Americans are making the Cold War era of sex-spies-and-lots-of-lies hot again. No surprise if curious travellers are already hunting down thrills in Russia and the former East Germany. It’s compelling retro TV, with dorky disguises (below right), furtive conversations in phone booths and paranoid plot twists every five seconds. The Reds under the bed are my must-see of the week.
Set in the 1980s, The Americans is a period drama about the complex marriage of two Communist era KGB spies posing as Americans in suburban Washington D.C. shortly after Ronald Reagan is elected President. The series is centred on Philip (Matthew Rhys) and Elizabeth (Keri Russell) Jennings, who have two children – they know nothing about their parents’ true identity. The arranged marriage of Philip and Elizabeth grows more passionate and genuine, but is tested by the escalation of the Cold War and the dangerous and darkly funny relationships they must maintain with a network of spies and informants under their control. Philip’s growing sense of affinity for America’s values further complicates the couple’s relationship. New neighbor, Stan Beeman (Noah Emmerich), is an FBI agent and a member of a new division of counterintelligence, fighting against foreign agents on US soil, including Russian spies posing as Americans.
Taste for Travel’s intel on Cold War tours:
- The divided city of Berlin was the most famous focal point of the Cold War with Communism. The East (part of the GDR, East Germany) was controlled by the USSR, and the West was part of truly democratic West Germany. The friendly folk at Fat Tires Bike Tours ,run a Cold War and Berlin Wall tour. Highlights: East Side Gallery, a kilometer-long stretch of still-standing Wall, famous for its graffiti; numerous examples of street art which sets Berlin apart from other European cities; See remaining sections not just of the Wall, but also of the breadth of no-man’s-land which was also known as the Death Strip where people were shot trying to escape to the West; a visit to Cafe Moscow along the historic Karl-Marx-Allee. This cafe, like the rest of the Stalinist boulevard, shows still-existing Communist propaganda. The tour takes 4.5 hours and is a 14km ride.
- 10 per cent discount available to Taste for Travel readers: click on the site and use our discount coupon code T4TTRAVEL13 citysegwaytours.com/berlin and fattirebiketours.com/berlin
- Desperate East Germans started digging escape tunnels as soon as the Berlin Wall was built. The first tunnel was dug in December 1961, the last one in 1985. There were more than 70 escape tunnels in all; and in total, more than 300 citizens of the GDR were able to escape through them. When the East German secret police (Stasi) learned of these operations, sometimes this led to spectacular cloak-and-dagger operations. For tours of the escape tunnels: www.berliner-unterwelten.de Not for claustrophobics or children under the age of 7.
- Check Point Charlie, the crossing point through the Berlin Wall, has a museum called the Mauermuseum, at Friedrichstraße 43-45, 10969 Berlin. It was founded in 1962 at the border crossing, a geographic focal point during the Cold War and has acquired extensive exhibits since the Wall came down in 1989. www.mauermuseum.de
- The Russians’ secret Cold War communications centre, ZKP Tagansky, was built 18 storeys underground in case of a nuclear war. This 7,000 sq m former military bunker is located 65m below the streets of Moscow. Tenacious visitors can go down there on a limited tour. Take the lift or walk 288 steps down and up. You can try on old Soviet era uniforms, don gas masks and as the air raid sirens sound, imagine yourself in the scary situation of waiting for a nuclear strike. On a jolly note, there’s a restaurant and you can hire a room out for a funky party. ZKP Tagansky Cold War Museum, 5-y Koteljichesky per 11, Moscow. www.zkp42.ru or http://www.bunker42.com.
1. The Cold War, 1947 to 1991, was a sustained state of political and military tension between powers in the West, dominated by the United States with NATO among its allies, and powers in the Eastern Bloc, dominated by the Soviet Union.
2. British Prime Minister Winston Churchill issued warnings about the Soviet Union as early as 1946 when he claimed that an “Iron Curtain” had fallen across Eastern Europe.
3. The Berlin Wall was constructed by the German Democratic Republic, starting in August 1961, that cut off West Berlin from surrounding East Germany and East Berlin. It included guard towers placed along the large concrete walls. I saw the Wall up close when I first visited Berlin pre-1989 and thought it one of the most chilling things I’d ever seen. 5,000 people tried to escape to the West, with an estimated death toll of over 600.
4. In the late 1980s, the beginning of the end of the Soviet Union started with the defeat of the Communist Party in Poland by the Solidarity Movement. The Wall was smashed in November, 1989.
5. The Cold War cost the US eight trillion dollars in military expenditure and over 100,000 lives in Korea and Vietnam. Exact figures for the Soviet Union are unknown.
The Americans is on Network Ten in Australia, Monday nights at 9.30pm. Pass me the vodka, Comrade.