Sonnenallee (Film): Info, Vocab, Plot Outline

Sonnenallee (Film): Info, Vocab, Plot Outline

General Background Info

  • This movie wants to be funny and uses parodic exaggeration in order to achieve that ==> please take its exaggerations with a grain of salt, and ask in class about anything that seems strange or unlikely to you.
  • There are no subtitles. Concentrate on seeing how much you can understand, and feel good about the extent to which you can keep track of what’s going on in a real, fast-paced German movie without the help of subtitles. Don’t get frustrated if there’s a lot you can’t understand! The movie is just under 90 minutes long.
  • The movie is based on a novel, Am kürzeren Ende der Sonnenallee by Thomas Brussig. At a more relaxed pace than the movie, it gives an entertaining view of what it might have been like to grow up in the DDR. It’s written in clear, readable German. We recommend it highly!
  • The movie makes occasional attempts to represent the dialects of Berlin & Sachsen ==> if you hear e.g. “nüscht” for “nichts,” “ick” for “ich” or “j” sounds for “g”s, this may be what’s happening.

Vokabeln (nicht auf den Tests!)

günstig, preiswert, billig cheap
250 Eier 250 bucks
der Schwarzmarkt black market
die Schallplatte, -n record (LP)
schmuggeln smuggle
heiße Ware smuggled/illegal goods
konfiszieren, beschlagnahmen confiscate
verboten forbidden
erlaubt; legal permitted; legal
er hat etwas/nichts ausgefressen he has/hasn’t gotten in trouble


die Grenze; das Grenzgebiet the border; the border area
die Deutsche Demokratische Republik (DDR) East Germany
die Ostzone, die Zone reference to the DDR as the “(occupied) Eastern zone”
die Bundesrepublik Deutschland (BRD) West Germany (& now unified Germany)
die Passkontrolle passport control
der Ausweis, der Pass passport
abknallen; erschießen; schießen to gun down; to shoot to death; to shoot


die Westverwandtschaft relatives in/from the West
der Klassenfeind enemy of the (working) class
der/die Genosse/Genossin comrade
in der Partei sein; in die Partei eintreten to be in the (communist) party; to join the party
eine Eingabe machen to file a request/complaint with the authorities
die Staatssicherheit, die Stasi secret police

Main Plotlines [in logical order/order of importance, rather than in chronological order]

0. The movie takes place “am kürzeren Ende der Sonnenallee,” a street that’s divided by the Wall, where Mischa, the protagonist, gets laughed at every day by West German kids on a lookout tower. One day he uncharacteristically gets mad and yells back “Ich hab gesagt ich geh drei Jahre zur Armee und dann komm ich an die Grenze und knall euch alle ab.” [see the vocab list on the previous page!]

1. The boys are trying to lose their virginity. Mischa, the protagonist, loves Miriam, but she seems to prefer a guy who comes over from West Berlin, each time in an impressive new car. He later turns out to be a hotel valet taking joyrides in the guests’ cars. But she’s also curiously patient with Mischa, even though he keeps hopelessly embarrassing himself in front of her.

2. The boys like to do things like run after Western tour busses yelling “Hunger! Hunger!” They like listening to “verbotene” Western music, and this gets them in trouble with a policeman obsessed with his rank (initially Obermeister, and he’s expecting a promotion) who thinks he’s cool because he likes to “spin” [“auflegen”] sometimes at parties. He smugly confiscates a tape, but then? He blames Mischa for the disaster, and keeps him from visiting Miriam at a crucial point by arresting him for inadvertently entering the “Grenzgebiet” [border area] without his passport.

3. One kind of punishment in school is having to give a speech (ein selbstkritischer Beitrag: a self-critical contribution) at the FDJ (political youth group) meetings (of course this is technically supposed to be an honor). Miriam gets it for kissing the “Klassenfeind” from the West ==> Mischa is eager to volunteer for the same punishment ==> he takes the blame when his classmates modify the party slogan “Die Partei ist die Vorhut [=vanguard] der Arbeiterklasse” [“die Haut” = skin, and you can guess the rest]. His plan is a success as she seems to like him. He gets the idea that he can impress her by demonstrating his lifelong hostility to the regime, and forges a complete set of diaries for that purpose.

4. A West German tourist loses her passport. Mischa’s mom finds it and tries to make herself as old as this woman so she can use the passport to leave the country. Does it work?

5. Uncle Heinz (“die Westverwandtschaft”) keeps heroically smuggling in goods that are perfectly legal and available in the DDR. He likes to insult the DDR system, and this sometimes creates embarrassing situations for Mischa’s family. His pet peeve is asbestos (der Asbest), which can cause cancer (der Krebs). See if you can understand what he dies of and what happens to his ashes.

6. Mischa’s friend Mario meets an existentialist who eventually gets the line “Hab ich dich eigentlich entbübt [=”de-boyed”]?” In the movie’s parodic world, existentialists talk a lot about freedom [frei sein; die Freiheit], quote Sartre and Hermann Hesse’s novel Steppenwolf, and they and their friends do crazy things [e.g. making drugs out of medicinal herbs: “Merkst/Spürst du was?” = “Do you feel anything?”].

7. Mischa and Mario go on the balcony to urinate during a wild party. Pictures of this appear in a Western newspaper. Why is it such a scandal? What did they urinate on? [Remember precisely where the movie takes place!]. Mischa is OK because the headmistress likes him, but Mario gets kicked out of school. This turns out to be a blessing in disguise until the existentialist becomes pregnant, at which point Mario does something that makes Mischa extremely mad at him. What could he have done?

8. Two strangers with accents come to stay with Mischa’s family for a while. They’re from the “Tal der Ahnungslosen” [“Valley of the clueless ones”] where “Westfernsehen” can’t be received by antenna. Mischa’s mom has put them up for a party function in order to appear patriotic.