Is life a true fiction?

Germany archive

Manfred Wilke

The author

Prof. Dr., sociologist, contemporary historian and journalist, project manager at the Institute for Contemporary History (IfZ) Munich, Berlin. In 1992 he was a co-founder of the SED State research association at the Free University of Berlin, of which he was director until 2006, together with Klaus Schroeder.

"The Lives of Others" was a global success. The Oscar-winning film sparked controversy in Germany: a Stasi officer as a positive hero was a provocation. Was the film plot a fiction or was it based on authentic events in GDR history?

I. The power of music - the film idea

Florian Henckel von Donnersmarck found the idealistic idea for his film "The Lives of Others" (2006) while reading the memory of the Russian writer Maxim Gorki of Vladimir I. Lenin. Gorky recalled that he loved Beethoven's "Appassionata", but was not able to listen to it often after the revolution because his mental state prevented this. Lenin saw in this sonata "astonishing, non-human music". After the Bolsheviks were in power, he couldn't hear them too often, they paralyzed his political resolve too much: "It attacks your nerves, you want to say loving stupid things and stroke people's heads [...]. But nowadays you are not allowed to stroke anyone's head - your hand is bitten off, you have to hit the head, hit it mercilessly [...]! "[1]

It was in the context of the Russian Civil War in which these words were uttered. With these words, the founder of the Soviet state and the world communist movement himself identified the contradiction between the humanist vision of the socialist goal and the terrorist practice of the Bolsheviks in power. His successor Josef W. Stalin was to finally degrade the humane vision to the ideological justification of power through his terrorist policy within the Soviet Union. The contradiction between the humanist aim and the terrorist means of communist rule remained an insoluble problem for these dictatorships. However, the ruling party apparatus could not give up the ideology of the communist ultimate goal, since it legitimized its monopoly of power.

As if in "intoxication", Henkel von Donnersmarck drew the consequences for the story of the film from the report on the effect of great music on the Russian revolutionary. He imagined how the eavesdropper from the Ministry for State Security (MfS) of the GDR did not listen to such music for pleasure, but while on duty through his headphones, when he was spying on an "enemy of his ideas" who, however, was also a "friend of this music" "is. [2] Music as a catalyst for
Head man Gerd Wiesler (Ulrich Mühe). Photo from "The Lives of Others" - available on DVD. (& copy Disney, Buena Vista Home Entertainment, Inc. 2006)
Captain Gerd Wiesler's refusal - was that really a convincing motif on which the film's plot could be built?

The idea of ​​the film project required a story for the script, it already determined the cultural milieu in which it was to play. Writers, actors and intellectuals have always been a risk group for a worldview dictatorship; because social changes begin in people's minds. Therefore, censorship and language control as well as the surveillance of the population by the secret police were among the methods of rule of this dictatorship. From the point of view of power, the "cultural workers" had to be monitored particularly intensively by the secret police. The history of science and culture in the GDR was shaped by many conflicts that artists and scientists had with state power. Such real conflicts had to provide the material for the story that "The Lives of Others" was supposed to tell.

At this point in the realization of his film, the scriptwriter sought historical advice on the historical material for his script. Florian Henckel von Donnersmarck was 17 years old when the wall came down, so he had to rely on contemporary witnesses to write his screenplay. He took a lot of time for this research and systematically interviewed contemporary witnesses, including former MfS officers. This open attitude created space for the controversial discussion between us about the content of his script. The central controversy with me concerned the question: Could his film idea be convincingly portrayed in the plot of his film? I had my doubts and emphasized the need to combine the music with contradictions in the course of the Dreyman's Operational Process (OV). This happens in the film: Wiesler's assignment to spy on a writer messes up his coordinate system as a secret police officer and communist, he loses his clear connection to the ideologically given enemy image.