Das Leben der Anderen

A few weekends ago I finally got around to watching the movie Das Leben der Anderen. (English: The Lives of Others.) Apparently movies about the former East Germany get screen time in the States. Go figure.

I'd been away from conversational German for a long time, but I was rather pleased that I was able to follow some parts without having to consult the subtitles. Though those parts didn't last long. Eventually, they'd use too many words whose meaning I couldn't guess from context, or they'd talk so indistinctly that I couldn't make out the words, or they'd just plain talk too fast and my internal parsing buffer would fill up and reject new input. I could only keep it up for brief stretches.

Nevertheless, I was pleased. First, I was still able to understand German in German. This is always a major step in learning a language, being able to understand the language on its own terms without first having to translate it into your native language, and I was happy that I hadn't regressed so far that I lost that ability.

And second, I found myself talking to myself in German again. This is a language trick that I developed early on: Talk to yourself in the language you're trying to acquire. Whether it's wondering out loud what you should do next, checking the time, commenting on the weather when you look out the window first thing in the morning, being angry at other cars on the road, whatever it is, say it in the language you're trying to learn. On top of that, when I listen to the radio by myself, I try to do simultaneous translation of what the newsreader is saying into my target language. Of course, I do a terrible job, but it forces me to stay nimble and exercises vocabulary recall.

For a few months now, I've been trying to shift my target language from Swedish to German, but whenever I started in German, I would keep slipping into Swedish. This movie appears to have kicked me over the fence. Good news for the Germans; bad news for the Swedes.

"Raymond, why do you watch so many German movies?"

Because it's hard to find Swedish movies in this country.


Groups of ten or more visiting the Stasi Museum in former East Berlin can request a guided tour in German, English, or, curiously, Swedish.

Comments (28)
  1. George Jansen says:

    Not a bad movie, though I wonder whether it isn’t a little soon to really get a handle on the period. I also wonder whether the power of art to change one’s life isn’t overstated.

    "Leben der Anderen" seems as if it alludes to something, but a Rhinelander I work with thought not. Any clues?

  2. whatever says:

    It can’t be that hard to find Swedish films in the US. It could be a bit tricky explaining to anyone you know as you come out of the theater why you were in there though:

    "I was just, err, brushing up on my language skills!"

    "Oh yeah? A lot of oral, was there?"

  3. Christian says:

    Disclaimer: This reply is in German.


    Es freut mich, dass Ihnen der Film gut gefallen hat. Ich hatte leider noch nicht die Möglichkeit den Film zu sehen. Sollten Sie interessiert sein einen andere guten deutschen Film zu sehen, sollten Sie sich "Die Fälscher" ansehen. http://www.imdb.com/title/tt0813547/

    Ich lese begeistert Ihren Blog und freue mich immer, wenn Sie wieder ein bisschen etwas über die Windows Interna schreiben!

  4. Anonymous Coward says:

    Use the "angry at other cars on the road" advice only outside of the country where that language is used :) For instance, in the US, it’s waaaay better to swear at everyone and everything else in Russian, as opposed to English or Spanish. Wider variety of profanity, and nobody gets very mad at you since they know you’re angry at them but they don’t understand what you’re saying :D

  5. James says:

    Tell us what you thought of the film, Raymond. While aware of the fictionality of the repentant Stasi officer, I thought it was an excellent film.

    If you haven’t already done so, I’d recommend the (non-fiction) book Stasiland by Anna Funder.

  6. Basil says:

    Don’t talk to yourself about the war!

  7. Christoph says:

    Why shouldn’t he talk about the war? It is a normal topic: there are quite a few documentaries about it on TV, a lot of class-time is used to teach students about it (and more importantly about the events that led to it). You just should not glorify it or deny the holocaust, that’s all.

  8. Dusty says:

    Christoph, I believe Basil was referring to this: http://blogs.msdn.com/oldnewthing/archive/2006/05/17/599917.aspx

  9. Basil says:

    Well you started it!

  10. Tom Parkeer says:

    I’ve been to that museum.  One of the most chilling experiences of my life.  They’d done nothing to the place, it is just like it was the day the wall fell.  Lots of padded cells with scratch marks in the walls.  I got lost in the place (take the guided tour) and freaked out a bit.  Definitely a worth while stop on yor tour of how evil humanity is….

