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In which I continue to seek part time employment as the ruler of the world.

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Monday June 09 2008

In accordance with one of those little coincidences that life bestows from time to time, I was watching a DVD of The Lives of Others.  But, I was pausing it from time to time to keep up with the Holland Italy game, and in among all the pausing, I also read this:

Who were the people who carried out the daily atrocities? What and how did they believe? Where are they now? Did they go back home to their families at the end of the day, having broken a few more bodies and spirits? Did they do this out of fear? Or were they merely sadists gravitating to the communism sanctioned violence towards their fellow human beings?

Pretty much, would be my guess.

However, the character at the centre of The Lives of Others, played by Ulrich Muhe, is made of very different stuff.  His demeanour and mentality is almost saintly, certainly rather priestlike.  He means well, and he feels the pain of those he spies on almost as if it were his own.  Were any of the Stasi really like this?

image

This movie has been hailed as a masterpiece from all parts of the political spectrum.  Perhaps part of the hailing is because it makes the Stasi seem, in at least some cases, nicer and more morally and aesthetically exalted than any of them really were.  It’s not a bad movie, you understand.  Just, I suspect, profoundly unrealistic as far as the central character is concerned.  All the other Stasis we see, and especially the politician to whom they all owe allegiance, are pigs.

But, I do not have intimate knowledge of communism, or indeed of any saintly looking men who were or who are actually doing piglike things.  Perhaps many of the Stasis were like this man.  I must ask my friend Adriana Lukas, who grew up under Communism in Slovakia, and who is the writer of the piece linked to and quoted above.

It would appear that at least one East German border guard was very like Ulrich Muhe, for the simple reason that one of them, once upon a time was Ulrich Muhe.  Muhe died last year of stomach cancer:

The cause of death was stomach cancer, but the Hollywood Reporter obit includes “Lives” director Florian Henckel von Donnersmarck’s statement that the ailment stemmed from Muhe’s experiences in the East German military in the 1970s, when he developed stomach problems after being ordered to shoot fugitives escaping over the Berlin Wall. (The Spiegel Online obit has further details.)

He literally didn’t have the stomach for it.  Blog and learn.

It occurs to me that I had already noticed that Muhe, at any rate for this movie, had a very particular way of walking, which is the complete opposite of clumping about.  His walk was all feet and ankles, shorter than usual steps, almost balletic.  I put it down to him wanting to look like a man who did not want to be noticed or to cause any sort of stir to others.  But this would also be your walk if you wanted to subject your stomach muscles to the minimum of stress.

By the way, I wrote that bit about how he “feels the pain of those he spies on almost as if it were his own” before I knew anything about the man dying of cancer.  Spooky.  I only got to the cancer stuff because I wanted a good picture of the man.