This film from 2003 is a gem. ‘Goodbye Lenin’ is the story of a family coming to terms with the end of the DDR. We see the mother and her teenaged son and daughter from the Autumn of 1989 through to a year later when the two German countries united. The mother is a loyal citizen of East Germany. She lives with her children in East Berlin, estranged from her husband who fled to the West.
It has comedic moments and I have seen it labeled as a comedy but it has serious points to make. When the DDR crumbles, the son is concerned at the effect this may have on his ailing mother. She has a heart attack when she sees her son arrested by the Stasi. When she awakes from her coma, eight months later, the world has changed and the DDR no longer exists.
The comedic elements of the film come from the efforts the son goes to, aided by his sister and his new girlfriend, to prevent his mother from discovering that her beloved East Germany, the state she dedicated her life to, has disappeared. The personal and political coincide here just as they did in Maxim Leo’s book, ‘Red Love’. We get to see here, though, how quickly capitalism filled the vacuum once communism fell. Brand names and company logos sprout up all over the city.
There are poignant moments, too, when we see the son trying to hang on to what was good about the country in which he grew up and what made his mother feel secure. Any country which needs to control its population to such an extent as the East German state deserves to fall, but with it inevitably go the things which were positive and fair.
In the scene where the son traces his father in the West, we see the dilemma. His life could have been like this, or it could have been like the one he tried to maintain for his mother.
‘Goodbye Lenin!’ is in my hinterland. What’s in yours?