Good Bye, Lenin! is a German tragicomedy film, released internationally in 2003. It can be seen as part of the ostalgie movement. Directed by Wolfgang Becker, the cast includes Daniel Brühl, Katrin Saß, Chulpan Khamatova, Maria Simon and Florian Lukas.

Story overviewEdit

To protect his fragile mother from a fatal shock after a long coma, a young man must keep her from learning that her beloved nation of East Germany, as she knew, has disappeared.


Plot summaryEdit

Spoiler warning: The following contains plot details about
the entire movie.

The film is set in the East Berlin of 1989 . Alexander Kerner's mother, Christiane Kerner, an ardent supporter of the Socialist Unity Party of Germany, suffers a heart attack when she sees Alex being arrested in an anti-government demonstration and falls into a coma shortly before the fall of the Berlin Wall. After eight months she awakes, but is severely weakened both physically and mentally, and doctors say that any shock may cause another, possibly fatal, attack. Alex realises that her discovery of recent events would be too much for her to bear, and so sets out to maintain the illusion that things are as normal in the German Democratic Republic. To this end, he and his family revert the flat to its previous drab decor, dress in their old clothes, and feed the bed-ridden Christiane new, Western produce from old labeled jars. For a time the deception works, but gradually becomes increasingly complicated and elaborate. Despite everything, Christiane occasionally witnesses strange occurrences, such as a gigantic Coca-Cola advertisement banner unfurling on a building outside the apartment. Alexander and a friend with film-making ambitions edit old tapes of news broadcasts and create their own fake special reports to explain them away.

In one surreal scene, Christiane wanders outside the flat while Alex is asleep, and sees all her neighbours' old furniture piled up in the street for garbage collection, a car dealer selling BMWs instead of Trabants and advertisements for such Western corporations as IKEA. Then, a huge military helicopter flies past carrying the upper half of an enormous statue of Lenin, which at an angle appears to be offering Christiane his hand. Alex and his sister find her and take her back to the flat. Alex and his friend create a fake special report stating that East Germany is accepting refugees from the West.

A subplot involves the earlier defection to the West of Alexander's father when Alexander was a child, an event which apparently drove his mother temporarily insane, and which prompted her ardent support of the party. Later it is revealed that the defection was planned by them both, but she bailed out to protect her children. Alexander's sister Ariane, now working in a Burger King drive-through, one day sees her father with a new family. Christiane later admits the deception and Alexander goes to find his father, partly for himself and his sister, and partly to honour Christiane's dying wish that she see him one last time. On the way, Alex meets a taxi driver who looks just like his childhood hero, Sigmund Jähn, the first German in space.

Christiane relapses, and is once again taken to the hospital. Under pressure to reveal the truth about the fall of the East, Alexander creates one final fake film segment. Alexander convinces the taxi driver to identify himself as Sigmund Jähn, who in the segment becomes the new leader of East Germany, and gives a speech promising to make a better future by opening the borders to the West. Christiane is very impressed by the "broadcast", but in fact already knows the truth, as Alexander's girlfriend revealed everything when Alexander was not around. The tables are turned completely, and it is Alex who is being protected from reality. Christiane dies soon afterwards, and Alex never knows that she did, in the end, know the truth.


The film is a commentary about truth and deception, but is also a comedy and an exercise in nostalgia. Just as Alex is deluding his mother, she has been deluding the children all her life about their father, and in the end is the one deluding Alex that she is still in the dark about his deception. All of the delusions are done with the very best of motives, and can be seen as a metaphor for the GDR's (or any other country's) attitude to its own citizens. The film suggests that, in hindsight, the fall of the wall and the reunification of Germany was perhaps carried out with undue haste, and doing so did not permit the East German state to die with dignity. Alex's deceptions at least allow his mother to die with dignity, and each of them is a metaphor for different aspects of the East German state, with its routine deceptions, but unduly hasty demise.


The music is composed by Yann Tiersen with the exception of the non-instrumental version of Summer 78 sung by Claire Pichet. Stylistically, the music is very similar to Tiersen's prior work on Amélie (in fact one piano composition is in both films), but is missing Amélie's trademark accordion waltzes.

A real life Christiane KernerEdit

In May 2007, Polish Railway worker Jan Grzebski woke from a coma that he had fallen into after being struck by a train in 1988. At the time of the accident, Wojciech Jaruzelski, Poland's last Communist leader, was still in power. Grzebski noted that, "when I went into a coma there was only tea and vinegar in the shops, meat was rationed and huge petrol queues were everywhere. Now I see people on the streets with mobile phones and there are so many goods in the shops it makes my head spin."[1][2]


  • Alexander Beyer, who plays Rainer, Ariane's wayward boyfriend, also played a major role in the previous blockbuster "Ostalgie" film, Sonnenallee in 1999. In Good bye, Lenin!, he plays a former West German inhabitant who constantly mocks the former East German inhabitants, but eventually does such things as buying a Trabant. In Sonnenallee, he played an East German who constantly made fun of West Germans.
  • Most of the scenes were shot at the Karl-Marx-Allee in Berlin and around Plattenbauten near Alexanderplatz.
  • Much confusion was caused by Denis' t-shirt, which appeared to bear the green glyph pattern from The Matrix. The Matrix appeared in 1999, whereas the film was set between 1989 and 1990. A deleted scene on the DVD eventually solved this mystery. The scene featured Denis, an amateur film-maker, telling Alex about his idea for a film, where people were enslaved by machines to produce energy for them while they were trapped in a computer dream world - an obvious reference to the aforementioned film. There is a common theme of keeping people in a simulated reality.
  • In the hospital scene after Christiane has her first heart attack, Ariane is shown in a chair solemnly playing a dirge on a child's plastic recorder while her comatose mother lies beside her. The tune she plays is a variation on Zbigniew Preisner's "Song for the Unification of Europe". This is an homage to (or perhaps a parody of) a similar hospital scene in Krzysztof Kieślowski's Three Colors: Blue.
  • The film includes scenes from East German children's programs including Sandmännchen.
  • Although the East German products are accurately portrayed, many of the western products in the film are shown in packaging different from that used in 1990, including Jacobs Krönung coffee, Heinz ketchup, Pepsi Light, and Coca-Cola Light.
  • The film contains various clips from West Germany's games at the 1990 World Cup in Italy, which they eventually won. Including these shots are Lothar Mattheus penalty-kick against Czechoslovakia, the Germans singing their national anthem before the semi-final against England, and Chris Waddle of England's crucial penalty miss.
  • There are at least two homages paid to Stanley Kubrick. The scene with the wedding cake is a direct reference to the famous bone scene from 2001: A Space Odyssey, with Denis mentioning it as such; also, the scene when Alex and his friend set up his mother's bedroom is a reference to the sex scene in A Clockwork Orange, with Rossini's William Tell Overture being played on both occasions. The name of the main character in A Clockwork Orange is also Alex.
  • Alex has a poster of the East German band Silly on his wall, as well of one of Sid Vicious of the Sex Pistols and his girlfriend Nancy Spungen.
  • The movie contains a contemporary reference to Apollo 13, even though it came out several years after the movie takes place.
  • The scene with a flying Lenin's statue recalls a similar scene with flying Jesus in Fellini's film La Dolce Vita.


See alsoEdit

External linksEdit

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