| File picture of former West German chancellor Willy Brandt (left) with then Soviet President Mikhail Gorbachev in Moscow.
Germany is reliving its biggest post-war political scandal with a television drama about the East German spy who brought down Chancellor Willy Brandt in 1974.
In an unusual casting move that has helped fan public interest in the drama, Brandt’s son Matthias, a professional actor, plays Guenter Guillaume, an unassuming, grey bureaucrat.
Guillaume, a “sleeper agent” planted in West Germany in 1956, rose through the ranks of the Social Democrat party to become an aide in Brandt’s Chancellery in the early 1970s in an unprecedented coup for his communist spymasters in East Berlin.
He had access to secret papers and heard confidential conversations at a crucial time for Bonn as Brandt pursued “Ostpolitik” of detente with Moscow. The strategy was viewed with mixed feelings by East Berlin which feared Bonn would try use ties with Moscow to undermine its standing with the Kremlin.
The film, In The Shadow of Power, is being screened this month. Interest in the scandal is not confined to Germany. A play by British playwright Michael Frayn on the affair, called Democracy, is being staged at a London theatre.
Brandt was reluctant to take responsibility for stunning intelligence gaffes that permitted Guillaume’s ascent. But the prospect that the case would expose Brandt’s extramarital affairs at a time when his government was weakened by an economic slump forced him to resign.
“Brandt wasn’t someone who clung to power,” said Hermann Schreiber, a former journalist for Der Spiegel magazine who covered the scandal and helped research the film. “Guillaume wasn’t a 007 type at all. He was a conventional, petit-bourgeois man who tended to make himself useful,” said Schreiber, who has written a book on the affair. “Brandt never liked him, he found him boring.”
Brandt’s fall shocked millions of Germans for whom the Nobel Peace Prize winner and former mayor of West Berlin was an icon. As chancellor, he came to symbolise Germany’s quest for forgiveness for the Holocaust, famously falling to his knees before a monument to the victims of the Warsaw Ghetto uprising during a groundbreaking 1970 state visit to Poland.