  11. n3rd says:

    Just in case you haven’t come across it yet, you should definately watch Schtonk! ( http://imdb.com/title/tt0105328/ ). It’s about the fake Hitler diaries that were sold to one of the biggest german magazines back in the 80s. Priceless.

  12. HSY says:

    "…a language trick that I developed early on: Talk to yourself in the language you’re trying to acquire…"

    I have been using this technique myself too, (auch mit Deutcsch)- however I find that there’s the risk of occasionally making up wrong phrases/constructs and embedding them in your brain for good.

  13. Inquirer says:

    Sadly, the current German government seems to be stealing a tactic right from the Stasi’s playbook:


  14. Johan says:

    There’s always Ingmar Bergman of course, not sure if you’re interested in that kind of movies though.

  15. Stefan Kuhr says:

    Hi Raymond,

    This movie is really one of the best we had in Germany recently. If you want to have a good laugh with a recent German movie, checkout "Lammbock".


  16. Christian says:

    Excellent choice!

    In the end of the movie, when he was reading through the pile of his own Stasi-files, and when he found the microphones in his home, I was really shaken.

    Too bad that once forgotten east-german techniques now have quite a revival in Germany and especially Heilgendamm and the G8-submit: Collecting scents, nation-wide introduction of the Bundestrojaner (an idea of developing government spyware) and of course what Germany is best at: Building walls. (Or fences in that case).

    Too sad. I hope we can at least watch an equally good movie in a few decades about what will happen in the next years here

  17. Merin Gazell says:

    I’m pretty sure you’d find bergman in the states, if you havent watched them all yet.

  18. dsn says:

    And of course, if you want another good laugh about East Germany, check out Goodbye Lenin.

    [Way ahead of you. -Raymond]
  19. Drak says:

    Ah Raymond, I too use this language trick. It even sometimes go so far that when analyzing a problem at work me and a few coworkers start to speak our thoughts in a different language (in German most often). It’s usually a lot of fun, and sometimes helps to see a problem which you might not see if you are concetrating too hard (and miss the obvious).

  20. Mike Diack says:

    I’ve noticed that the last few days articles/comments have had nothing to do with Windows.

    Has Ray run out of topics?


  21. Dean Harding says:

    Mike: Ray has topics queued up for years in advance… I don’t think he’ll run out just yet. Be patient and enjoy the ride :-)

  22. peterchen says:

    @George: Form my (gladly limited) experience, it seems an excellent piece to transport a feel for situation to someone who has never lived something similar.

    An excellent movie for many reasons. Raymond, I hope you enjoyed it beyond the talking-to-yourselves ;-)

  23. As you can see, there is a fashion about these Eastern European retro movies (East of Bucharest, Lives of Others etc). They have the regular power of attraction of an exotic movie, but these ones have something extra: it’s not just a different culture than the one Westerners are living in, it’s a culture that doesn’t exist anymore. You can’t buy a ticket to that world. It’s not an utopia, it’s an ucronia.

  24. J.Sarguroh says:

    Oh yes, the power of art. Somebody,up there has doubts about it.Poor Wiesler’s empty,stale and lonely life is turned over when he hears the poem"von der weissen Wolke ungeheuer oben" it gives him a glimpse of the life of the others,naybe for the first time in his life and his tears open the floodgates of human joy,grief and tenderness. He now belongs to the others too. Need I say more?This film is beautiful. A triumph of"Der Gute Mensch"!JS

  25. MikeC says:

    For German, I highly recommend listening to <a href="http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Rammstein">Rammstein</a&gt; on a regular basis, the lyrics stay in your head, and due to the regular nature of their layout, and repetition (e.g. choruses), they reinforce themselves.

    But it does require cranking up to 11…

  26. MikeC says:

    *sigh* and the newbie poster encounters the html block….

    That was meant to say "Rammstein" with a link to http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Rammstein.

    I’ll get my coat….!

  27. luci sandor says:

    Megaherz works in the same way as Rammstein for learning German.

  28. luci sandor says:

    Oh, the Cannes Juray awarded their best movie prize to one of those East retro movies. The Occident has fallen under the spell. I should start a business selling Trabis. :)

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