July 26, 2013 by anelim
One phrase from this film stuck in my mind and I post it today because it relates to my imminent departure from Berlin:
“Immer denkt man, dass es gibt noch Zeit, alles in Ordnung zu bringen, aber manchmal gibt es keine Zeit mehr.”
I kept meaning to post about Der Geteilte Himmel, but there is too much to say and too little time. There is so little time for anything, but I have to find time for the important things, even if they don’t seem important, and even if finding time for them requires breaking some unimportant ones.
The film tells the story of Rita and Manfred, an East German couple in the first years after the war, before the Berlin Wall was built. The film zooms in on a process of drifting apart. Everything is drifting apart: the two young people, the two halves of their city, the two halves of their country, and the two ideologies that define East and West Germany. The cinematography is fantastic; the actors are superb; it is one of the best films I’ve seen about Berlin and an important window into the history of early post-war Germany – but it isn’t only that. I really liked how the film develops a dialogue between the two opposing ideologies (early post-war socialism and its liberal opposition) – and the fact that both sides of the dialogue are represented. There is a lot of food for thought in this dialogue and it is very relevant today’s post-financial crisis world. The viewer is forced to sympathise with and understand the viewpoints of both protagonists – and, with the hindsight of today’s post-socialist and post-industrial knowledge, also be fully aware the limitations of both.
If I had seen this film ten years ago, myself coming from and still living in an ex-socialist state, I would have thought: what a naïve young woman. Of course Manfred is right to run away to the West to seek better recognition for his scientific talent. I would be hypocritical not to understand him: after all, seven years ago I myself did the same (only going away from a post-socialist and not a socialist state, which makes some difference). The younger Rita doesn’t agree with him: she still believes that the socialist state is a good idea, a better way forward, and besides, one shouldn’t just abandon one’s country. Little does she know that as the skies are drifting apart, the window of opportunity to escape to a place with relatively more freedom is closing. She cannot foresee how many terrors and breaches of freedom this state will commit in the next three decades. She cannot know that some day she will most probably regret her decision to stay.
Today, in the post-financial-crisis 2013 world, I am not such a staunch post-socialist liberal any more. It is an uncomfortable time for rethinking what it is I believe is the right way to organise the world. Rita’s impressions upon visiting West Berlin ring true to me(superficial affluence, colourful packaging but the same stuff of life wrapped underneath, much worse social inequalities – and no hope for the future). Because I’m increasingly aware of how profoundly capitalism is failing, I keep returning to the question why it was that its former alternative, state socialism failed – in my head and in conversations with friends who are equally disillusioned by today’s increasingly commodified, marketised and ultimately drained of meaning socio-economic organisation of the world. I do not have an answer. Talk to me, if you do, or even if you also don’t. But films like this greatly aid the mental experiment of trying to comprehend why socialist states emerged after the War, why so many people believed in the future offered by the socialist ideology – and how this belief was so strong that it overshadowed the increasing authoritarianism of socialist state machines. Maybe they could help us not make some of the same mistakes, in our attempts to improve the world.
So instead of writing more I think I’ll urge you to see the flim, maybe read this very detailed (German) article about the book and its author, Christa Wolf; and I’ll post just a couple of phrases that I liked, both because they say something important, and because they sound poetic. I may have misremembered – if you spot a mistake, do let me know. Or maybe you remember other things from this film? Let me know, too 🙂
“Manchmal kommt man zurück, ohne heimzukehren.”
“Der Bodensatz der Geschichte.”
“Zwischen Faust und uns liegen die Jahrhunderte.”
“Gestatten Sie mir eine Frage: welche Nutzen sehen Sie im heute so übermäßigen verbreiteten Mißtrauen, genannt ‘Wachsamkeit’?”
“Ich habe mir schon immer gefragt, was für einen Sinn gibt es, dass wir auf der Welt sind. Mit ihm verschwand diese Frage, als habe sie sich beantwortet.”