Wir waren fünf Freunde. Wir waren jung. Wir waren unsterblich. Wir sollten es bald besser wissen.* We were five friends. We were young. We were immortal. We would soon know better.
"Our Mothers, Our Fathers". Basically Band of Brothers, but with Germans. And extra grim, since it's primarily set on the Eastern Front.June 1941. Five childhood friends gather in Berlin to hold a goodbye party for the three among them who are soon to head for Russia. Wilhelm Winter and his younger brother Friedhelm have been called to serve in the Wehrmacht, while Charlotte has volunteered as a nurse. Staying in Berlin are aspiring singer Greta Müller and her Jewish lover Viktor Goldstein. The group wish each other well, and part ways in high spirits, hoping to be together again at Christmas.Of course, it doesn't quite work out like that. And as the months and years drag by, and the fighting becomes ever more brutal, for these young people the war becomes a desperate struggle not only to survive, but to retain their humanity even while serving an inhumane regime.
This series contains examples of:
Abandoned Hospital: The military hospital where Charlotte is stationed is inevitably evacuated in the wake of the Russian advance.
Aloof Big Brother: Wilhelm, who has previous experience from the invasions of Poland and France, and who has attained the rank of Lieutenant, considers his bookish brother, a new recruit, to be too soft for the work of a soldier, and confesses to feeling ashamed of him on occasion. On the other hand, he also admires Friedhelm's wit and intelligence.
Child Soldiers: The average age of new recruits steadily drops as the war continues, and by 1945, Friedhelm finds himself serving alongside a 12-year-old.
The Corrupter: Sturmbannführer Hiemer assumes this role towards Friedhelm, halfway ordering him, halfway coaxing him into shooting a child In the Back in one scene, and being the executioner for a group of Polish partisans in another.
Deadpan Snarker: Friedhelm is very cynical about the entire war, and when he does open his mouth, it's usually to let everyone around him know. The snark wears off as the breaking sets in, however.
Death Seeker: Implied with Friedhelm; when a Russian bomber flies over the squad's position, his fellow soldier tells him to put his cigarette out. Instead, he takes a long, ostentatious drag.
Dirty Commies: A couple of the Wehrmacht soldiers have this attitude. One of them is just plain terrified of communists.
Dressing as the Enemy: When Friedhelm is abandoned behind enemy lines, he takes a dead Red Army soldier's uniform to sneak past the Soviets, but this results in him getting shot dead center by the Germans and he nearly dies from blood loss.
Get a Hold of Yourself, Man!: Friedhelm grabs Wilhelm to tell him to pull himself together after the latter breaks down over the futility of their current mission during the Battle of Kursk (basically, keep advancing down this useless street until your whole unit is dead), because despite everything, they need a commander.
Home by Christmas: In the opening scenes, five friends have one last drink in Berlin. Two of them are leaving for service in Operation Barbarossa, one of them has volunteered to be a nurse on the front, another is an aspiring singer, and the last one is Jewish. They leave, hoping that by Christmas, Russia will be crushed and all of them will be reunited in that bar. The war ends four years later, Germany is defeated, and two of the friends don't make it back.
Idiosyncratic Episode Naming: The three parts are respectively called A Different Time ("Eine andere Zeit"), A Different War ("Ein anderer Krieg"), and A Different Country ("Ein anderes Land").
Infant Immortality: Averted in the first episode when Hiemer shoots a little Jewish girl in the head.
Nurse with Good Intentions: Sweet Charlotte practically has good intentions streaming out of her ears, but she has little technical expertise and is at first so shaken by the carnage of the front line that she finds it difficult to follow simple instructions. Later on she gets so desensitized to the violence that it's Greta who reacts with horror to the carnage around her when she visits Charlotte during her tour.
Parental Favoritism: Both Winter parents indulge in this. Wilhelm is clearly his stern father's favorite, while younger Friedhelm is doted upon by his mother, who makes Wilhelm swear to bring his little brother back safely. When Frieldhelm returns for sick leave after a battle in which Wilhelm is believed to have died, their father barely conceals his wish that Friedhelm had died instead.
Pet the Dog: When Wilhelm goes AWOL after a mental breakdown during a pointless battle, he retreats to an abandoned Russian cabin and spends his time catching fish and sitting around petting a cat.
Rape as Backstory: Alina was repeatedly raped by the German farmer for whom she performed forced labour, giving birth to a girl who was taken away by the SS. When she decided to fight back against the farmer, she was immediately shipped off to Auschwitz.
Screw the War, We're Partying: Averted. When the friends (minus Viktor) are reunited during Greta's singing tour, they attempt this, but simply cannot shut out the horrors about them, and return to their respective posts fairly quickly.
Senseless Sacrifice: Greta refuses to provide testimony that Dorn helped Viktor escape Germany, which will serve as his "Get Out of Jail Free" Card, and as a result, he has her executed for treason. However, he escapes justice regardless and ends up working for the Allied administration.
Sex for Solace: When battle nurse Charlotte believes that her longtime friend and secret love Wilhelm has died in battle, she throws herself at her medical superior for comfort.
Shiksa Goddess: Greta is this for Viktor. His parents are less than amused - mostly because they fear him falling foul of the law.
And the protagonist's name is Wilhelm Winters, like, you 'now...Dick Winters.
Slowly Slipping Into Evil: Many of the soldiers. Contrast their attitude to shooting suspected partisans (very likely innocent civilians) in 1943 as opposed to their generally more upstanding conduct in 1941.
The Squadette: Lilija commands a division of Russian soldiers during the takeover of the infirmary. Truth in Television, as the Red Army did in fact have many female soldiers, and even several all-female units.
Suicide By Soldier: After the German surrender, Friedhelm, who has become something of a Death Seeker, convinces his fellow soldiers to lay down their arms and give themselves up by walking steadily towards the Russians and shooting the ground in front of them. He is shot, and his death delivers the desired message.
To Absent Friends: In the end Wilhelm, Viktor, and Charlotte reunite in a bar in the bombed Berlin, all scarred by their experiences and raise a toast to the memories of Friedhelm and Greta.
Unfriendly Fire: Sturmbannführer Hiemer tries to coax Friedhelm into shooting Viktor in the same way he got him to shoot the Polish boy. Turns out it doesn't work the second time.
Villainous Breakdown: Hiemer has a short but powerful one in the few minutes between Friedhelm shoots him and he bleeds out. He spends the whole time staring at Friedhelm in utter disbelief, seemingly not comprehending why the man he thought was an unquestionably loyal tool would suddenly turn on him.
Where Are They Now: The final scene in the third episode lets us know the birth and death dates for each of the main characters. Wilhelm is the only one who is apparently still alive as of the present day.