Alex represents the government of the GDR

In the beginning of the movie Alex is seen protesting for freedom of the press but once his mother returns home he begins his plan to make her believe that the GDR hadn’t ended he did this by controlling his mothers life. He controlled the clothes, food, furniture and even made fake news reports anytime his mother questioned what was happening he would make up some reason or justification usually by making another fake news report. Alex ended up becoming the very government he was protesting in the beginning of the movie.

Pickles, Robert, and Things Lost

On a certain level, I found the movie to be really creepy on the false reality premise, but as we saw before Alex’s father went to the hospital, Lara lets his mom in on it. I think that moment is meant to show the care intended by Alex to his mother and her appreciation for it but it also allows us to view the film as transitionary for a unified Germany.

I find it harder to fault Robert than I did at the beginning of the film because he did indeed try to contact his family after going through with a previously agreed upon plan–but he also represents Western Germany in a Capitalist consumer way. While Alex’s mother is dying, he is throwing a party in a nice suit inside of a nice house. That juxtaposition of Alex and Robert is portrayed really well and intentionally in the scene where they first meet. A utilitarian denim jacket vs a long lost father in a suit.

I think the manifestations of other problems are portrayed really well in the film too–like the pickle example. The GDR had suddenly been transformed into a consumer’s wonderland, yet Communist era pickles were nowhere to be found. While largely unimportant, it is a nostalgic point in the film over the things that were lost at the fall of the Berlin Wall. Often the fall is described as a time where unification seemed possible and all of the things the GDR might gain are discussed excitedly, but I think the film makes a very nice point about honing in on what was lost. What else was lost in this sense? What larger elements of culture shift and how is that received by the characters in the film?

The End of East Germany

Good Bye Lenin! is a film that explores the fall of East Germany on a personal level. My primary takeaway from the film is that eventually time catches up to you. Both the death of Alexander’s mother and the fall of the GDR are inevitable. By recreating the GDR for their mother’s health the family is artificially extending the “existence” of the GDR and their own mothers life. The mother finally passing away represents a sort of acceptance not only of her death but the symbolic death of East Germany. The GDR’s decline and downfall are played out to coincide with different periods of Alexander’s life. While the GDR falls, the charade of its continued existence is played out to protect Alexander’s mother from the truth. This is reflected in my opinion in Alexander creating a sort of charade that his own mother will be able to recover even after the doctor told him otherwise going as far to say that “doctors can be wrong” to justify the hope that his mother will recover after her second heart attack. I can see this movie being sort of symbolic of the realization of East Germans that their country was no more. The idealistic mother falling ill and passing away. The father who they initially thought abandoned them was actually kept away and wanted to be a part of their lives. East Germany can be seen as the sickly mother while West Germany is represented by the absent father who in the end wanted to be reunified with his children even if they want nothing to do with him. While this symbolic interpretation makes some sense, the film can also be seen merely as a representation of what East Germans felt at the end of the GDR. They were nostalgic for something that was never as good as they imagined it to be, they felt betrayed and ripped off by the new developments in currency and consumer goods while also enjoying the fruits of the new economic paradigm.

Capitalism vs Communism

I find it interesting how Wolfgang Becker shows the differences between the old life in the GDR and the new life after capitalism comes into East Germany. Alex and Ariane are now more interested in Western commodities and show distaste towards old East German products, like food. Earlier, Alex and his girlfriend find an abandoned apartment, showing the eagerness of East Germans to leave communism to go to the capitalist side. In a scene at a party, everyone was happy and drinking now that they were “free” from communism. 

In the end though, the mom relapses and ends up dying, but not as an effect of knowing about the societal changes and that there is no longer communism, even though Alex tried so hard to create this illusion of communism. Is this the way of the director saying that the type of economy and government doesn’t really matter? That they are the same in a way? Or do the earlier depictions of happy people and good food under capitalism take lead over that interpretation, and Becker is trying to show a significant difference? Maybe the happiness is an illusion?

Deception

Good Bye, Lenin! is a film that focuses on a man (Alex) trying to recreate a false world that no longer exists for his ailing mother. He goes to great lengths to accomplish this, from recording fake news broadcasts to covering up the changes that are happening across the country. Through his deception in order to keep his mother safe, he misses out on the chance to exchange his families money. Additionally, Alex himself was deceived by his mother about his father stealing a childhood of memories from him.

Ultimately, the families actions seem to reflect everything we have learned about the Soviet Union, the Eastern bloc, and Cold War this semester. There was a general bend towards deceptions from the actions of officials to hiding the truth from the Soviet public in newspapers and media to creating distorted industrial numbers. No one in the country had the ability to be truthful to themselves or each other. Do you think that Alex in the film represents the Soviet leaders and their deception? Do you think that the Soviet Union’s deception prevented them from reaching their full potential?

