The Lives of Others  

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"Early in the morning, Erich Honecker arrives at his office and opens his window. He sees the sun and says: "Good morning, dear Sun!" The sun replies: "Good morning, dear Erich!" Honecker works, and then at noon he heads to the window and says: "Good day, dear Sun!" The sun replies: "Good day, dear Erich!" In the evening, Erich calls it a day, and heads once more to the window, and says: "Good evening, dear Sun!" The sun is silent. Honecker says again: "Good evening, dear Sun! What's the matter?" The sun replies: "Kiss my arse. I'm in the West now."" --The Lives of Others

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The Lives of Others (Das Leben der Anderen) is a 2006 German film, marking the feature film debut of filmmaker Florian Henckel von Donnersmarck, about the monitoring of East Berlin by agents of the Stasi, the GDR's secret police. It stars Ulrich Mühe as Stasi Captain Gerd Wiesler, Ulrich Tukur as his boss Anton Grubitz, Sebastian Koch as the playwright Georg Dreyman, and Martina Gedeck as Dreyman's lover, a prominent actress named Christa-Maria Sieland.


In the German Democratic Republic (East Germany) in 1984, secret Stasi officer Hauptmann Gerd Wiesler is assigned by his superior, Anton Grubitz, to spy on successful playwright Georg Dreyman. Wiesler and a Stasi team bug the apartment, set up surveillance equipment in a nearby attic, and begin reporting on Dreyman's activities. Dreyman has so far escaped all but cursory attention from the authorities due to his staunchly pro-Communist views and his internationally recognized talent. Wiesler soon learns the real reason behind the surveillance: the Party's Minister of Culture, Bruno Hempf, covets Dreyman's girlfriend, actress Christa-Maria Sieland, and is using his power to rid himself of a romantic rival. While Grubitz sees this as an opportunity for career advancement, Wiesler is horrified by the abuse of power. Through his surveillance, he knows Dreyman and Sieland are deeply in love. Minister Hempf uses his knowledge of Sieland's addiction to prescription drugs to engage her in sexual liaisons.

After he discovers Sieland's relationship with Minister Hempf through Wiesler's indirect help, Dreyman implores her not to meet him again. Sieland at first refuses and flees their apartment. She walks to a nearby bar where she meets Wiesler, who, posing as a fan, reminds her of her talent. The encounter convinces Sieland to return to Dreyman.

Although a dedicated Communist, Dreyman is increasingly disillusioned with the way his blacklisted colleagues are treated by the State. At Dreyman's birthday party, his close friend Albert Jerska, a blacklisted theatre director, gives him the sheet music to a piece titled "Sonate vom Guten Menschen" (Sonata for a Good Man). Shortly afterwards, Jerska hangs himself. Wiesler is moved by this turn of events. Infuriated, Dreyman decides to publish anonymously an article on the concealed East German suicide rates in the West German periodical Der Spiegel. No suicide rates in the GDR have been published since 1977—the year East Germany had the second highest suicide rate in Europe, after Hungary. Knowing that all East German typewriters are registered, Dreyman uses a miniature typewriter smuggled in from West Germany, which he hides under the floorboards in his apartment. Before talking openly in his apartment, Dreyman and his friends test whether the flat is bugged by feigning an attempt to smuggle one of their blacklisted friends through the Heinrich-Heine-Straße checkpoint of the Berlin Wall. Although aware of the smuggling, Wiesler does not alert the border control police, and the conspirators believe the apartment is secure.

Dreyman's article on unreported suicides in the GDR is published and enrages the East German authorities. Through an agent working at Der Spiegel, the Stasi obtain a copy of the typed manuscript and realize it was written on an unregistered typewriter with red ink. Meanwhile, Minister Hempf is livid at being jilted by Sieland and orders Grubitz to destroy her. Grubitz arrests Sieland as she attempts to buy drugs at her dentist's office. Threatened with the end of her career, Sieland reveals Dreyman's authorship of the article. When the Stasi search the apartment, however, they do not find the typewriter. Grubitz then orders Wiesler to interrogate Sieland again, warning him that failure will cost them both. Sieland recognizes Wiesler as the man from the bar and tells him where the typewriter is hidden, agreeing to become an informant.

Grubitz and the Stasi team return to Dreyman's apartment and lift the floorboards, but the typewriter is not there. They do not know that Wiesler has already seized the evidence. When she sees the horrified look on Dreyman's face as he realizes she informed on him, a guilt-ridden Sieland runs into the street and is struck by an oncoming truck and killed. Dreyman runs downstairs and holds his dead girlfriend in his arms, weeping inconsolably. Grubitz offers his perfunctory condolence and leaves the scene. Realizing that Wiesler obstructed the investigation, Grubitz informs him that he is being demoted to Department M where disgraced agents steam-open letters. He assures Wiesler that he will be there for the rest of his working life. As he leaves, Grubitz discards a newspaper that announces Mikhail Gorbachev as the new leader of the Soviet Union.

Four years and seven months later, in November 1989, Wiesler is steaming open letters in a dank, windowless office, when a young co-worker (who had told an indiscreet joke about GDR leader Erich Honecker and was threatened with demotion early in the film) tells him of the fall of the Berlin Wall. Understanding that this means the end of the Stasi, Wiesler and his co-workers walk away from their jobs. Two years after German reunification, former Minister Hempf and Dreyman have a chance encounter. Dreyman asks Hempf why he was never under surveillance, and Hempf tells him he was in fact being monitored. After uncovering the surveillance equipment in his apartment, Dreyman goes to the Stasi Archives to read through the files on his activities. He figures out that Sieland was released just before the second search and could not have removed the typewriter. Seeing a fingerprint in red ink on the final typewritten report, he realizes that Stasi Agent "HGW XX/7" had knowingly covered up Dreyman's authorship of the suicide article and had removed the typewriter before the Stasi search team arrived. Deeply moved, Dreyman locates Wiesler and watches him go about his new job delivering mail. For a brief moment, he considers approaching Wiesler, but he decides against it.

Two years later, while delivering mail, Wiesler passes a bookstore and sees a window display promoting Dreyman's new novel, Sonate vom Guten Menschen. Wiesler goes inside, opens a copy of the book, and discovers that it is dedicated "To HGW XX/7, with gratitude". As Wiesler purchases the book, the sales clerk asks if he wants it gift-wrapped, and Wiesler responds, "No, it's for me."


  • Ulrich Mühe as Hauptmann Gerd Wiesler
  • Martina Gedeck as Christa-Maria Sieland
  • Sebastian Koch as Georg Dreyman
  • Ulrich Tukur as Oberstleutnant Anton Grubitz
  • Thomas Thieme as Minister Bruno Hempf
  • Hans-Uwe Bauer as Paul Hauser
  • Volkmar Kleinert as Albert Jerska
  • Matthias Brenner as Karl Wallner
  • Charly Hübner as Udo
  • Herbert Knaup as Gregor Hessenstein
  • Bastian Trost as Häftling 227
  • Marie Gruber as Frau Meineke
  • Zack Volker Michalowski as Schriftexperte

See also

Unless indicated otherwise, the text in this article is either based on Wikipedia article "The Lives of Others" or another language Wikipedia page thereof used under the terms of the GNU Free Documentation License; or on research by Jahsonic and friends. See Art and Popular Culture's copyright notice.

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