Thematic Series


DEFA Film Library, UMass Amherst


For more information about

renting the films in this series,

please contact:


Phone (413) 545-6681   

Banned! DEFA's Forbidden Films of 1965-66


While edits and changes in the face of possible censorship were not uncommon in the almost 50 years of the East German film and television industry, censorship was not always equally imminent. The notorious highpoint was the Kahlschlag (clear-cutting) of 1965-66, following the 11th Plenum of the Central Committee of the SED Party. Most of these films were never screened until after the fall of the Berlin Wall in 1989.


By the mid-1960s, the young country GDR had already weathered several political crises. The hope that erecting the Berlin Wall in 1961 would usher in a more liberal period was short-lived. Increasing tensions culminated in the 11th Plenum, where the SED’s Central Committee set a new cultural policy that demanded “cleanliness in film production”—that is, they wanted films that were “cleansed” of modernity, experiments, and discussions of taboo topics and problems.


After the Plenum, twelve DEFA films were banned—by interrupting production, refusing approval for release, or withdrawn from distribution. Each of the banned films had its own complex censorship story; but common to all of the targeted films was that they offered a new sense of creativity, fantasy, openness, and critical acuity.


BANNED! DEFA’s Forbidden Films of 1965-66 includes eleven titles, nine of them with English subtitles. The twelfth banned film, Ritter des Regens (Knight of the Rain, 1965, dir. Egon Schlegel)—a conflicted love story between a dropout and a girl loyal to the state—was interrupted during shooting; the film material disappeared and was presumably destroyed.




Berlin around the Corner

(Berlin um die Ecke)

GDR, 1965/90, dir. Gerhard Klein, 83 min., b/w, English subtitles


Berlin in the 1960s: two young metalworkers provoke their colleagues with criticisms... not to mention their leather jackets and motorbikes. This is the fourth film in the Berlin Series by Gerhard Klein and scriptwriter Wolfgang Kohlhaase. Officials banned the rough cut after the 11th Plenum in September 1966, calling the film “dishonest and anti-socialist.” This version presents scriptwriter Wolfgang Kohlhaase’s and editor Evelyn Carow’s 1990 cut.


“Directed by one of the most consistent practitioners of the GDR’s adaptation of Italian neorealism.”


— Barton Byg, Framing the Past  


Available rental formats: DVD (NTSC, Eng. ST); DCP (Eng. ST)




Born in ’45

(Jahrgang 45)

GDR, 1966/1990, dir. Jürgen Böttcher, 94 min., b/w, English subtitles


Alfred and Lisa decide to divorce. Alfred takes a few days off to clear his head, roaming through Berlin and meeting strangers. Although he ultimately returns to Lisa, the film’s ending remains open. In 1966, officials banned the rough cut, calling the film “indifferent and insignificant.” Inspired by Italian neorealism, Born in ’45 is the only narrative feature film by painter and documentary filmmaker Jürgen Böttcher.


“This film can be considered East Germany’s closest counterpart to early Godard.”


—The Museum of Modern Art, New York


Available rental formats: DVD (NTSC, Eng. ST); DCP (Eng. ST); 35mm (Eng. ST)






GDR, 1965/1990, dir. Herrmann Zschoche, 129 min., b/w, English subtitles

Carla, a young and idealistic teacher, challenges the entrenched routines and opportunism of her hypocritical and small-minded environment. This film was labeled “nihilistic, skeptical, and hostile” by officials and banned during final production in spring 1966.


“Jutta Hoffmann reminds us of young Giulietta Masina in La Strada.”


—Ralf Schenk, film historian 


Available rental formats: DVD (NTSC, Eng. ST); DCP (Eng. ST)




Hands Up, or I’ll Shoot!

(Hände hoch oder ich schiesse!)

GDR, 1965/2009, dir. Hans-Joachim Kasprzik, 78 min., b/w


Ambitious, but shy inspector Holms is desperate for a new case, but the crime rate in town is very low and he has nothing to do. He spends his days reading detective novels and dreaming of working at Scotland Yard. Then his old friend, a former thief, teams up with some ex-criminals and plans a brilliant coup. Finally, a new case for Holms! After several edits, officials banned this comedy for “defaming, in a grotesque form, the societal achievements of our republic.” The film was not restored and released until 2008-09.


“The film reveals subversive humor and is one of the funniest films shot in East Germany.”


The Times


Available rental formats: DVD (PAL, German)




Just Don’t Think I’ll Cry

(Denk bloss nicht, ich heule)

GDR, 1965, dir. Frank Vogel, 91 min., b/w, English subtitles


High-school senior Peter thinks the adults around him are hypocritical, self-congratulatory, and immersed in the past. His teachers take an essay he writes as a challenge to the state, and he gets suspended. Only his friend Anne stands by him. This masterpiece of critical realism was one of two films screened and debated at the SED’s 11th Plenum; it was banned in 1965 for allegedly anti-socialist elements.


