Berlin, Divided Heaven: From the Ice Age to the Thaw
Rebels with a Cause: The
Cinema of East Germany
Touring Film Series
1957, East Germany (DEFA), b/w, 81 min.
Dir.: Gerhard Klein
Script: Wolfgang Kohlhaase
Camera: Wolf Göthe
Editing: Evelyn Carow
Music: Günter Klück
Cast: Ekkehard Schall, Ilse Pagé, Harry Engel, Ernst-Georg Schwill
35mm, English subtitles
- renting information
VHS-NTSC, English subtitles:
DVD-NTSC, English subtitles:
"…told in a neo-realistic
- The Oxford History of World Cinema
with a cause – One of the most important films of the 1950s, this
film portrays young people in East Berlin in search of their purpose in
life a few years before the construction of the Wall. They want to be
free, dance to Rock 'n' Roll, trade forbidden Western goods and avoid
the constraints of their parents and the State. This cult film is a
perceptive social portrayal of a city in which political and economic
division have affected the entire population.
Director Gerhard Klein and scriptwriter
Wolfgang Kohlhaase were influenced by foreign films in their choice of
style and topic. Critical American youth films by Elia Kazan, Richard
Brooks and Nicholas Ray, as well as Italian neo-realist works served as
models for Berlin–Schönhauser Corner. Like the Italians, Klein gave
leading parts to lay actors who were familiar with the way typical young
people thought and felt.
Although the film became a box-office hit, it was greeted with suspicion
by GDR cultural officials. Klein and Kohlhaase were reproached for
emphasizing “negative problematic images of our [East German] life.” But
one could argue that this film was loved by the public precisely for its
truthful portrayal of everyday life. Over 1.5 million viewers had
seen the film within three months after its premiere in August 1957.
Ranked by film critics among Germany’s 100 most important films, this
and other “Berlin films” by director Klein and screenwriter Kohlhaase
made an important contribution to the international youth film genre.
reflect the inner life of the characters. Klein and Kohlhaase put their
fingers on the open sores of the everyday life of the time - without
mincing matters or glorifying anything, without confusing a vain wish
- Fred Gehler in the Berlin
"Over many years this film has retained much of its Berlin feel,
realism, accuracy of detail, honest portrayal of conflict, especially in
comparison to more recent DEFA productions."
- Jutta Voigt in the Berlin Sonntag
"It remains a classic of
German and European youth films."
- Prof. Barton Byg, University of
"a courageous film, that marvelously portrays a problem of youth today"
- Junge Welt, Sept. 3, 1957
"It would be desirable, that this film be shown to us, even though it is
a communist accented film. In its heart, it is everything else. Hats off
to the men that made it."
- Die Welt - Sept. 7, 1957
About the Director:
Klein (1920–1970) was born on May 1, 1920 in Berlin. He joined the
resistance against the Nazis and was arrested twice. Klein was
self-educated and after the war worked as a cartoonist and documentary
filmmaker. He began working for DEFA as a screenwriter for short and
documentary films in 1946 and for feature films in 1952. All his films
express the poetry of daily life and his fascination with his beloved
Berlin. Along with screenwriter Wolfgang Kohlhaase, Klein produced a
series of what are called the “Berlin Films.”
Berlin Around the Corner was banned by East German
officials in 1966 and the style of his film,
Case, was interpreted as converging too closely with a fascistic
aesthetic. Klein died in 1970 at the age of fifty in Berlin.
Alarm im Zirkus
(1953), Eine Berliner Romanze (1956), Der Fall Gleiwitz (1961),
and Berlin um die Ecke (1965).
About the Scriptwriter:
Wolfgang Kohlhaase was born on May 13,
1931 in Berlin. He began writing
while he was in school in Berlin, and in 1947 he was a volunteer as well
as an editor for a youth newspaper.
He also worked for the FDJ newspaper Junge Welt.
He began his career at DEFA in 1950; by 1952 Kohlhaase was a freelance
scriptwriter and author.
Some of his major works include:
Alarm im Zirkus, Der Fall Gleiwitz, Berlin um die Ecke, Ich war
Neunzehn, Solo Sunny, Der Bruch,
and Der Aufenthalt.
