As We Were Dreaming (OT: Als wir träumten) is a German coming-of-age drama based on the bestselling book of the same name by East German author Clemens Meyer. Set in Leipzig, East Germany, shortly after the fall of the Berlin Wall (early 1990s), the film follows a group of youngsters that are not quite sure how to best use their new-found freedom…
The Story: The Lost Boys
The storyline is about a group of teenage boys (with the main focus being set on a boy called Dani played by Merlin Rose), who try to find their way in a world in which, after the recent fall of the Berlin wall and German reunification, everything is new. They do so by living the high life (getting drunk, stealing cars, taking drugs, getting into fights and generally messing about). They also start their very own techno music nightclub in one of the many abandoned buildings in Leipzig.
The themes very much reflect typical teenage angst (“Angst” is actually the German word for “fear”): Trying to get the girl you’ve fancied for ages, trying not to get stuck in the path of a criminal or trying to cope with your friend’s drug death…
At various points, there are flashbacks into the time when the GDR (German Democratic Republic, the Eastern communist state of the then separated Germany), still existed and the boys were around 13 years old. Although the school tries to keep up appearances, the system was about to collapse as there are various hints of beginning demonstrations in Leipzig.
What I found really striking about these flashbacks is that, with the exception of one scene, the 13-year-old boys were always at school. When they are 16-year-olds, it is mentioned several times that they still are at school, yet we never see them there.
Maybe, this reflects the fact that after the fall of the wall, the boys were free to do whatever they want, but they were also quite lost. The country in which they spent their childhood (the GDR), doesn’t even exist anymore. So although it was stricter back then, there was also more structure and sometimes the boys in the present seem to long for that structure.
The Location: The Lost City
The film was largely shot on location in Leipzig, but also at a few other East German cities nearby, such as Dresden, Dessau and Halle/Saale. The early 1990s, the time period in which the film is set, was a time of massive change for people in East Germany. The new political system (capitalism instead of communism) and the new-found freedom to travel meant great opportunities for some, but could equally lead into frustration as unemployment in the East was at an all-time high.
As many East Germans decided to move west for better work opportunities, a lot of the houses in cities such as Leipzig were abandoned.
Leipzig also had a large amount of beautiful, but neglected town houses, built mostly around the turn of the 20th century in the so-called “Jugendstil” style. Contrary to what happened in West Germany during the 1960s and 1970s, the GDR régime did not tear these houses down as demolition was apparently too expensive and the large modern social housing complexes (the so-called “Plattenbauten”) were built on the outskirts of the cities rather than in the centre. However, in the last 30 years since reunification, Leipzig has undergone massive regeneration with many of the beautiful historical buildings now shining in their former glory again.
The Performance: The Lost Viewer
The music is really cool. So is the way the scenes were cut together. Both, the music and the cutting of the scenes, create a really cool atmosphere and make you as a viewer feel like you are right there in the action of it all. Just a word of warning: Especially in the club scenes, there are many intensely bright flashes you don’t normally see on a cinema screen.
And even though this is a serious film with lots of violence, there is quite a bit of humour, too: For example, one of the guys wild despair of being rejected by his much older 28-year-old girl of desire, or when two of the boys hear a police car and comment “Listen! That’s our song!”. Or when Sternchen (Dani’s girl of desire) tells him that she wants to see the world and he replies: “How about we get a day ticket for the tram in Leipzig and we just drive around the city for the whole day with a six pack of beer. I always wanted to do that! Or we could just go back to mine and shag a little…”
My final verdict: This is not a film for those expecting a clear message or seeing something up-lifting. Otherwise it’s a weirdly beautiful coming-of-age flick! And don’t forget: The best is yet to come!
**** 4 out of 5 stars