Weekend TV – The Secret Life of the Berlin Wall

by Lynn Connolly

berlin wall

This was an odd mixture of dourness, social commentary – from a time that now feels so alien, it may as well have been centuries ago – and narrative from those who were actually there before and after, and not just watching the events of the fall of the wall on their TVs.

And though overall Kevin Sim’s film was informative – if not overly ‘entertaining’ – I felt that his trying to assimilate art into it was an unnecessary distraction. And I thought it rather detracted from the otherwise serious journalistic endeavour.

But the majority of the film was, happily, mime free and took an unbiased look at the lives of those living within the psychological and physical confines of the infamous wall. Some happily and voluntarily embraced all that was promised by a socialist utopian society while other rebelled, and often, at the cost of their lives or liberty.

It was of course all very 1984ish and scary for just that reason, but still, it was easy to forget that this was not that far in our past. And though of course we’re not unused to hearing about societies ruled by fear, somehow, now it’s – mostly – all over, one can’t help but wonder what it would be like now had the wall and all it represented stayed.

It was the stuff of action films and political thrillers; the Stasi, the double lives of ‘ordinary’ citizens, the oppression and the fight against it. All were shown here in fascinating montages of actual footage and anecdotal recollections.

We heard tales of how families and friends were encouraged to inform on one another, and they did so, in their thousands. It brought home the fact that for those affected, it must have been devastating. Imagine looking around your breakfast table and wondering if any of those people with whom you share your life had betrayed you?

Well that happened to thousands, and it wreaked a hidden carnage and a society built on distrust and fear. One of those featured on the film claimed that his wife’s accident was no accident at all, and was arranged by the government. On that point, I was rather disappointed that we didn’t get to hear more detail about that; it was rather rushed past.

But as I mentioned earlier, not everyone was unhappy with life as it was then and one of the film’s interviewees – who’d been living in East Germany – explained how she’d never been happy living in the West. She’d been smuggled out of the country to be with her husband, but if it weren’t for that sacrifice for love, she’d probably have stayed put.

The main thing that I came away with from this film is how utterly convinced people can become of the righteousness of something they believe in, no matter that the rest of the world might view that belief as in fact brainwashing or rule-by-fear. And irrespective of what’s globally accepted as ‘the norm’, some people will always strive to assert their beliefs, irrespective of the cost to them personally or to those they love.

And in that regard, nothing changes; whether it’s issues from centuries ago or those affecting us now, take a belief system, add oppression and fear and you’ve got yourself a dog-eat-dog society in which some will thrive.

Lynn is an editor and writer here at Unreality TV and is trained psychotherapist and the author of two books. She's addicted to soaps, period drama and reality TV shows such as X Factor, I'm A Celeb and Big Brother.