when the show is set, Hirschbiegel was a member of the Communist Party youth wing, which set up “friendship” trips to meet their counterparts in East Germany, and it was on one of these trips that he lost his virginity, he tells Variety. Later, as an arts student in Hamburg, he would go with friends to Berlin for party weekends, and would spend time in the Eastern part of city.
Such engagements with East Germans showed him the positive and negative aspects of each political model, Communist and capitalist, and this is one of the elements that brings “The Same Sky” alive. Hirschbiegel, who was Oscar-nominated for his film about the death of Adolf Hitler, “Downfall,” saw it as a challenge to capture the contrasts between these two worlds, existing side by side.
“I just loved the idea of tackling this East-West situation that is so dominant in German history, and during a period I lived through,” he says. “I have vivid memories of the weird situation that we all took for granted, which is surreal looking at it now.”
Hirschbiegel still sees these contrasting models as having relevance today, although after the Berlin Wall fell many Germans were keen to sweep away what had existed in the East over several decades. “It’s not like the West was cool and the East was s—,” he says. “Something that really pained me to see was how quickly the wall disappeared and everything that was there in East Germany – the good things as well – just disappeared. Without asking any questions, they just took it all away.”
He adds: “There was a sense of community and solidarity in the East – it was not just based on what we had in the West, which was this desperate search for the next thrill, and consuming, buying and money. And all that generated a certain atmosphere in the East that I felt had something very warm, something that appealed to me. At the same time, you could sense the constant threat of the secret service and informers everywhere. You had to whisper when you spoke about political things.”
One of the challenges of depicting the lives of spies that appealed to Hirschbiegel was that they, too, were performers. “They have to lie. They are leading a double life, so they have to be actors. The challenge is higher, but it is fun.”
Hirschbiegel sees the German drama scene as constantly improving with productions like “Deutschland 83” finding an audience outside Germany. “I think it is only just starting now. It is way overdue. We have been behind for almost 15 years now, behind the rest of the world, and in particular the U.S. and England, where there has been one good, smart groundbreaking series after another. In Germany, we have been cooking from the same pot with the same old cabbage over and over again, and finally not only the TV stations but the audience as well are waking up.”
“The Same Sky” is produced by UFA Fiction in co-production with Beta Film for ZDF and Czech TV in association with Rainmark Films. Beta is handling international sales at Mipcom.