DEFA Film Library
at the University of Massachusetts Amherst
Cinema of East Germany
My November 9, 1989
Curator, filmmaker, film historian and journalist Claus Löser is the co-founder of ex.oriente.lux, an archive devoted to East German underground and experimental films, and co-publisher of the volume Counter-Images: Filmic Subversion in the GDR 1976-1989. Löser curated the Counter-Images DVD, released by the DEFA Film Library in 2008, and the film series Winter Adé – Filmische Vorboten der Wende at the 2009 Berlin Film Festival. Löser has just released his documentary about the private East German gallery EIGEN + ART that existed 1983-1989.
Our hangout was one of those East Berlin corner pubs that gave you the feeling that nothing had changed in the last hundred years—what with the harsh language, stifling air and a small beer at 45 pfennigs. I was waiting for my friend Lutz. Lutz and I had made several 16mm films together and wanted to talk about future plans. The German Reichsbahn estimated about four hours for him to get from Karl Marx Stadt to Berlin; taking into account the usual delays, Lutz would arrive within the next hour.
The twilight trickled into Friedrichstrasse, as I looked at the cemetery across the street. The curvaceous waitress wordlessly served me my second beer and marked it with a new line on the round coaster. The pub began to fill up with workers stopping for a beer after work. A couple sat down at my table.Both were getting on in years—but I think they were younger than I am now. They suspiciously eyed both me and my notebook. Pop music blared from the speakers.
Six months earlier, I had moved from Karl Marx Stadt, where I had lived for 25 years. Now I was living in Zernsdorf, a little village near Königs Wusterhausen, just outside of Berlin. I had moved because the documentary filmmaker Helke Misselwitz had fixed me up with a job as a researcher at the DEFA Studio for Documentary Films. I’d hoped that this might help me get into the Academy for Film and Television in Potsdam-Babelsberg, since I’d been denied admission—even though I’d passed the entrance exams. I didn’t have a clue what to do next.
Wouldn’t it be a good idea to finally apply to leave East Germany? They obviously did not want me here.
With these bleak thoughts running through my mind, I stared at the empty pages in my notebook and barely registered the next mark on my coaster. There was still no sign of Lutz. The waitress changed the music and Karel Gott began singing: "The devil may care, I’m in love with Maria Magdalena...." The couple got comfortable.They talked and joked, leaning their heads close together; they drank beer and brandy in hearty draughts. By now the waitress had to come to our table quite often, and the couple’s coaster had many more marks on it than mine. I scribbled things in my notebook—more out of boredom than because I had something important to write. "Are you a writer?" the man at my table asked in my general direction—half in jest and half provocative. "No," I answered and put down my pen; "I'm just forgetful; that‘s why I have to write everything down."
Finally, Lutz came into the smoky pub, his face showing the signs of a long journey. He put his heavy bag on the floor and said, "Something’s going on out there...." The waitress had flipped the cassette over and Karel Gott was singing again: "Everything, absolutely everything about you suits me so well!" It was hard to see the clock through the cigarette smoke, but with some effort I saw it was almost midnight. Everyone in the pub was looking out the big front window onto Friedrichstrasse. There were scores of people outside, all of them heading in the direction of Invalidenstrasse. Yes, something really was going on! A man in his late 50s, apparently a regular customer, hurried into the pub and shouted to the waitress, "Uschi, turn that crooner off! Turn on the radio!"
This was when we heard on the RIAS radio station that an apparently confused Günther Schabowski had proclaimed the Wall open during an international press conference. Lutz and I, the couple at my table, Uschi the waitress, the regular customer and all the other people in the pub went outside. The East was pouring into the West, and there was no stopping it. Lutz and I went back into the stifling pub and went back to drinking our beer. Then suddenly the waitress was in her street clothes instead of her greasy apron. She hastily put two beers in front of us: "They‘re on the house. But we’re closing in a minute, so drink up!"
We were both really exhausted. In my jacket pocket I had an apartment key that a friend had given to me before leaving for the West via Hungary a few weeks earlier. After we finished our beers we walked in the opposite direction from the stream of people. We didn‘t say a word. Tomorrow, definitely tomorrow, we would cross the border. But that would be another story.
Löser, March 2009
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