• Germany;
  • collective memory;
  • film;
  • Stasi;
  • nostalgia


This article analyzes the popular, award-winning German film The Lives of Others as an intervention in memory politics focused on the socialist German Democratic Republic (GDR). Confronting the crimes of the East German regime has been framed as coming to terms with Germany's “second dictatorship,” suggesting an equivalence not only between the Nazi and socialist states and their abuses, but also the moral and historical stakes of facing up to the two legacies. The Lives of Others reinforces the “second dictatorship” discourse and fails to provide a nuanced portrayal of the GDR, opting instead for a moral drama that elides the political world it claims to represent. Drawing on ethnographic research on identity in Eastern Germany and critical readings of recent public discourse, I analyze claims about the film's authentic portrayal of GDR repression and its importance as a corrective to Ostalgie by situating The Lives of Others as a text and cultural phenomenon within the cultural landscape of post-socialist memory in Germany. This landscape, in turn, must be placed within the still broader context of national unification, identity, and memory in unified Germany.