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Review: Sonnenallee (1999)

Updated: Mar 29, 2020

By Tom Carson

A coming-of-age classic in a Cold War context.

This German comedy, set in 1970s East Berlin and directed by Leander Haußmann, perfectly captures – one would assume – the lighter side of living in the GDR.

Many of the idiosyncrasies of life in the GDR are present: (apparently) threatening border guards, poorly functioning household goods, attempts to overcome mass censorship, schools that attempt to enforce Marxist indoctrination.

Consequently, Micha (Alexander Scheer), Mario (Alexander Beyer) and their friends mention the prospect of starting a resistance group. However, their attention soon turns to universe-wide teenage preoccupations: illegally listening to music (The Rolling Stones), impressing girls and throwing parties.

Soon, teenage rebellion entails changing slogans to ‘die Partei ist die Vorhaut der Arbeiterklasse‘; and writing diaries about living under an oppressive police state will be written with the intention to impress girls.

The formula is reminiscent to 101 other coming-of-age classics. One can’t help but retrospectively compare it to British films. Starter for Ten (2006), Sing Street (2016) and Quadrophenia (1979) immediately spring to mind.

However, Haußmann delights at teasing Sonnenallee’s western audience. Western tourists are manipulated into thinking Micha and Mario are starving when passing through the city (“Hunger, Hunger!”); Tourists are issued an order to Rückzug (‘retreat’) when Micha ironically threatens to kill them; *Spoiler Alert* and it’s no surprise when the two most prevalent western characters in the film meet an unfortunate conclusion.

The Eastern audiences will no doubt enjoy references to the multifunktionstisch, Leica cameras, Frank Zappa, collecting sunflowers for Angela Davis, and boasts of reaching recycling targets ahead of schedule.

However, there is enough here for universal audiences to enjoy here. The use of of T. Rex’s Get It On works particularly well in a scene in which the boys try to impress Miriam and her pals. Likewise, the ending scene, a Mary Poppins/ Blues Brothers/Grease-esque ensemble of music-induced collective fervour hits home strongly, lifting the absurdity level through the roof.

Haußman has intentionally favoured absurdity over realism here, but the effect is a film filled with genuine warmth, charm and humour.

Is anyone else feeling Ostalgic?



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