Skip to content

The Great Fall: The effect on the arts

Updated Monday 3rd November 2014

The fall of the Berlin Wall had a great impact, especially in the world of the arts. 

The 25th anniversary of the fall of the Berlin Wall, probably the most famous symbol of the Cold War,  is a good moment to reflect on its impact on the lives of Germans on both sides of the division.
 
The events of the autumn of 1989 have inspired much commentary, also in the world of the arts. They have even become a ‘story’, promoted worldwide, that helped make German culture and thinking known on a global stage. Just remember international box office hits such as Goodbye, Lenin! or The Lives of Others, which brought German movies to mainstream cinemas abroad.
 
The fall of the Berlin Wall features heavily in German literature, even today, and in German literary criticism this literature even secured its own label: Wendeliteratur – literally ‘literature of the turn’. What was surprising in many books written shortly after the fall of the Berlin Wall was their humour – something which incensed quite a number of (mainly East) Germans, who found it difficult to appreciate the funny side of what had happened to them.
 
Others saw this humour as a way of glorifying the hardships people suffered in the GDR. However, this humour was also an effective means of overcoming the hurt, of finding a new identity and perspective on life in a reunited Germany and of lightening the load of the task of ‘cleaning up’ after the 9th November 1989.
 
The probably best known of these ‘funny’ takes on life in East Germany before and after the reunification, are Thomas Brussig’s Helden Wie Wir (1995) – a political farce at the crossroads of history, politics, the private and sexuality – and Am kürzeren Ende der Sonnenallee (1999) – the story of life and love in East Germany in the 1970s in a street adjacent to the Wall, a street that was a forbidden zone but still celebrated the culture of the West with pop art and pop music. Both were made into feature films soon after their initial publication and hailed as long-awaited Wende-novels.
 
However, Brussig’s work attracted many critics who again did not see the funny side of things and simply found his approach shallow and tiring. Yet what critics often overlooked was Brussig’s bold take on the quest for a new identity mixed with a good dose of nostalgia, which very precisely reflects many East Germans’ experience at the time. And again, this journey has acquired its own label: Ostalgie.  

Read more articles from Open University academics about their knowledge and experiences of the fall of the Berlin Wall.

 

For further information, take a look at our frequently asked questions which may give you the support you need.

Have a question?