How did life change for East Germans after the Wall came down and the big party was over? It wasn’t all just a bed of roses, and many people found it difficult to adjust to the abundance and the freedom the West had to offer. The movie “Good Bye Lenin” again takes a somewhat humorous approach to the subject, but viewers still get the idea that not only bad things disappeared with the old regime, but a sense of identity and familiarity as well. In October of 1989, Alex Kerner, the main character of the movie, is arrested during an anti-government rally, which causes his mother, Christiane, a flag-waving party member, to have a heart attack and go into a coma. A month later, Christiane, still in a coma, sleeps right through the fall of the Wall. But when she finally wakes up, the doctors fear that any kind of stress would aggravate her heart condition and kill her. Out of love for his mother, Alex recreates the German Democratic Republic in their tiny apartment, all the way down to fake TV news programs he records with the help of his best friend. Alex goes to extreme lengths to perpetuate their previous lifestyle and to find his mother’s favorite foods, which are no longer available in stores. Of course, the lie, in the end, is doomed to fail, but not before Alex learns the truth about his father, who had fled to the West twenty years earlier, and discovers that his mother is not nearly as staunch a supporter of the communist regime as he had thought. Some of the most interesting scenes in “Good Bye Lenin” highlight the cultural and economic contrasts between the two sides of Berlin, an East Berlin that had no access to Coca Cola before reunification and a West Berlin full of glimmering stores and dubious morals. Many of the problems that arose as a result of these contrasts are only hinted at in the movie, but the divide between “Ossis” (East Germans) and “Wessis” (West Germans) persisted for years after reunification and is not 100 percent resolved even twenty years after the fall of the Wall.
Resources for “Good Bye Lenin”: Movie website with various downloads; workbook for the movie (pdf download in German, issued by the Bundeszentrale für Politische Bildung); various clips and trailers of the movie are available on youtube. Worksheet for an after-the-wall teaching unit (in English). A complete teaching unit for German students by Randy Studt. A website with additional materials from the University of York.
An easy quiz on “Good Bye Lenin” (for teachers; no answers provided, but should be pretty obvious if you have seen the movie). leninquiz