Tuesday, 12 February 2013

The Lives of Others & Stasiland

The Lives of Others is a 2006 German-language film about East Berlin during the 80s. It follows a playwright and an actress whose apartment is placed under full surveillance by the Stasi (the then Ministry for State Security). You get a real sense of their rigid and obsessive methods for gathering information about their own people, and Ulrich Mühe does an amazing job in portraying the main Stasi operative. I'd never seen Mühe in anything before, but after watching this, it was no surprise to read how popular he was as an actor – and that he'd had first-hand experience of the Stasi earlier in his life. I couldn't believe it when I read that he had passed away in 2007.

Although there is hardly any graphic design featured in the film, there are plenty of examples of severe minimalism and neutrality - be it in the architecture, the way people speak, the suppression of emotion, the order and discipline. All this makes me think of a visual graphic equivalent, like Jan Tschichold's early work – which he is said to have later described as being akin to fascism because of it's overly strict approach. It isn't something I've considered before – is it realistic to suggest that the obsessive nature of a designer could spill over into society and wreak havoc?

I was interested in learning more about the Stasi and the Berlin Wall, so I got a copy of Stasiland by Anna Funder. The edition featured here is really well designed – only two colours throughout. It is described as a collection of accounts by both victims and members of the Stasi, so I was expecting quite a linear chapter-by-chapter structure but actually the author blends all of the accounts into one long narrative with herself at the centre – as she goes along meeting new people in Berlin. It was interesting to see how many things from the book carried over into The Lives of Others, or vice versa, e.g. how the odd Stasi member might joke about their superiors and the sudden effects that doing so might have on their career.

YouTube, of course, has loads of videos about the Berlin Wall and the prison in East Berlin, and the links will take you to a couple that I recommend. In this video, you'll meet one of the people from Anna Funder's book – her story is totally heartbreaking.

Out of interest, I had a look on Eye Magazine and came across this article and this article, both of which offer a small insight into the design world of the GDR.

The history of the GDR has made me consider the effects of being overly scientific in anything I do – not only design – and that designers must be aware of the world around them, whether they 'like' politics or not. Maybe history shows us that imposing strict order is only healthy for as long as you can indulge in a little chaos along the way.


  1. u have a very interesting blog
    i'm following by gfc would you like to follow each other



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