The Unification Comedies

Movie poster for "Go, Trabi, Go!"
Movie poster for “Go, Trabi, Go!”

Go Trabi Go is a 1991 German comedy and road movie directed by Peter Timm. It was the first major box office hit about events concerning the newly reunified Germany. Unlike other films in this period that focused on the problems following reunification, Go Trabi Go sees the main characters, former citizens of East Germany, explore places in Europe outside the Eastern Bloc that they were not allowed to visit during the Communist era.

Synopsis

The year is 1990 and Germany has been newly reunified. German teacher Udo Struutz decides that his family should go on their first vacation in the “west” to relive Goethe’s Italian Journey in their family Trabant 601 (“Trabi”).

Plot

Udo Struutz (Wolfgang Stumph), teacher in the East German town of Bitterfeld, Saxony-Anhalt, is a great fan of Goethe and wants to visit all places described in Goethe’s Italian Journey. Following the German reunification in 1990, he sees the possibility to do so since it is now possible for him and his wife Rita (Marie Gruber) and daughter Jacqueline (Claudia Schmutzler) to travel to Italy. Driving in their family Trabant (called “Schorsch”), they set out to go on their first vacation in the “west”.

Their first stop on their journey southwards is Regensburg where Struutz’s brother-in-law (Ottfried Fischer) lives, who are portrayed as extreme opposites to the East German family. Following this short family reunion, the family with their Trabant is transported by a friendly truck driver to Italy where they continue on their own again. Arriving in Rome, the family’s borrowed camera is stolen which prompts mother and daughter Struutz to chase after the thief, not only recovering their camera but also the money the thief stole. Not being able to talk to the police about it and not being able to find Udo again, they decide to check into a luxury hotel with the recovered money. Meanwhile Udo sleeps in the car after driving through the city the whole day and is awakened by two young women who want to party with him, which leads to the Trabi driving down some stairs and casing being torn apart which they then replace with colorful spare parts. The family reunites at the Spanish Steps the next day and continues onto Naples where the Trabi loses its roof because the family forgot to secure it in place while trying to make a picture of themselves with Vesuvius in the background.

Reception

Go Trabi Go was a major box office hit, attracting 1.5 million viewers in both parts of Germany, making it one of only three unification films that enjoyed success at the box office.  This success has been described as being partly due to the love/hate relationship many East Germans had with their “Trabi”, which was the most well-known and ridiculed symbol of East Germany.

Stephen Kinzer of The New York Times described the movie as a way for East Germans to laugh “not precisely at themselves, but at the absurdities of the system under which they lived until last year.”  He likens the Trabi as a symbol for the people who built it, who “survive[d] through difficult times and ultimately triumph[ed]”. The film was also praised for its rollicking portrayal of the car as a main character while still getting across the problems of the “East” in the newly reunified country by using the car as a metaphor — slow, breaking down and ridiculed by the West.

The film was criticised for relying almost solely on crude clichés and mostly ignoring politically sensitive issues.  Another reason for criticism was that the film paints the main characters in a humble, fair and nice way while their West German counterparts are depicted as vulgar, mean and shallow.

The film was followed by a sequel, Go Trabi Go 2: Das war der wilde Osten (1992), which did not match the success of the original.

Movie poster for "Go, Trabi, Go! 2"
Movie poster for “Go, Trabi, Go! 2”

Go Trabi Go 2 – That Was The Wild East is a German comedy released in 1992.   As in its successful predecessor, Go Trabi Go!,  (1991) the film stars Claudia Schmutzler and Marie Gruber in the leading roles.

Synopsis

The Struutz family return from holidays after the fall of the Berlin Wall to find their home being bulldozed to make way for a golf course. It gets worse when Udo inherits a nearly-bankrupt garden gnome factory and the corrupt mayor starts chasing Udo’s wife. Salvation is sought through the dubious influence of the charismatic Charlie, whose half-baked philosophies (“Freedom’s just another word for nothing left to lose”) are based on tired old Western rock songs and a minimal grasp of Zen.

Movie poster for "No More Mr. Nice Guy..."
Movie poster for “No More Mr. Nice Guy…”

No More Mr. Nice Guy (German: Wir können auch anders …) is a 1993 German comedy film directed by Detlev Buck. It was entered into the 43rd Berlin International Film Festival where it won an Honorable Mention.

Synopsis

Two brothers both of which can neither read nor write making their way across Germany in order to claim to their inheritance. On their way they meet Viktor, a deserted soldier of the sowjet red army and Nadine, a beautiful young woman. Later an incident with some highwaymen, which can be solved easily with Viktor’s kalashnikov, they become accused for murder – something they had neither intended nor realized. They claim Nadine to be their hostage, fleeing police forces until they reach the coast.

New York Times Film Review

Movie poster for "Good Bye Lenin!"
Movie poster for “Good Bye Lenin!”

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

Plot

In a prologue, Alex Kerner (Daniel Brühl) 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 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 an anti-government demonstration, where he meets a girl by chance, but they are separated by the riot police 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, capitalism comes to East Berlin, and Alex loses his job before “winning” a new position in a lottery to install satellite dishes 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 bear, 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, albeit 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 an Mi 8 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 convinces him to meet Christiane again. 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, and Denis scatter her ashes in the wind (despite this being illegal in both East and West Germany) using an old toy rocket Alex had made with his father during his childhood.

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