Since the fall of the Berlin Wall in 1989, Germany has seen a surge of historical films set in the GDR. These films, commonly referred to as post-wende films, form part of what Jaimey Fisher has claimed to be a production trend. They respond to both popular interest and curiosity in the former East-German state, as well as to a national process of vergangenheitsbewaltigung, or coming to terms with the past. This term that was once associated solely Germany’s Nazi past today includes the coming to terms with the abuses and oppression instigated by authorities within the GDR. Whilst these abuses are generally recognized today both in Germany and outside, the comparatively positive aspects of the GDR remain relatively undiscussed. Although Germany is today unified, the differences between East and West to some extent still remain, characterised by what Peter Schneider defines as “the wall of the mind” throughout his work Berlin Now. Because of these continuing divisions, the ways in which the GDR is represented inevitably becomes political as it aligns itself with either ‘half’ of the country. One therefore comes across a wide variety of GDR-set films that highlight either its negative or its positive characteristics in an attempt to consolidate their view thereof into German cultural memory.
The Lives of Others (Florian Henckle von Donnersmarck, Germany, 2006), Sonnenallee (Leander Haußmann, Germany 1999), Goodbye Lenin! (Wolfgang Becker, Germany, 2003), and Barbara (Christian Pertzold, Germany, 2012) form part of the many films that critique both the GDR itself as well as prevalent depictions thereof. In these films, colour becomes a crucial strategy of representation that encourages the spectator to view the state through a specific lens. Colour as a medium that is immediately emotionally stimulating, subtle manipulations thereof are enough to allow the films to highlight certain aspects of the GDR, whether negative or positive, all the whilst maintaining an authentic-looking setting. In this video essay, we shall look more specifically at how each of these films respectively makes use of specific colour schemes to translate their position towards the GDR. We will then conclude by determining how successful these portrayals are in relation to realism and aesthetic qualities, deciding that Christian Petzold’s Barbara offers the most equilibrated and insightful depiction of all.