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Film / Good Bye, Lenin!

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"The GDR survives — on 79 square meters!"

Shortly before the fall of the Berlin wall, the young East German Alexander Kerner's dedicated Communist mother sees her son in an anti-government demonstration and falls into a coma due to a heart attack. When she awakens eight months later, the doctors tell Alexander that his mother cannot abide a new shock. Alexander therefore orchestrates an elaborate ruse, complete with fake television programs, to keep his bed-ridden mother from finding out that the GDR is gone.

German bittersweet comedy from 2003, directed by Wolfgang Becker. Has a lot of subtle humor, playing on the feeling of shell-shock many East Germans felt upon being catapulted into the Capitalist world and the almost overnight disappearance of their country. Many of the visual clues might be easy to miss for people not familiar with the common cliches about the GDR. The film also put actor Daniel Brühl on the map.


This film provides examples of:

  • Age Cut: Alex is a student launching a model rocket in school. The camera pans up as the rocket launches and pans down to find Alex 10 years older.
  • The Alleged Car: The family's acquisition of a Trabant after "just" 3 years' wait- a sky-blue wagon, no less- is a plot point.
  • Alternate History: In-Universe. Alexander, along with his friends and family, sets up an elaborate alternate history where East Germany ends up dominant over West Germany is created to hide the truth from his mother.
  • Artistic License – History: If the cab driver really is supposed to be Sigmund Jähn, is this. In real life, Jähn had managed to work as a freelance consultant for the German Aerospace Center (DLR) following reunification in 1990, prior to which he was in the East German army where he had risen to the rank of Major General, hardly making him likely to be as down on his luck as the movie suggests.
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  • Commie Land: Or rather, the transition from this.
  • Dacha: The family have onenote , and are shown holidaying there in old home movie footage- later, they take the mother (Christiane) there in the Trabant, where she tells the real story about the father's defection to the West, and suffers a relapse due to the trauma of remembering the event.
  • A Degree in Useless: Ariane'snote  studying of "economic theory" (presumably of a Marxist-Leninist sort) is something she clearly saw as useless in a now-capitalist environment- so she quits whilst she's ahead and gets a job at the very capitalist Burger King.
  • The Driver: The cab driver who may or may not have been Sigmund Jähn.
  • Dumpster Dive: Alex discovers that most of the old product brands have been replaced by imports from the west so he searches dumpsters for jars with the old labels. He cleans the jars and puts the food into them so his mother never knows that they are actually eating pickles from Holland.
  • End of an Age: As indicated by the title, the end of communism in Europe.
  • Excited Show Title!
  • "Fawlty Towers" Plot: "Don't mention the Wall!"
  • Finger-Twitching Revival: Mom awakes from her coma.
  • Foreign Language Title: Uses the English "Goodbye" instead of the German "Auf Wiedersehen".
    • This gets a gag in one scene, which shows a (real) headline from the fall of the Wall saying, Mach's gut, Deutschland! ("Goodbye, Germany!")
  • The Future Is Shocking: A variation occurs (no actual time travel, but East Germany was in a sort of stasis) — after the Berlin Wall falls, the protagonist goes to see West Germany and instantly encounters a TV with porn on. Given how shocking the experience is for him, he reasons that it will be even worse for his mother, leading him to construct his elaborate ruse.
  • The Great Politics Mess-Up: the movie explores the effects of such (namely the fall of Communism and the re-unification of Germany) on the lives and psyche of ordinary people- some embrace the changes, others struggle to cope.
  • German Humor: Lots of it in the narration, not all picked up by the subtitles.
  • Hospital Hottie: Lara, the nurse with whom Alex begins a relationship.
  • I Never Got Any Letters: The mother reveals that she has been lying to Alex about his father. He didn't go to West Germany with a woman and he did write letters. Ariane later finds all of the old letters from her father and cries as she reads them.
  • In the Original Klingon: One of the fake newscasts claims that proof has been discovered to demonstrate that Coca-Cola was invented in East Germany.
  • It's All Junk: Played with. The old, East German furniture that they threw out turns out to be the hiding place of their life savings. Later, the money is worthless because the family missed the cut-off to exchange them for West German Marks.
  • Let Them Die Happy: Sort of (but not exactly in the way Alexander intends).
  • Locked Out of the Loop: The entire plot is based on locking Alex' mother out of the loop. Later, it's Alex that has to be locked out of the loop, and slightly before that we discover that Alex and his sister were locked out of the loop for over a decade by their mother.
    • Then there also is the over-arching theme of the GDR's entire population having been locked out of the loop, and now have understandable trouble adjusting to it.
