There aren't many places that signify both Berlin's tragic history and the city's ability to stay resolute — and recover from challenging times — as Potsdamer Platz. Once one of the busiest traffic intersections in Europe, the square was completely destroyed during World War II, and remained that way throughout the Cold War.
Fast forward to modern day, and Potsdamer Platz, much like the rest of Berlin, is restored to a thriving center of attractions and creativity. One particular curiosity, the Spy Museum Berlin, is dedicated to all things espionage, in the place referred to as the "Capital of Spies" throughout the Cold War. As well as enough undercover operations to fill an entire museum, Berlin's rich history of covert intelligence has made it the backdrop for many movies and novels over the years.
Berlin Station is the latest spy thriller set in the German capital. The collision of old and new, historical significance and forward-thinking creativity makes Berlin one of the most unique cities in Europe, and the perfect setting to a storyline shrouded in mystery. Rather than a simple visual backdrop, the show lets the city live and breathe, or as lead actor Richard Armitage puts it: "Become the lead character."
Berlin: The "Capital Of Spies"
Throughout the Cold War, it was common knowledge that East Germany resorted to espionage, in part due to a lack of technology that we often take for granted today. It's estimated that around 6,000 spies were operating at that time, with 400,000 Soviets occupying the city. Surprisingly, a 2007 study also revealed that West Germany had even more spies, up to 10,000 in fact.
One standout mission, Operation Gold, was set up in 1953 by both the CIA and the British Secret Intelligence Service (SIS). The muti-million dollar project involved tapping into Soviet Army communications by physically digging an expansive tunnel under the area occupied by Soviets.
In a demonstration of the value spies had during the Cold War, despite infamous mole George Blake informing the KGB immediately, the Soviets had no choice but to let the project run to protect Blake from being exposed. As a result, the tunnel was functional for 11 months, and in that time an incredible half a million calls were recorded.
The tunnel was discovered in 1956, and many years have passed since then — including the fall of the Berlin Wall in 1989 and the reunification of Germany in 1990 — and the fabric of Berlin has changed with it, along with available technology. Tunnels have been replaced by cellphone-tapping, spades have been replaced by spyware. Does that mean spies are no longer needed?
From Separation To Liberation
While Berlin Station may be drenched in the historical context of espionage — the CIA unit in the German capital is the target of a whistleblowing scandal — the show is far from outdated. Ironically, new technology advancements mean the only way to be truly undercover is to follow old-school tactics.
Fortunately for the modern day Berlin spy, the overcoming of years of repression have had a lasting impact, rendering Berlin a free-thinking, liberal and creative melting pot, and it's this melting pot that oozes into the show and influences the characters, giving an authentic insight into the city's eccentricity.
The nightlife and sexual liberation is hard to ignore, and the show taps into an accurate portrayal of the nocturnal nature of the city that truly never sleeps. For example, Case Officer Hector DeJean (Rhys Ifans) is one of the most intriguing characters on the show; he's mysterious, hard-working and a successful intelligence officer, who also happens to love partying and indulge in Berlin's salacious all night excesses.
He's also a refreshing LGBT representation. DeJean is a tough alpha male who is openly homosexual, comfortably discussing his sex life — and his affair with another male informant — with his boss in the often macho realm of the intelligence services. Make no mistake, this is espionage unlike anything seen before.
A Stunning Backdrop
DeJean's conflicting career and personal life summarize Berlin Station, a show as committed to character development as it is the overarching mystery surrounding whistleblower Thomas Shaw. Consequently, the impact Berlin has on those characters also links into plot developments (at one point Daniel Miller uses his knowledge of FC Union Berlin, the local soccer team, to help obtain evidence.)
Aside from the more the historical context and impact on the characters, Berlin makes a stunning urban backdrop, whether capturing Miller schmoozing in a trendy bar, or Miller and DeJean drinking bottled beer on the rooftop of an abandoned building.
The world of espionage has never looked so good. And the "Capital of Spies" has never been so cutting edge.
Berlin Station will premiere on Epix on October 16, 2016.
Will you be watching Berlin Station?