Old Times and New in “Goodbye, Lenin!”
Old Times and New in Wolfgang Becker’s Goodbye, Lenin! There are many themes in Goodbye, Lenin! The most obvious is the contrast between the old times and the new and the question of nostalgia or embracing the past.
Two scenes which show this theme includes the scene when the main character’s mother, Christiane, asks Alex (the main character) for some Spreewald gherkins. The second is when Christiane ventures outside and sees all the changes that have affect East Germany since the collapse of the Berlin Wall.
The story unfolds in the year following the collapse of the Berlin Wall in November of 1989. Alexander Kerner constructs the GDR in one room of his family’s apartment in East Berlin for his mother who has recently woken up from a coma. His mother, Christiane Kerner, has experienced nothing of the tumultuous events of 1989-1990. When she regains consciousness the doctor tells Alex that she will not survive another heart attack and to keep her excitement levels at a low.Alex decides to keep the events of the last year a secret and thus keeps the old GDR alive in their apartment.
Alex uses systematic disinformation to manipulate his mother’s beliefs. One day, Christiane asks Alex for some Spreewald gherkins, her favourite. Unfortunately, the shops have got rid of their East German products. As he walks around the supermarket all Alex sees are jars of pickles from Holland. These foods were produced and sold in the old East Germany where often it was impossible to produce enough to meet demand.The director, Wolfgang Becker, juxtaposes shots which compares both systems of government (the old and the new). The supermarket shelves have been ‘invaded’ by new brands from Holland and the rest of the world.
The differences between the two halves of the city are highlighted by a montage sequence where we see in bland colours the empty shelves of old East Berlin supermarkets. A single, defrosting, bloody chicken lies at the bottom of a huge freezer – this shot is juxtaposed with the vibrant colours of the brightly packaged goods on the shelves of shops in the new Berlin.These images in this scene shows the contrast and lacking that both the old and the new both have. The second scene which portrays the theme of old and new is when Christiane ventures outside of the apartment into Berlin. For Christiane, venturing out into the ‘real world’ means that she must confront this new world around her. For Alex, it means confronting the lies that he has been telling to build up the imaginary world in the apartment. Christiane has to face the changes that have been made in the past years and must see the new.
She gazes upon the sights for the first time – West German’s moving into the apartment building, the new western vehicles, and of course the statue of Lenin. Good Bye, Lenin! is a thematically rich film, delving into politics, family dynamics, and, most especially, the contrast between the old and the new. The fall of the Berlin Wall was a tumultuous event for East Germany, triggering rapid changes in every aspect of the lives of the people who lived there.Overnight, the economy would be transformed from a socialist system to a capitalist one, Western consumer goods and ideas would come flooding in, and people could pass freely into the Western sector of the city. In these scenes we see the influence of the new on the old. We see Alex trying to keep his mother in the old East Germany by creating a world in their apartment with everything from the old GDR. Christiane eventually ventures outside and sees the new Germany and comes out of this experience with new strength and understanding.