My friend John and I went to see a terrific film tonight, “The Lives Of Others” about the role of the secret police in East Germany. I don’t know why, but I’ve always been quite fascinated about Germany. The Kaiser. Hitler. The division into East and West. The fall of the wall (on my birthday) in 1989. All of these historical moments have always held a fascination for me, such that I’ve sometimes wondered if I have some German ancestry.
As a teenager, I was lucky enough to visit Germany. This was, of course, back in the days of East and West Germany, several years before the fall of the Berlin Wall. Even now I remember vividly catching the train from Frankfurt to Berlin, travelling mostly overnight through East Germany. Then, as daylight dawned I remember being asked for my passport (which I struggled to find), and then seeing a school with the words “The Sun Always Shine in East Germany” (in German of course) near the train track. I also remember observing from the nearby Tiergarten the guards goose-stepping around the Brandenburg Gate. As we waved to them, I remember a moment of humanity as one of the guards very subtley waved back, reminding us they were people too.
This film, too, reminds you at the heart of the East German regime there were people with real emotions. At the heart of the film is the character of Wiesler, a spy and seemingly idealistic supporter of the East German government. Assigned to spy on the a playwright, Georg Dreyman, he undergoes a transformation, recognising the humanity of Georg and himself.
As I watched the film unfold, and observing in particular the spying that went on, it occured to me this was perhaps the kind of state Nazi Germany could have become, with paranoia and distrust at the heart of everything that occured on a political level.
All around us at the screening I heard people speaking in German and holding back the tears. A reminder that, although this is now “history”, it’s recent enough for people to remember, and to have known people who would have lived under the East German regime.
It’s not all about politics, though, with a strong and moving plotline, reminding the audience of the strength of humanity.