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The Days Before and After

Director, scriptwriter, and dramaturg Evelyn Schmidt graduated with a degree in directing from the Film and Television Academy in Potsdam-Babelsberg in 1973. She was one of few female film directors in East Germany. Her debut film, Infidelity (1979), was showcased at the Berlin Film Festival, in West Berlin. Critical of her frank portrayal of a less-than-ideal socialist citizen in The Bicycle (1981), East German officials turned down all invitations to screen the film abroad and, for three years, Schmidt was not allowed to make another film. Since 1993, Schmidt has directed documentaries for television and produced thirteen plays at an experimental, “off” theater in Berlin. She has taught at the Academy for Film and Television in Potsdam-Babelsberg and, since 2003, at the private Drama School in Berlin-Charlottenburg. Evelyn Schmidt presented her film, The Bicycle, at The Museum of Modern Art in 2005.

Evelyn Schmidt

I had marked the date in my calendar: November 4, 1989. Everybody knew about the call put out by artists, Neues Forum and other organizations—the call to demonstrate for democracy on that Saturday. I didn’t want to miss this special event. I wanted to demonstrate for a new, reformed country. I decided that my son should also take part in this day, which might possibly be life-changing for all East Germans.

A few days before November 4th, I sent my son to his elementary school with a note for the teacher, asking that he be given the day off. I thought everyone was excited about the demonstration and wanted to be part of it. So I was astonished at the teacher’s response: “The topic of our lesson on Saturday will be deciduous trees. I’m not sure you want to be responsible for your son missing deciduous trees….”

My son did miss his lesson that day, and he was the only one in his class who did. As we later found out, the demonstration that day was the largest in East German history.

A few days later, on November 10th, I dropped my son off at school and drove to a meeting with American film students in Potsdam. There were an unusual number of cars on the road and, for a second, I wondered if the commuter trains were perhaps delayed or not working. I arrived at the hotel where the students were staying and remember that we had a long discussion about filmmaking.

Later, when I went to the bar, I met a woman in the elevator. She was wearing a sandwich board advertising Maggi bouillon cubes. I had seen this way of advertising products in old films set in the 1920s and 1930s. But I had never seen anything like it in reality. I thought maybe the DEFA studio was shooting a film. She looked so funny that I couldn’t stop laughing. The students couldn’t understand why I found it so funny. They explained it was something common back home. My simple explanation was not very convincing: “How can someone make such a monkey of themselves?”

After the meeting I drove my Trabi back to (East) Berlin. There was one detour after another; I had to take roads I didn’t even know existed! I stopped to ask a policeman why there were all these detours. He answered that there was too much traffic in Berlin and that all streets to Berlin were blocked!

Finally, after five hours, I was back in Berlin. My son was waiting for me and was very excited; he couldn’t wait to tell me: “Mom, I was the only one at school today! There wasn’t even a teacher! They all went to West-Berlin! Is this why I went to the demonstration?”

For a second I couldn’t speak. What I had briefly heard on my car radio suddenly seemed to make sense. The Wall is open…. In the following days, we couldn’t stop watching TV. But we let weeks go by before we went to West Berlin.

Evelyn Schmidt, October 22, 2008
December 2008 Issue

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