Good Bye, Lenin!

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Good Bye, Lenin!
Good Bye Lenin.jpg
Theatrical release poster
Directed by Wolfgang Becker
Produced by Stefan Arndt
Written by Wolfgang Becker
Bernd Lichtenberg
Starring Daniel Brühl
Katrin Saß
Chulpan Khamatova
Maria Simon
Alexander Beyer
Music by Yann Tiersen
Claire Pichet
Antonello Marafioti
Cinematography Martin Kukula
Edited by Peter R. Adam
X-Filme Creative Pool
Distributed by X Verleih AG (Germany)
Sony Pictures Classics (US)
Release dates
  • 13 February 2003 (2003-02-13)
Running time
121 minutes
Country Germany
Language German
Budget 4.8 million (approx. $6.5 million)
Box office $79,384,880

Good Bye, Lenin![1] is a 2003 German tragicomedy film. Directed by Wolfgang Becker, the cast includes Daniel Brühl, Katrin Saß, Chulpan Khamatova, and Maria Simon. Most scenes were shot at the Karl-Marx-Allee in Berlin and around Plattenbauten near Alexanderplatz.


In a prologue, Alex Kerner (Nico Ledermüller) recalls as a child in 1978 how proud he was along with his countrymen when the first German to enter space, Sigmund Jähn, came from East Germany (the GDR).

The remainder of the film is set in East Berlin, spanning from October 1989 to just after German reunification a year later. Alex (Daniel Brühl) lives with his sister, Ariane (Maria Simon), his mother, Christiane (Katrin Saß), and Ariane's infant daughter, Paula. His father fled to the West in 1978, apparently abandoning the family. In his absence, Christiane has become an ardent idealist and supporter of the ruling Socialist Unity Party of Germany (the Party). Alex takes part in an anti-government demonstration, where he meets a girl by chance, but they are separated by the Volkspolizei before they could properly introduce themselves. When Christiane sees Alex being arrested, she suffers a near-fatal heart attack and falls into a coma. The police ignore Alexander's plea to assist his mother, instead releasing him later that evening to go and see her.

While visiting his mother at the hospital, Alex again meets the girl from the demonstration, who is revealed to be Lara (Chulpan Khamatova), a young nurse from the Soviet Union taking care of his mother. Alex becomes smitten with her and asks her out. The two soon begin dating and develop a close bond.

Shortly afterward, the Berlin Wall falls. In that time, Erich Honecker resigns from office, the East German police and military become increasingly toothless, and capitalism comes to East Berlin. Alex loses his job as a TV repairman due to the decommissioning of the labor agency, but gets hired by a West German cable company. The company has a "lottery" to pair those from East and West Germany, and Alex is paired with West Berlin resident Denis Domaschke (Florian Lukas), an aspiring filmmaker with whom Alex quickly becomes good friends, while Ariane leaves university to work at a Burger King drive-through. After eight months, Christiane awakes, but is severely weakened both physically and mentally. Her doctor asserts that any shock might cause another, possibly fatal, heart attack. Alex realises that the discovery of recent events would be too much for her to hear, and so sets out to maintain the illusion that things are as before in the German Democratic Republic.

To this end, he, Ariane and Lara revert from the gaudy decor of the west to the drab decor they previously had in the bedroom of their mother (who is now bed-ridden) in the family apartment, dress in their old clothes, and feed Christiane new Western produce from old-labeled jars. Their deception is successful, however increasingly complicated and elaborate. Christiane occasionally witnesses strange occurrences, such as a gigantic Coca-Cola advertisement banner unfurling on a building outside the apartment. With Denis's help, Alex edits old tapes of East German news broadcasts and creates fake reports on TV (played from a video machine hidden in an adjacent room) to explain these odd events. As the old news shows were fairly predictable, and Christiane's memory is vague, she is initially fooled.

Christiane eventually gains strength and wanders outside one day while Alex is asleep. She sees all her neighbours' old furniture piled up in the street for rubbish collection and advertisements for Western corporations. She also sees an old statue of Lenin being flown away by a helicopter, which seems to reach out to her. However, Alex and Ariane quickly find her, take her home, and show her a fake special report that East Germany is now accepting refugees from the West following a severe economic crisis there. Christiane, initially sceptical, finally decrees that as good socialists, they should open their home to these newcomers. The family decides to go to their dacha at Christiane's suggestion.

While they are there along with Lara and Ariane's new Western boyfriend, Rainer (Alexander Beyer), Christiane reveals her own secret; her husband had fled because the Party had been increasingly oppressing him, and the plan had been for the rest of the family to join him in West Berlin. However, Christiane, fearing the government would take away Alex and Ariane if things went wrong, chose to stay in the East. She has come to regret the decision over time.

Christiane relapses shortly afterward and is taken back to the hospital. After meeting his father, Robert (Burghart Klaußner), for the first time in years, Alex sees that he has remarried and fathered a second family, but is welcoming of Alex's reunion. Alex convinces Robert to see Christiane one last time, stating he should say he was moved to return East to see his dying wife. Under pressure to reveal the truth about the fall of the East, Alex creates a final fake news segment, convincing a taxi driver whom he believes to be Sigmund Jähn to act in the false news report as the new leader of East Germany and to give a speech promising to make a better future including opening the borders to the West. However, Alex is unaware that Christiane had already been informed of the situation the nation was going through by Lara earlier the same day. She reacts fondly to her son's effort, without telling him she had already acknowledged what had happened in the past few months.

Christiane dies peacefully two days later: she outlives the GDR, passing away three days after full official German reunification. Alex, Ariane, Lara, Denis, and Robert scatter her ashes in the wind using an old toy rocket Alex had made with his father during his childhood.



The film score is composed by Yann Tiersen, except the version of "Summer 78" which is sung by Claire Pichet. Stylistically, the music is very similar to Tiersen's prior work on the soundtrack to Amélie (in fact one piano composition, Comptine d'un Autre Eté: L'Apres Midi, is in both films), but is missing Amélie's trademark accordion waltzes.

Several famous GDR songs are sung and heard. Two children, purportedly members of the Ernst Thälmann Pioneer Organisation, sing Unsere Heimat (Our Homeland). Friends of Christiane (living in the same building) follow with Bau Auf! Bau Auf! (Build Up! Build Up!), another anthem, of the Free German Youth. The final fake newscast with Sigmund Jähn features a rousing crescendo of the GDR national anthem, Auferstanden aus Ruinen.


The film received strong positive reviews, holding a rating of 90% on Rotten Tomatoes.[2] Empire gave the film four stars out of five with a verdict of, "An ingenious little idea that is funny, moving and—gasp!—even makes you think."[3]

Awards and nominations[edit]

BAFTA Awards
  • Best Film not in the English Language (nominated – lost to In This World)
César Award
European Film Awards
German Film Awards
  • Outstanding Actor (Brühl, won)
  • Outstanding Actress (Saß, nominated – lost to Hannelore Elsner, Mein letzter Film)
  • Outstanding Direction (Becker, won)
  • Outstanding Screenwriter (Lichtenberg,won)
  • Outstanding Editing (Adam, won)
  • Outstanding Film (won)
  • Outstanding Music (Tiersen, won)
  • Outstanding Production Design (Holler, won)
  • Outstanding Supporting Actor (Lukas, won)
  • Outstanding Supporting Actress (Simon, nominated – lost to Corinna Harfouch, Bibi Blocksberg)
Golden Globe Awards
  • Best Foreign Language Film (nominated – lost to Osama)
Goya Awards
  • Best European Film (Becker, won)
London Film Critics' Circle
  • Best Foreign Language Film (won)
Empire magazine's "The 100 Best Films Of World Cinema" in 2010
  • Ranked #91[4]

References to other films[edit]

  • Much confusion was caused by Denis's 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 – a reference to the aforementioned film. There is a common theme of keeping people in a simulated reality.[citation needed][original research?]
  • 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 lends a helping hand by buying a Trabant. In Sonnenallee, he played an East German who constantly made fun of West Germans.
  • In the hospital scene after Christiane has her nervous breakdown when her husband flees, 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.
  • There are at least two homages paid to Stanley Kubrick; the scene with the bunch of flowers turning into a birthday cake is a direct reference to the famous bone/spaceship 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, while Kubrick's widow is also named Christiane.
  • The scene with a flying Lenin statue recalls a similar scene with flying Jesus in Fellini's film La Dolce Vita and a scene with a Lenin statue being carted away in Kieślowski's The Double Life of Véronique.
  • In the scene where Christiane leaves the apartment for the first time after her coma, the way the elevator door opens and light shines from it into the dark corridor echoes Alan Parker's Angel Heart. In that film the elevator symbolises the main character's eventual descent into hell.
  • The recurring references to Coca-Cola, including the key sequence where a Coca-Cola banner is unfurled outside Christiane's bedroom, recall Billy Wilder's One, Two, Three, also set in Berlin, in 1961, the year of the Wall's erection.
  • The need to maintain the illusion that the GDR still exists to prevent a shock to Christiane’s system recalls the Louis de Funès movie Hibernatus (1969), in which a man who has been frozen in the polar ice for 65 years comes back to life, and they have to maintain the illusion that it is 1905 (the year that he was frozen), in order to prevent a shock to his system.
  • The scene in which Alex and his girlfriend (significantly, named "Lara") enter an abandoned apartment full of GDR memorabilia and wipe the dust off of the mirrors and furniture recalls a similar scene in Dr. Zhivago, with Yuri and his Lara entering an abandoned dacha and wiping away the snow. Coincidentally, the actress who played Lara (Chulpan Khamatova) would later play the Pasternak heroine in a re-make of Dr. Zhivago for Russian TV.

See also[edit]


Further reading[edit]

  • Kapczynski, Jennifer M. (2007). "Negotiating Nostalgia: The GDR Past in Berlin is in Germany and Good Bye, Lenin!". The Germanic Review 82 (1): 78–100. doi:10.3200/GERR.82.1.78-100. 

External links[edit]

Preceded by
The Pianist
Goya Award for Best European Film
Succeeded by