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The “Before” Picture: “Sonnenallee” (1999)

Growing up on the “shorter end of the Sonnenallee”

Based on the book “Am kürzeren Ende der Sonnenallee” by Thomas Brussig, the movie affords a glimpse into the lives of five East German teenagers growing up on Sonnenallee, a street that was divided into two uneven stretches by the Berlin Wall—the longer end in the West; the shorter end in the East. Micha, the book’s main protagonist, and his friends grow up during the Cold War “at the shorter end of the Sonnenallee” in ordinary East German households. Their interests are not very different from those of the kids living on the other side of the ominous Wall: mostly, they like rock’n roll and girls. Thomas Brussig, the author of the book, grew up in East Berlin himself and generally depicts the East German lifestyle quite accurately, although definitely with a humorous slant. It is an amazing event, for example, when Micha’s family, after many years of waiting, finally receives a telephone and when it rings, they all stare at it with a mix of wonder and apprehension as if they half expect a secret service agent to jump out of it. But Micha and his family live in the shadows of the ever-present Wall, right around the corner from a border crossing. They have some limited contact with the West because Micha’s uncle, who lives in the West, comes to visit frequently, and sightseers in West Berlin like to ridicule the “Ossis” from a viewing platform on the West side. Both the book and the movie contain many humorous details of what it was like to grow up on the Sonnenallee in the GDR. They aim to portray the lighter side of life in the East, as opposed to many of the more serious movies dedicated to the oppressive nature of the communist regime (e.g. “The Lives of Others”). In spite of the comedic and somewhat nostalgic angle of the movie, viewers still get an idea of the restrictions and conformity that ruled the lives of East Germans for nearly forty-five years.

Resources for “Sonnenallee”: trailerIMDb page; the Easy Reader version of “Am kürzeren Ende der Sonnenallee” is hard to come by in the US, but may be available used through Amazon.com.

The movie is not available in English, but can be purchased in German with Region 2 code (Germany) from Amazon.de. It is available at amazon.com, but it may be cheaper to order it from Germany. Please be aware that a Region 2 coded DVD will not play on a regular U.S. DVD player.

 

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