Home Book Summary Table of Contents Max Hofstetter
The Berlin Book of Lists

    It’s been fourteen years since Lola Rennt came out, introducing Franka Potente to Americans well before she played Jason Bourne’s love interest, and making director Tom Tykwer’s name.  Lola has twenty minutes to find 100,000 marks to save her boyfriend’s life – a challenge she lives through three times– and this sword-of-Damocles feeling infuses the movie with tense energy.  Even more than a decade later, on summer days walking from Friedrichshain to Kreuzberg over the turreted 19th century Oberbaumbrücke, you’ll still spot small groups of tourists running with exaggerated arm-pumping, giggling and clicking photos, pretending for a minute that they’re Lola running.  Hey, it’s fun.  Give it a try.  Given the triptych structure of the movie, you see Lola running the bridge three times, all in eighty-one minutes, so it leaves a lasting impression.  You can supply the throbbing techno score yourself.  The film is an extended love letter to Berlin and captures how it was in the 1990s soon after the Wall came down and before so much was renovated and prettified.  It’s fun to strain to see street signs, so you can confirm, yes, that really is how Französische Straße looked way back then.

    The trailer for the amazing film The Lives of Others includes a shot of main character Georg Dreyman, the playwright under Stasi surveillance, played by Sebastian Koch, standing with the distinctive outline of the Frankfurter Tor in the background.  This makes perfect sense since the playwright’s apartment, where so much of the film takes place, is on Wedekindstraße in Friedrichshain less than half a mile away.  The architectural style of the twin domed towers is explicitly Stalinist and they were built in the 1950s as part of the lavish Stalin Allee project, so their presence in the background of that scene in the film is symbolically important.  It’s well worth a walk around the area, including an excursion to Wedekindstraße, but first see Das Leben der Anderen, preferably in German (with or without subtitles), which offers a haunting portrait of the realities of life in East Berlin before 1989.

    Daniel Brühl made his breakthrough in Good Bye, Lenin! in 2003, long before appearing in such U.S.  movies as The Bourne Ultimatum and Inglorious Basterds, and there’s an undeniable sweetness to his presentation of a character who just can’t bear to shock his mother with the truth that the East German state has crumbled along with the Wall.  The film opens with the Brühl character explaining, “My name is Alexander Kerner.  I am an East German citizen and I have a problem,” as some kind of orderly slugs him in the chest repeatedly.  Then he explains what his problem is: “Die Mauer ist Weg,” that is, the Wall is gone.  “That wouldn’t be a problem, but my mother has no idea all this has happened,” he continues with a shot of his mother in a hospital bed with tubes protruding, until she finally wakes up from a months-long coma.  Antic fun ensues with an elaborate ruse to make the mother think she’s still living in the GDR.  The glimpses of Alexanderplatz in the background practically establish it as another character in the movie.

    Sonnenallee came out in 1999, just ten years after the fall of the Wall, and was the first of the notable crossover Ostalgie movies to reach the United States.  It’s also one of the very first movies to spawn a full-fledged novel, instead of a novelization.  Screenwriter Thomas Brussig published Am kürzeren Ende der Sonnenallee (On the Shorter End of Sonnenallee) after the release of Sonnenallee, which he wrote and developed in collaboration with Detlev Buck and director Leander Haußmann.  Not only is Sonnenallee a real (and very, very long) street in Berlin, it’s also an S-Bahn stop, one stop away from Treptower Park on the Ringbahn encircling Berlin.  Get out and take a look.  The Berlin Wall cut off part of Sonnenallee for almost three decades and the movie offers a comic look at the teens growing up there in the late 1970s, mad for rock music, especially the Rolling Stones.  The film is all about the absurdities of life in that time and place, and a sense of place comes through strongly.  Watching the movie and then poking around for a present-tense, real-life look at the former border along Sonnenallee makes for both a jarring and intriguing experience. 

MARKTHALLE, HERR LEHMANN (Pücklerstraße 34, U1 Görlitzer Bahnhof)
    Really, it’s impossible for anyone who has read Sven Regener’s truly impressive first novel Herr Lehmann (renamed Berlin Blues in English) ever to eat Schweinebraten (roast pork) without meditating on the question of whether to have crackling or not.  Where better then to indulge in this existential debate than at the Markthalle in Kreuzberg, the setting for the scene in both the novel and the 2003 film (also directed by Leander Haußmann)? A fun fact that has eluded both German and international fans of the story is that although many of the details Regener depicts are real, most of the establishments were “inspired” and based upon existing institutions with other names.  For example, Madonna, a bar on Wiener Straße and mainstay of the punk scene in the 1980s, was used as the template for the main bar in Herr Lehmann, Einfall.  And the Weltrestaurant Markthalle did not come into existence in its present form for years after the fall of the Wall.  That hasn’t stopped interested Germans and tourists from stopping in at either establishment, asking after Herr Lehmann, Karl and Katrin, the schöne Köchin (cute cook).  The novel and film are set in Kreuzberg in the fall of 1989, just before the fall of the Wall, and there is a Rorschach test aspect to both: People see what they want to see.  For me an impish sense of humor comes through more than the so-called drift that others have chosen to emphasize.  Drift? Of course the characters don’t do much other than drift! Who does in Berlin, then or now? More info about Markthalle can be found online at www.weltrestaurant-markthalle.de.

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