  • Maintain the Lie: What begins as a simple attempt to prevent Christiane from knowing that the Wall fell "takes on a life of its own" and has to be developed into an elaborate ruse, even to the point of making use of Alex's friend and colleague Denis' passion for film-making to create fake news reports (some of which are clearly ridiculous, but imitate the Real Life propaganda) to explain away reality.
  • Male Frontal Nudity: Rainer.
  • Match Cut: Discussed by Alex's aspiring filmmaker friend Denis.
  • Oh, Crap!: Alex when his mother asks for some Spreewaldgurken, her favorite pickles, as practically all East German brands have been replaced by Western foodstuffs.
  • Outdated Outfit: Played with. To keep the ruse going, it is required for any guests to take off their Capitalist Germany clothes and replace them with Communist Germany Outdated Outfits.
  • Popcultural Osmosis Failure - Denis shows Alex the wedding video he has edited in the style of 2001: A Space Odyssey. Alex does not get the reference - having never seen the original film.
  • Police Brutality: Early in the film we see a protest (in which Alex is participating and first meets Lara) being brutally suppressed by police, despite the protestors' pleas for "Keine Gewalt!" ("No violence!") which (after seeing her son being arrested) triggers Christiane's heart attack.
  • Present-Day Past: Some of the western brand products are in contemporary (with respect to the making of the film) rather than circa-1990 packaging.
    • Subverted by the Matrix-esque T-shirt Denis wears in one scene, which is explained in deleted footage as an idea in the making as well as giving nods to the simulated reality Alex's mother is kept in.
  • Product Placement: Essential to the story; particularly well-handled when the big red banner being lowered on the building across Karl-Marx-Allee from mom's bedroom window turns out to be a Coca-Cola ad.
    • Word of God is that Ariane works at Burger King because they were much easier to work with in terms of filming and use of trade dress than McDonald's.
  • Reconstruction: Yes, Communism was not a really great thing and most of the GDR former citizens are happy about the change, but, some find themselves without a job and the old organization was providing for everyone, even if very limitedly.
  • Remembered Too Late: When Alex and his sister ask their mother for her bank information so they can change her soon to be useless money for the Deutsche Mark, she says she actually hid it away, but can't remember where. Later in the movie she remembers she hid it in the old furniture they threw away, but when they tried to change it, they were told the cut-off date expired two days before.
  • Riddle for the Ages: Did Lola tell Alex's mother the truth during the emotional conversation between them that the audience sees through the window?
  • Rule of Funny: Alex's quest to find Spreewaldgurken (Spreewald pickles) for his mother. In reality, they were one of the few East German products that were available without interruption during and after reunification. You can still buy them today. But it helps underline that their supermarket has literally changed overnight.
  • Shout-Out: A subtle but meaningful anachronism: Alex's partner-in-fake-newscasts Denis Domaschke is seen several times wearing a T-shirt from The Matrix, another movie about an artificial re-creation of a world that no longer exists.
    • It's only anachronistic in the final cut of the movie: a deleted scene expains that Denis has an idea for a film that is essentially exactly the same as The Matrix, which is why he's wearing that shirt.
    • The fast-forward scene where they put Alex's mother's bedroom together while William Tell Overture plays, is a clear nod to a similar scene in A Clockwork Orange.
  • Shown Their Work: The filmmakers did one hell of a job in getting the props correct for the fake-out East Germany.
  • Title Drop: Of the rare visual kind in the mentioned statue scene.
  • Toppled Statue: A symbolic scene in which an old statue of Lenin is being flown away by a helicopter.
  • Unbroken Vigil: Alex is seen falling asleep while watching over his comatose mother in hospital.
  • Undercrank: Setting up Mom's sickroom.
  • The Un-Reveal: Just who is that cabbie? note 
  • Unusual Euphemism: Alex refers to the fall of the Berlin Wall as a "recycling campaign," and the mass emigration of East Germans to the West as people failing to return from "vacations in Hungary," among others.
    • The "vacations in Hungary" comment is a reference to actual events - Hungary liberalised its politics and reduced security at its border several months before the fall of the Wall, leading to many East Germans, who were allowed to visit Hungary, going there specifically so that they could cross the border into Austria and escape to the West, oftentimes after meeting up with family members from the West in Hungary (as Westerners were allowed to visit Hungary too).
  • Visual Title Drop: One shot shows a statue of Vladimir Lenin being hauled away by a crane. The statue of Lenin showed him raising his hand in a dramatic gesture, so when the tilted sculpture passes by the window, he appears to be waving goodbye.
  • Why We Are Bummed Communism Fell: And how it affected some people more than others- TV repairman Alex fairly quickly finds a better job as a satellite dish installer while his sister, finding her pursuit of a degree in Marxist-Leninist economics suddenly obsolete, winds up working at Burger King and several neighbors in their 50s are unemployed with no prospects. Even East German cosmonaut Sigmund Jähn seems to have ended up as a cab driver after the fall of communism.


Example of: