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Edgar Wibeau is an excellent young student who leaves his apprenticeship in a factory after an argument with his supervisor to move – as a statement of anti-authoritarian rebellion – from the boring town of Mittenberg to East-Berlin where he works as a house painter. In East-Berlin, he lives in a garden shed and discovers, by chance, Goethe’s epistolary novel The Sorrows of Young Werther. The novel becomes for him a cult book which he uses to distance himself from everyday life in the GDR and position himself as a disaffected outsider. In this period, he falls in love with a young kindergarten teacher, Charlie, who is engaged to and later on marries Dieter. He records audio tapes, in which he reflects upon his literary and musical interests, his frustrated love for Charlie, and recites excerpts from Goethe’s Werther. He sends these tapes to his best friend Willi, who, however, cannot make any sense of them. In between his solitary activities in the garden cottage (listening to music, painting, recording tapes), his contact with Charlie, and his job, he secretly starts constructing a hydraulic nebula-free spray gun, which his colleague, brigade leader Addi, had tried in vain to develop. When he tries out the device, he is electrocuted. It remains unclear whether Edgar’s death was an accident or suicide. After his son’s death at age 17, Edgar’s father – who didn’t take part in Edgar’s upbringing – enquires among friends and acquaintances in order to get to know his son and understand the circumstances of his death.
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