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Last Updated:  Monday, 10 March, 2003, 14:25 GMT
Germans flock to nostalgia film
By Ray Furlong
BBC, Berlin

Scene of film where Alex is arrested
It is a film about ordinary people
Over two million people have already seen it, making it the most successful German film of all time.

It is also a cultural phenomenon - a comedy about the fall of the Berlin Wall, and an attempt to recreate East Germany in a 79-square-metre flat.

"Goodbye Lenin" was never expected to be quite the hit it has turned out to be. It did win "Best European Film" award at the recent Berlin film festival, but most cinemas were not interested in taking it.

Perhaps it's a reminder of my youth, because I was young then," he said. "It's not pure nostalgia but that's part of the attraction.
Bert Leucht, former East German
Then the crowds started surging in, and cinemas around the country rushed to put the film on.

"I spent 20 years of my life in East Germany, and not all of it was so bad that I don't want to hear about it any more," said Suzanne Behrens, a 34-year-old East Berliner with whom I went to see the film.


Her boyfriend, Bert Leucht, took a similar attitude as we stood in the queue for tickets.

"Perhaps it's a reminder of my youth, because I was young then," he said. "It's not pure nostalgia but that's part of the attraction."

Fall of Berlin wall
Alex tells his mother these are Westerners fleeing east
The film centres on the relationship between a young man, Alex, and his ailing mother, a die-hard communist who has a heart attack shortly before the Berlin Wall falls.

While Germany reunites and Berliners celebrate, she lies in a coma. When she wakes up, the doctors tell Alex she must be spared any shocks to the system - and so he devises his plan to reconstruct the German Democratic Republic in their flat.

There are some absurd comic situations - often posing awkward questions about the nature of the change of regime.

For instance, Alex cannot get hold of East German gherkins any more. So he pours Dutch ones into an old East German jar - and his mother does not taste any difference.

Later, he explains TV pictures of people swarming through the Berlin Wall by saying they are Westerners fleeing east.

Accessible to all

"It was funny to see history changed in that film," laughed Suzanne afterwards. "I've never seen it from that perspective before."

The film shows that the actual world of the GDR, the world not informed by politics, was a very normal German world
Andreas Kilb
film critic
Bert laughed during the film too - but also underlined its deeper qualities. "The film went beyond nostalgia," he said. "It was really about a family."

And it is perhaps that which has also made it so popular with "Wessies" too. Film critic Andreas Kilb says the attention to outward details - fashions, furniture, etc - makes Goodbye, Lenin accessible to all.

"The film shows that the actual world of the GDR, the world not informed by politics, was a very normal German world," he says.

There is also a sub-plot about Alex's father, who fled to the West when he and his sister were young children and who re-appears in time for a reconciliation with his mother before she dies.

"It's about ordinary people in their ordinary world, and it treats them in a comedy way. That's always appealing to audiences, especially German ones who want to end this chapter of history on an upbeat note," says Kilb.

"It tries to reconcile the two halves of Germany that haven't really been mentally reunited despite their political reunification."

'Speak freely and freshly'

The film's director, Wolfgang Becker, says the film's success is very much a sign of the current mood in Germany.

"The idea for the script first came two or three years after the fall of the Wall," he says. "But it wouldn't have sparked much interest then. German life (the TV, newspapers) was saturated with reunification."

Now, he believes, Germans are more receptive - and laid back.

"You need time to be able to talk about it in this cheeky, ironic way - and also to get over the awkwardness, to speak freely and freshly."

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