I remember watching Das Leben der Anderen or The Lives of Others my senior year of high school in a film course at Clark College.
At the time, I found myself liking the movie, but not truly understanding what it would be like to live during the time period this movie was set in. This poignant and moving film follows the life of Georg Dreyman, an artist and playwright, in East Berlin during the GDR. Because of his occupation he is, naturally, a threat to East Berlin's socialist government. His apartment is secretly wire tapped and a high ranking Stasi soldier is ordered to listen in on Dreyman's daily habits to see if he is conspiring against the government. At first, the Stasi is hated by the viewer due to his lack of empathy and understanding towards others not conforming to socialism. But as the movie progresses we see that there is more to the stone-like front the Stasi has up. We see this character having empathy, and even feelings, towards Dreyman and those in his life. As the film progresses, and as the Stasi becomes part of Dreyman's life, we see a battle going on in his mind as to if he should report Dreyman for publishing literature in the West against the GDR. If reported on, Dreyman would face being locked up in Hosenschonhausen prison.
Hosenschonhausen is a real Stasi prison in East Berlin. I visited the prison earlier this week. I was haunted by the reality that thousands of people were locked up in this prison, and others throughout the GDR, for talking out against socialism. What is more, many people in prison had simply been accused by others. The Stasi did not need proof that you were "guilty," but could come to your house at any time and take you away. Many times they would threaten (tell you that they would take down your family and friends) and torture you until you signed a document stating that you were guilty, even if you were not. Then, you would be faced with a lengthy prison sentence. A witch hunt was going on in East Berlin, individuals accusing others in fear that they themselves would end up in prison or blacklisted. I have a deeper understanding of what occurred during this period of history. The movie was the first step, the actual prison a tangible way for me to have an even closer look at the insanity of this regime. A regime bent on controlling every aspect of life.
I will not ruin the ending of the movie for you, my reader. But please, go rent this film. While sad and depressing, one should not be ignorant to world history. We carry a heavy burden of learning from the past in order to not let these events happen again.
Our tour of Hosenschonhausen ended by viewing an art installation by a former prisoner. The artist took hundreds of pieces of paper and abstractly painted his experiences in prison. He did this by painting hard lines and blotches of dark colors to represent the many interrogations he went through. The artist financed everything himself as a way of relieving the pain of memory he had in Hosenschonhausen. All he asked in return was for the viewer to take one of the paintings clipped to a wire hanging and in its place clip a note of your own detailing your impressions of the prison. It was his way of releasing the art into the world. Art which had been oppressed by the GDR for so long.