I Forgot My Amnesia

The majority of this story follows Daniel Bruhl (or as our marvel fans will know him as Helmut Zemo) trying to recreate the world of East and West Berlin a few months after the fall of the Berlin Wall. He wants to do this to protect his mother’s amnesia after she is in a coma. Now there is not really a specific quote or time that I can pull for the question that I want to ask but rather as a discussion as the movie as a whole. (However, I can point to the 01:16:00 vicinity which illustrates some of the breaking of the illusion of have the main protagonist by the erection of the Coca Cola banner and the knowledge of their father visiting the McDonalds). What I want to ask of the class then is this: how much of a parallel do what the protagonist’s actions of creating a false story/ a loaded narrative of the successes of the Socialists/Communists and the actual events we have seen with the several different countries we have studied this semester? Is what he is doing actually different from what the other countries had done, or is it similar?

Totalitarian

While reading Havel’s New Year’s Address to the Nation, 1990. I found it interesting that the term totalitarian came up a few times. In the beginning, Havel describes that they are currently living under totalitarian rule he describes it as ” We had all become used to the totalitarian system and accepted it as an unchangeable fact and thus helped to perpetuate it. In other words, we are all – though naturally to differing extents – responsible for the operation of the totalitarian machinery” (Havel, 2). Later on, in the address, he describes that “Everywhere in the world people wonder where those meek, humiliated, skeptical and seemingly cynical citizens of Czechoslovakia found the marvelous strength to shake the totalitarian yoke from their shoulders in several weeks, and in a decent and peaceful way” (Havel, 3). Although, I believe he is talking about the current government he then says that the same totalitarian regime they were under in the 1950s is the same as what they are living now. ” Those who defended the honor of our nations during the Second World War, those who rebelled against the totalitarian rule” (Havel, 3). My question to the class would be, do you think the author wants the nation to know that they have not progressed since WW2? Do you think the author wants the nation to feel the same anguish that they were feeling in the 1950s to feel while giving the address to the nation? Do you think that this is a fair comparison? Or do you think that this is justified by past history actions? What do you think?

Where Government Gets Its Power

Both within Havel’s speech and Garton-Ash’s book, the idea of change and revolution comes with the movement of individuals toward a mutual goal. Only then can real change be enacted, and with the consent of the people to accept the change as real. Havel addresses this when he says that “Freedom and democracy include participation and therefore responsibility from us all.” (Havel 2). Without the participation of the people and their will, nothing would have changed. His recognition of their acceptance also meant that they could also then accept that they did not have to live like they did anymore, and could progress into a new and distinct Czechoslovakian identity. Garton-Ash also outlines this as he details the crowds and their dedication to protesting, and the Forum members working to their limits everyday. Their participation, whether they felt it or not, was instrumental to the movement. As Garton-Ash repeatedly wrote, they did not always know what they were doing, but as long as they stuck with their hopes for Czechoslovakia, at least something would change.

Havel also mentioned that the other countries that had acted before them served as their predecessors and reminders for the cost of change; Garton-Ash questioned why they took longer, even though they were the most “democratic state in the region before the war,” (Garton-Ash 126). Garton-Ash believed that they acted last because others essentially set the stage for them; Havel saw their delay as time to plan more accordingly and see how they wanted the Czechoslovakian legacy to exist. I question which seems more plausible; obviously they work hand-in-hand, but which came first? Was it more passive and placed upon Czechoslovakian people, or were they lying in wait, waiting to be active?

A Noisy and Stinking Machine

On the second page of Havel’s New Year’s Address, he states:

“The previous regime – armed with its arrogant and intolerant ideology –
reduced man to a force of production, and nature to a tool of production.
In this it attacked both their very substance and their mutual relationship.
It reduced gifted and autonomous people, skillfully working in their own
country, to the nuts and bolts of some monstrously huge, noisy and
stinking machine, whose real meaning was not clear to anyone. It could
not do more than slowly but inexorably wear out itself and all its nuts and
bolts.”

I believe that Havel’s analogy is quite brilliant and suites his point nicely. The Soviet Union and the Warsaw Pact nations are criticized quite extensively through its usage, and it made me think of the downfall of the USSR opposed to these other countries. Nations like Czechoslovakia were regaining their freedoms and ability to contribute without an overarching power either preventing it or somehow taking credit itself. But how did these other stakes feel about the entire machine falling apart as the nuts and bolts became looser and looser one by one? How did its leaders contribute to its failures? What were the shortcomings of how this machine was maintained and utilized its nuts and bolts? And perhaps most importantly, did the noise of the entire machine deafen the noise some of its more important parts were making?

New Years Address and Morality

In the address Vaclav Havel gives the people of Czechoslovakia he begins by talking about how leaders before him have been dishonest when discussing the state of the nation. And, he very quickly states that he is going to be very different than the leaders before him. Havel discusses the many problems in Czechoslovakia at that point including education failure and environmental destruction. However, Havel’s biggest gripe with the state of affairs is the insidious state of the morality in Czechoslovakia. He argues that Czechoslovakia has become increasingly morally corrupt and that it is the fault of leaders and those who let their leaders be corrupt. Havel states, “The previous regime – armed with its arrogant and intolerant ideology – reduced man to a force of production, and nature to a tool of production” (Havel). Here, Havel uses the word “ideology”, which attacks the base of the Soviet Union and communist Czechoslovakia. Why is it important that Havel uses an argument based on morals and ideology? Is his technique successful? Does this relate to the ideological war that has been fought between the US and the USSR?