Schönhauser Corner (Gerhard Klein, 1953)
Gerhard Klein was responsible for some
of the most artistically significant works of the East German
cinema—especially the group of films usually referred to as the “Berlin
Within the DEFA Studio tradition the “Berlin Films” – and their
connection to Italian neo-realism – reflect an attempt to resist the
stifling strictures of “Stalinist Socialist Realism” and develop a
“critical entertainment cinema” instead. A political “thaw” followed
Khrushchev’s public denunciation of Stalin’s crimes in 1956, in which
East German filmmakers hoped to liberalize their production arrangements
and, for a brief period in the late 1950s and early ‘60s, production
groups at DEFA had somewhat more independence.
The end of World War II had witnessed signs of continuity with the
creativity of the Weimar Cinema. In the late 1940s, Slatan Dudow,
Wolfgang Staudte, Helmut Käutner, Gerhard Lamprecht, Roberto Rosellini
and Billy Wilder all made films that made use of the unique urban
persona of Berlin. As Stalinist elements then crystallized in the East,
such a populist aesthetic became suspect until it was revived by
Kohlhaase, Klein and Carow. These filmmakers attended to small-scale
issues with neo-realist aesthetics to make films that looked shockingly
different from the grand, instructive, uplifting films of classic
Socialist Realism. They used grainy, high-speed newsreel stock; they
filmed on location with minimal supplementary lighting; they employed
lay actors and children as protagonists.
That Kohlhaase, Klein and Carow were linking up with the Soviet and
Weimar avant-gardes of the 1920s was at first of little interest to
young East Germans of the mid-1950s—if they were even aware of it. In
any case, they would not have dared cite either the taboo films of the
pre-Stalinist past or the immensely popular youth films from the West,
such as Blackboard Jungle or The Wild One. But the fact
that the latter films had caused a number of riots among teenagers in
West German cities – as well as in Berlin, where East Germans could
still cross into the Allied zone to join audiences – attests to both the
demand for films that addressed real issues facing young people and the
terror such works could instill in the generally conservative political
leadership of both German states.
Kohlhaase/Klein’s Berlin—Schönhauser Corner – the third of their
“Berlin Films”, after
the Circus and
Berlin Romance – is the most influential in the series, both in
artistic terms and in its tremendous and sustained popularity. In the
film, the Cold War conflict between East and West Germany and its impact
on the everyday frustration of young people are shown with a hard edge.
The film depicts episodes of juvenile delinquency by ordinary young
people, to whom the future of Socialism supposedly belongs.
A young Ekkehard Schall plays Dieter, a Marlon-Brando-like young man who
is barely staying out of jail—mainly because he has a brother in the
police force. Through their unintentional involvement in a forgery
scheme, Dieter and his friend Kohle escape to West Berlin, where they
are interned in what was a called a reception camp. One purpose of these
camps was to be sure immigrants were not Communist spies and to find out
about whatever useful information they might have about East Germany. In
an attempt to get an early release from the camp for illness, Kohle
drinks a mixture of water and ground-up cigar, which kills him. This
trauma sends Dieter back to the socialist GDR where he belongs, but
there is little grand optimism about how well he will fit in.
Despite its careful avoidance of explicit references to Western youth
films, this film was attacked by East German Party functionaries as
being too “nihilistic” in its depiction of an alienated and hopeless
youth—something that was ideologically impossible in socialism. These
attacks ignored the fact that one motive for such honest and innovative
depictions was to help socialism deal with its problems, rather than
drive young people out of the country. The original title of the film,
Wo wir nicht sind… (literally, “Where we are not . . .”), had
clearly made this motive explicit, and it is still voiced in the final
version by the eternally-patient police officer who hears the story of
yet another young person “lost” to the other side—“If we’re not there
[for our young people], our enemies will be.” By banning any such
topical and innovative films that addressed the alienation and
frustration of young people in socialism in 1965-66, the East German
government thwarted all attempts to interpret this phrase as a call for
a youth culture that would attract people to socialism. Youth culture
not in the eyes of GDR artists, but in the eyes of many of its leaders
was a suspicious import from the West. And when they weren’t there for
their youth, their enemies indeed were.
University of Massachusetts
"Rebels with a Cause: The Development of the Berlin Filme by Gerhard
Klein and Wolfgang Kohlhaase." DEFA: East German Cinema, 1946-1992.
Seán Allan and John Sandford, eds. New York: Berghahn, 1999. 93-116.
"DEFA: A Personal View." DEFA: East German Cinema, 1946-1992. Seán
Allan and John Sandford, eds. New York: Berghahn, 1999. 117-130.
- - - . "Some
Remarks about GDR Cinema." Selected Papers from the Twelfth New Hampshire
Symposium on the German Democratic Republic 8. Margy Gerber, ed. Lanham,
MD: UPs of America, 1987. 1-6.
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