Skip to content

How does Contemporary German Film portray the past?

Module: Screening Europe
Module Coordinator: Dr Emma Austin
Academic Year 1 (2020/2021)

This is the third of six blog post essays for the module Screening Europe. In reflection some research to see what some academics had written about could have been used well, and some images to break the text to conform to a blog-style layout would have helped. Please note that is an academic video sharing platform and simply including the links in the way I have without an embedded video was accepted.

Featured image (IMDb, n.d.)

The tensions between East and West Germany are approached carefully in Contemporary German Film, or, at least that is the case in Good Bye Lenin! (Becker, 2003). Alex, (Daniel Brühl), is caring for his mother, who is a loyal East German Socialist. She suffered from a heart attack and was in a coma when Germany was reunited. Alex and his sister conspired to recreate East Germany at home, which is where they decided to care for their mother, so that she would not learn of the shocking news.

The film starts with Alex detailing his early life and how his father escaped to the West, which is what triggered his mother’s intense loyalty to the East. He goes as far to say that she was now married to socialism. The first main point of conflict in the film is when Alex joins in the protest that preceded the reunification and his mother saw him being arrested, triggering her heart attack. This scene is short and depicts police brutality.

After his mother’s heart attack and the reunification, Alex’s sister transforms the apartment and Alex explores the West for the first time. Small businesses closed and grocery stores transformed almost overnight. Alex gets a new job and is paired with Denis, a Western German who inspires to be a film director. In the selection process, the workers are portrayed to be excited about being paired with East/West Germans, and the older selection committee seem surprised by this.

This is perhaps another indication that the younger generation accepted the reunification more than the older generation. We see an elderly man, twice, complaining about how he is jobless and homeless now the wall has fallen and Alex’s mother’s colleagues seem reminiscent of the past – one is even reduced to laughter when writing a petition for her because it reminded her of the old days.

The transformation of East Germany is portrayed mostly positively in Good Bye Lenin. The East Germans are excited to adopt the Western culture, new jobs are created with equal opportunities for people from East and West. We see Alex and his love interest, Lara, gaining access to an abandoned flat and dreaming of living there. They say many houses were abandoned as people went on holiday to the West and never returned, but this entire scene is filled with excitement for the house, not regret for so many people fleeing the East.

When Alex travels to Wannsee to find his father, he watches Unser Sandmännchen (Andersen et al., 1959-) with his father’s children. He grew up watching this show and aspired to be a cosmonaut. The show has changed to reflect the modern times, but it is able to allow Alex to reminisce about the past.