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Teaching Materials

The Lives of Others (2006)


The secret police Stasi is controlling the representatives of the field of culture in the east Germany in 1984. Captain Gerd Wisler has to watch the playwright George Driman. Suddenly for everyone the Stasi officer becomes the supporter of a dissident writer.

XX Century, Germany of 1980s

  • Germany was defeated in second world war and in the world begin new era named Cold War. Germany was divided into two parts, east part Democratic Republic of Germany (1949-1990) and the west Federal Republic of Germany (1949-1990)
  • The Ulbrikht group developed the governance structure which was supported by Stalin. From 1952 until 1998 GDR became the state of socialist workers and peasants.
  • The Berlin wall was built in 1961 which was dividing the capital into two parts – West and East. It was a symbol of cold war and its length was 155 km. The wall was demolished in 1989 on 9th of November. In the east part of the country it was called the “Anti-fascist defensive wall”. Until the end of 1960s, the west part was calling it the term of Willy Brandt – “Shameful Wall”.
  • Willy Brandt – German politician, Bundeskanzler from the Social Democratic Party in 1969-1974. In 1971 he became a laureate of the Nobel Peace Prize.
  • Erich Honecker – German communist politician. In 1937 he was arrested by the fascists and sentenced to ten years in prison. In 1945 the Soviet Army liberated him.
  • West Germany was a member of NATO, the founder of the European Union and one of the strongest economies in the world. East Germany was a Soviet socialist country. In 1988, the Soviet Union collapsed as a result of the Perestroika. In 1989, a wave of velvet revolutions began in Europe: the socialist bloc collapsed and Germany was reunited.
  • The Wall is the title of Pink Floyd (English progressive rock band) music album. The concept of The Wall, a rock opera, is to isolate the individual from society and find his or her own identity. The story of Pink, the protagonist in the songs, is told chronologically: the father dies in World War II, the mother is overly caring, and the harsh treatment of a strict school teacher makes Pink’s life more difficult. Every new event is “another brick in the wall.” Eventually the protagonist destroys the wall and leaves an unwanted world. This musical album was “reborn” during the fall of the Berlin Wall (1989).

  • The film describes east Germany in 1984, German playwright Georg Dreyman is a popular and accepted figure in the political elite. Suddenly the secret police is interested in his persona. What is the reason?
  • What is the character of Captain Wiesler, a representative of the Secret Police, at the beginning of the film? When and in what form does it change?
  • Captain Wiesler, who lives the “lives of others”, suddenly becomes a witness and accomplice of the personal tragedy, joy and pain of almost strangers. In what artistic ways does the director convey all this in the film?
  • What is the attitude of Georg Dreyman’s fellow writers towards the system, in what form do they try to fight the regime?
  • Which episodes of the film reveal the radical difference between East and West Germany (Berlin)?
  • Why is the secret police trying to put under psychological pressure girlfriend of the German playwright?
  • Swimming against the current is interesting, but dangerous – German dissidents were living by this principle. Their human passions, dilemmas, difficulties, struggle for survival, fun and parties turned out to be a completely different world for Wiesler. How much do you think all this influenced his decision (“Betrayal” for the secret police and supporting those who opposed the regime)?
  • Why did Georg Dreyman dedicate the book to the captain of “Stasi”, what is the ending of the film? In your opinion, what did the director mean by that?

Write about this film
A film by Donnersmarck accurately describes the reality in the east Germany during first half of the 1980s. Dissident writers, members of the secret police, illegal surveillance and stalking was a common practice of that time political regime. While writing about the film pay attention to epochal contexts and focus on the characters. What kind of person is captain Wiesler at the beginning at the film and why he changes his attitude towards Dreyman? Analyze why is it dangerous to be a writer and what can literature, drama or theatre can do in this case?

Individual activities
Totalitarianism is a form of political governance where the state has absolute control over all aspects of human life. Find out more in which countries totalitarianism (authoritarianism) has manifested itself in extreme forms. We recommend to read the works of the English writer George Orwell “1984” and “Animal Farm”.

Group Work
Curriculum links: History, Civic Education.

In East Germany, and in the Soviet Union in general, illegal surveillance became a common practice of the system. While working in the group, discuss what alternatives the citizens had in such a situation and what mechanisms the system used to manage them. Discuss what the Georgian reality was like in the 1980s. Remember the story of the “Flight from the USSR”, what do you think was the main motive for their actions?

Additional activities :
After the discussion and work in groups students can give to a narrative a visual form of wall newspaper or an presentation. Where you can talk about the Berlin Wall demolish and the life of German people until now. Try to discuss all fields: politics, economy, social situation, culture and education.

Expected Results

As a result of the subsequent discussion and review of the film, in which it is necessary to use the epoch-making contexts and the above recommendations, the student will learn more about the German Democratic Republic of the 1980s.


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