Goodbye, Lenin!

If you’re anything like me, the only German film you’ve seen is Run Lola Run, and maybe Mostly Martha. This is more than a little embarrassing for me considering I wrote my Honours thesis on national cinema. Even more shameful, I’d never heard of the hugely popular Goodbye, Lenin! until right before I moved into the former Deutsche Demokratische Republik where the film is set. The first copy we purchased turned out to have no English subtitles. This was only mildly more upsetting than the BBC’s Pride and Prejudice which had only German dubbing. After witnessing Tony’s intense disappointment, I ordered a UK copy which arrived providentially at the same time as our new sofa.

Goodbye, Lenin! is a really lovely film. Alex Kerner lives in 1980’s East Berlin and dreams of travelling into space. After his father escapes to the west, Alex and his mother and sister continue to live as model citizens of the socialist state until a heart attack leaves Alex’s mother comatose for eight months, long enough to miss the fall of the wall and the collapse of the DDR. Warned that any excitement could be fatal for her, Alex and his sister make an elaborate plan to spare their mother from shock by recreating East German life around her. The film builds a teasing yet affectionate portrait of life in the former Republic as the Kerners’ apartment becomes a gallery of carefully salvaged relics. Neighbours, friends and local children are enlisted to perpetuate the fantasy, and Alex’s recreated Republic becomes a sort of gathering point for nostalgic east Germans, many of whom feel cheated by the sordid collapse of the socialist government and dislocated by the new pressures of capitalism.

Apart from feeding my new fascination with all things DDR, this film has helped me appreciate what complex changes eastern Germany has experienced in 21 years. Alex witnesses a steady exodus to the west, the victory of large corporations and the devastation of mass unemployment, all of which are problems still palpable in Leipzig today. If you’re completely in the dark about this part of history (like me) I highly recommend it. For its nostalgia and charm, even Amelie fans will be gratified. Just be sure to check for the words “English subtitles” before handing over your Blockbuster card. Unless, of course, you speak German.

 

 

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4 Responses to “Goodbye, Lenin!”


  1. 1 Mirjam October 8, 2010 at 10:39 am

    Hi Alison,

    I like Daniel Brühl so much! I am thinking about a wedding…

  2. 3 ashley @ Chasing Heartbeats October 11, 2010 at 7:33 pm

    I think I need to watch this again, its been a few years, but I remember really liking it. And German films with English sub-titles is a compromise in this family, plus its good for my german i suppose.


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A girl with a camera, a toddler and a sewing machine. Making sense of Germany... and life in general.

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