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das leben der anderen

I went to see The Lives of Others last night, and it's the best film I've seen in a long time. I couldn't stop thinking about it afterwards, and I actually dreamed in German last night. That's how powerful it was - it made me dream in bad German! In fact, I've been immersed in all things Ossi recently - I just finished reading Anna Funder's Stasiland, which I highly recommend, and which, like the film, is very moving. It's also absolutely gripping and reminded me how much I didn't really know about that era, despite my Germanic studies. I started studying German at college in 1993, and in our first year we did a course called Landeskunde, which was basically an introduction to modern German society and history - of course, it being 1993, there was a huge emphasis on the Wende (as the period of collapse and reunification is known - it basically means turn or turning point) and the issues of reunification; but the emphasis was on the peaceful protests and the various organisations that drove them rather than the doings of the state they were protesting against.

The Lives of Others ends in the early '90s, just a couple of years before I went to Berlin for the first time. I spent the summer of 1995 in Berlin, living in a sublet apartment in the central western district of Charlottenburg, a big, airy, beautiful apartment that was incredibly cheap - less than DM100 a month, I think - because it was still being rented for pre-Wende West Berlin subsidised rates. When you go to Berlin now, you can't necessarily tell the difference between the west and the eastern districts; back then it was unmistakable, not least because a lot of the eastern areas with old buildings hadn't been restored to perfection after the war, so there were bullet holes up to adult male head level in lots of them, and even those that didn't bear literal battle scars tended to look pretty raggedy. Berlin has changed enormously since then - the difference between Unter den Linden - the pre-war central boulevard that became a rather bleak street in east Berlin and is now a bustling boulevard again - in 1995 and 2007 is almost surreal; it looks like a different city.

And I feel a hot rush of shame when I remember the way my friends and I used to joke lightheartedly that summer about Ossi style, and how you knew you were in the east when you saw lots of mullets, and afterwards I realised how shitty that was, for a bunch of 19 year old snotty hipsters to make jokes about the fashion sense of slightly shell-shocked people who had grown up in a grim country, brought it down in a peaceful revolution, and then found their world totally pulled out from under their feet and their economy in chaos. I mean, we weren't totally stupid and awful, we felt that we were on their side, we didn't mind not being able to find any work that summer because knew that we didn't deserve to get jobs when so many Ossis were out of work, we loved their side of the city with a passion, but still...we laughed at their haircuts. And they deserved better than that. In the film, Wiesler, the Stasi agent, always wears an ugly grey nylon jacket with corduroy shoulder patches, zipped right up over his shirt and tie. There was something about it, about the way he wore it, that was almost unbearably poignant, that made me want to cry. I think it was partly because it matched the character's drab, restrained, beauty-free life, and partly because something about it reminded me of those 1995 East Berliners.

Anyway. The Lives of Others is, as my fellow former-Germanist sister Busta J put it in a text, super fantastisch, whether you know anything about Berlin or not. Go and see it.

Comments

dorianegray
Apr. 15th, 2007 08:49 pm (UTC)
You've reminded me of when I was in Berlin, in 1989, before the Wall came down. And I and a friend went over to East Berlin for the day, and the major memory I have is of that evening, when we went to get dinner in some hotel, and there was this bunch of East German soldiers at a nearby table, all looking at us, and us looking back, and neither side daring to actually act on the looks, because they weren't allowed to "fraternise with the enemy" then, and we both knew it. It was a bittersweet meal.
stellanova
Apr. 16th, 2007 08:58 am (UTC)
Wow, that's very sad. Have you been back to Berlin since? It changed so much between '95 and my next visit in 2004, but I can assume the difference between '89 and '95 was also pretty big.
dorianegray
Apr. 16th, 2007 06:21 pm (UTC)
Unfortunately, I haven't managed to get back there since. I imagine I'd hardly recognise the city at all now.

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