Stasi movie adds a serious edge to 'Ostalgie' for the old East Germany

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The Independent Online

Cinema audiences in Germany, which has been engulfed in "Ostalgie" movies sentimentalising life in the Communist era, are about to get a sharp reminder of reality in the old East Germany with the release of a film about the Stasi secret police.

Das Leben der Anderen (The Life of Others) has emerged as the front runner for the German equivalent of the Oscars. In sharp contrast to lighter-hearted offerings like Good Bye Lenin!, the most popular German film of recent years, director Florian von Donnersmarck's debut film tells the story of a leading East German playwright whose near-perfect life falls apart when a politician falls for his girlfriend and orders the Stasi to spy on him. It was shot in the former Stasi headquarters in east Berlin.

Critics have called Das Leben der Anderen one of the best German films for years and hope it will mark an end to the seemingly endless wave of Ostalgie movies, which include NVA, a comic look at life in the East German army.

Critics of the trend say more realistic films about the Communist years are essential for today's teenagers, many of whom were born after the wall came down. Berlin schoolchildren will be taken to see Das Leben der Anderen by the Education Ministry. "For me, this film marks the real beginning of a critical analysis of Germany's second dictatorship," said Wolf Biermann, a songwriter and former dissident who was thrown out of the GDR in 1976.

The release in 2003 of Good Bye Lenin!, about a son's attempt to stop his terminally ill mother discovering the GDR has collapsed, proved that Germans do have a sense of humour and was an international success. It sparked a lucrative industry in anything and everything GDR, from Ostalgie board games to Spreewald gherkins. One Ossi entrepreneur tried to sell canned Trabant exhaust fumes, while plans were even announced for a massive GDR theme park on the outskirts of Berlin.

Mr von Donnersmarck, a west German who was 16 when the wall fell in 1989, spent a year immersing himself in the methods and language of the Stasi to ensure his film was as authentic as possible.

Whether Das Leben der Anderen really does mean the death knell of Ostalgie remains to be seen. Some 1.7 million Germans tuned in to a TV screening of Good Bye Lenin! this month. As Ulrich Muehe, who plays a loyal Stasi officer in the new film, reflected last week: "Perhaps we needed the funny films to laugh it away once and for all, before we dealt with the serious stuff."