Writing Sample: Cultural Influence From Films About East Germany

“Short story (no more than 500 words) on a topic of choice.”

Cultural Influence From Films About East Germany
By Dustin Coon

As diverse cultures of the world continue to gain prominence over a wider population, foreign influence has been evolving in the arts and media. Recently, the film Atomic Blonde was in theaters, in which a spy is sent to Berlin during the Cold War to investigate a missing list of double agents. While it was American-made, there was a rich sub-layer that paid homage to the pacing of sequences, stylization, and music of European, and notably German, cinema. While modern movies generally cater to modern times, it can be refreshing to look back into recent history, like observing struggles, triumphs and cultural influences of entire nations during the Cold War, to admire how cultural liberties continue to advance every day.

Another (German) film, Sonnenallee (or Sun Alley), highlights life in East Berlin in the late 1970s, giving particular emphasis on the importance of pop art and music for the nation’s youth. It provides a sense of cultural realism, allowing the audience to feel the yearning of East German citizens to fit in with the rest of the fast-paced, culturally advancing world.  For instance, to attempt staying modern, the characters bought products that would more closely associate them with the culture of the West.  However, since the East wanted to preserve its own identity, it only sold East German products, which were shown to be cheaper, more frustrating to manage and less dependable.

In some ways, the main character, Micha, represents the East as a whole, as he struggles to fit in at school and in general socially.  His relationships were out of the ordinary, perhaps because there wasn’t a full understanding of cultural norms outside the East, but he remained an idealist. When his best friend announced that he was married and enlisted in the Stasi, Micha lashed out, showing that freedom of expression is ideal over conformity to a failing system.

The story’s love interest was Miriam. Their infatuation was based on a series of falsehoods after Micha proclaimed that his life was more fulfilling than anything she was previously used to. To make sure Miriam was convinced, he devoted a whole night to filling a diary with extravagant tales of his life. This scene fit perfectly into the playful, optimistic outlook of the film on an otherwise dismally perceived society.

Micha found his way into plenty of oh-shoot moments, but proved to be clever and resourceful amid such an oddly eclectic time and place. Sonnenallee carries the groove of the 1970s, which was just as vibrant in East Germany as anywhere. It even shows a preview to the reunification that took place in 1989.  More importantly, this film broke away from dramatic, disheartening cultural perceptions about East German citizens, who enjoyed life as much as anyone else.

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