By Markus Tschiedert
Because she works for the peace movement, a girl is expelled from school. A little later she is discovered on the street and makes a career as a model…
This all happened in the late 1980s in East Germany. “In a country that no longer exists” is therefore the title of the drama (in cinemas from Thursday) with which Aelrun Goette (56) retells her own youth. The film ends with the fall of the Berlin Wall, which also started a new life for the native of East Berlin.
She got her high school diploma, worked as a prison assistant (JVA Plötzensee) and as an actress (“GZSZ”), and finally studied at the Babelsberg Film School. We met Aelrun Goette in the Tobis Film office on Kurfürstendamm.
BZ: How autobiographical is your film?
Aelrun Goette: It is based on my life story. At the end of the 1980s, the GDR looked different than it did in the 1960s and 1970s. Then everything crumbled.
So the main character is your alter ego?
Yes. However, I was never recruited by the State Security, but found out through my Stasi file that I was being watched by Main Department 2, Counterintelligence.
Because you had campaigned for the peace movement?
I was more of a contradiction spirit. I was one of those that the system wanted to weed out. Freya Klier’s daughter recently told me that she found a postcard from me in her mother’s Stasi file. With that I gave Freya Klier courage in prison.
You were able to create your freedom in the fashion scene of the GDR. How did you feel?
That was a great time. The melting pot was in East Berlin. The city wasn’t that big, so we knew each other. The people from the fashion scene also frequented the writers, including West German journalists, artists and musicians. It was a rebellious, creative scene – kind of bohemian, where you kept bumping into each other.
But which was permanently shadowed?
We knew that, but we weren’t scared. We were cheeky and had the feeling that we didn’t want to be told anything by them. If we recognized the Stasi employees, we also spoke to them.
Originally you wanted to study psychology. This dream was shattered because of your non-conformity. Was modeling a welcome substitute?
I never wanted to be a model. I didn’t have that on my radar at all. When I couldn’t do my Abitur, I was devastated and saw no future for myself. But it’s often the case that one door closes and another opens.
So how did it go?
I was approached on the street by Thea Melis, the head of public relations for the GDR fashion label VHB Exquisit, and a short time later by a photographer on the S-Bahn. That’s how it started. I was impressed by the cool people in this world. They were free and wild and I fell in love with a guy who was driving around the world on an old Harley-Davidson.
Did all doors suddenly open for you when the wall fell?
We had way too high expectations. Today I think that our ideas of freedom and unlimited possibilities could not be fulfilled by the West. I still remember how my boyfriend at the time and I were swept west along Bornholmer Straße straight into Big Eden on November 9th. That night I witnessed a scene I will never forget.
An Eastern man asked a well-dressed Western man for a cigarette. The West man kindly holds out the pack and all the cigarettes fall to the ground. The Eastman then kneels down, collects the cigarettes and, still kneeling, holds them out to the Westman. He declines with thanks and says that the man from the East should keep them. I was embarrassed and thought, we are not at eye level!
Do you still feel like an East Berliner?
I am still aware of my Eastern identity. This can perhaps be compared to a migrant who has been living in the Federal Republic for 30 years, is now German and is nevertheless aware of her origins. I am German, my origin is East German. That was also a reason to make this film.
But it wasn’t easy to make this film either. Where did the obstacles come from?
Feedback came from many for a long time: Fashion in the East – what is that supposed to be? They were probably thinking more of Zone Gaby and her first banana. They could not imagine that such a theme would be suitable for the cinema.
In a land that no longer exists, you learn a lot about your past but little about your present life…
I’m a storyteller and I like to keep a low profile. But I can say this much: I have two wonderful teenage daughters who I am very proud of (laughs).