“Formally an exceptionally dense and brilliantly performed film.”


Lexikon des Internationalen Films


Available rental formats: DVD (NTSC, Eng. ST); DCP (Eng. ST)




The Lost Angel

(Der verlorene Engel)

GDR, 1966/70, dir. Ralf Kirsten, 58 min., b/w, English subtitles


August 24, 1937: The expressionist artist Ernst Barlach keeps to himself and wants to steer clear of politics. On this day, he learns that the Nazis have dragged his famous sculpture, The Hovering Angel, out of the Güstrow Cathedral. Barlach begins to reflect on his life and on his work, which has been denounced as “degenerate” by the Nazis. Although he knows active opposition is needed, he no longer has the strength. The film was not approved for release, as it was considered “mystical” and “existentialist.” It was released in a shortened version in 1970.


“A masterful re-creation of the hostile environment that the artist had to endure in the last years of his life.”


The New York Times


Available rental formats: DVD (NTSC, Eng. ST)




Miss Butterfly

(Fräulein Schmetterling)

GDR, 1965/2005, dir. Kurt Barthel, 118 min., b/w


After their father dies, 17-year-old Helene Raupe and her little sister are alone. Helene is only happy in her dreams, where she can fly and work as a model. In real life, she constantly fails to meet expectations; but once she gives voice to her ideals, she can break from social dictates and make her dreams come true. Combining fantastic scenes with documentary elements set in Berlin, Miss Butterfly was the first official experimental feature film made at the East German DEFA Studio. With a script by Christa Wolf and Gerhard Wolf, the film was banned after the presentation of the rough cut, accused of a negative portrayal of everyday life and clear reflection of bourgeois philosophy.


“A poetic, modern fairy-tale about the desire for personal fulfillment.”




NB: This film is considered a fragment; it was reconstructed based on the original script, but some of the visual and sound materials are missing. Only screenings in an educational setting and accompanied by an introduction are allowed by the rights holder.


Available rental formats: DVD (PAL, German)




The Rabbit Is Me

(Das Kaninchen bin ich)

GDR, 1965, dir. Kurt Maetzig, 109 min., b/w, English subtitles


A young student confronts the man she is involved with after learning that he once sentenced her brother to prison for political reasons. This is one of the two films screened and debated at the SED’s 11th Plenum. It was banned by officials as an anti-socialist attack on the state and judicial system. After its release in 1990, the film earned critical praise as one of the most important and courageous works ever made in the GDR.


“Breathtaking! A spicy bit of realism that amounts to a full frontal assault on the notion of justice in East Germany.”


—Glenn Erickson, DVD Savant


Available rental formats: DVD (NTSC, Eng. ST); DCP (Eng. ST); 35mm (Eng. ST)



Springs Takes Time

(Der Frühling braucht Zeit)

GDR, 1965, dir. Günter Stahnke, 76 min., b/w, English subtitles


Was it an act of sabotage or willful negligence? Engineer Heinz Solter is suddenly arrested and accused of approving a defective pipeline. The case seems clear-cut to the state prosecutor, but when he probes deeper, he finds that Solter simply succumbed to pressure from his career-driven boss. This film was removed from circulation two weeks after its premiere in November 1965; after the 11th Plenum, it was banned for its critique of centralized economic planning and its stylized, avant-garde imagery.


 “This film is reminiscent in subject matter to the Czechoslovakian film Obžalovaný (Defendant), by Ján Kadár and Elmar Klos.”


Der Spiegel


Available rental formats: DVD (NTSC, Eng. ST); DCP (Eng. ST)



Trace of Stones

(Spur der Steine)                                                                                                    

GDR, 1966, dir. Frank Beyer, 133 min., b/w, English subtitles


Foreman Balla rules as the self-proclaimed king of a massive construction site. Things get rocky when supplies become scarce and two newcomers threaten his authority: Kati Klee, a young engineer, and Werner Horrath, the new Party Secretary. Budding romance complicates the situation further. A cult film, Trace of Stones was censored after its release in June 1966 and shelved for 25 years.


“A well-balanced mixture of comedy, drama, and social satire!”


The Guardian


“Beautifully acted and wittily scripted!  The film is technically slick.”



Available rental formats: DVD (NTSC, Eng. ST); DCP (Eng. ST)




When You’re Older, Dear Adam

(Wenn du gross bist, lieber Adam)

GDR, 1966/90, dir. Egon Günther, 70 min., color, English subtitles


Adam is a clever boy with an active imagination. One day, a grateful swan gives him a magic flashlight; when it shines on someone who is lying, the person floats up into the air! Before Günther's comedy was canceled during production, in February 1966, officials had already censored the script. During restoration, it was discovered that passages of dialog had been removed from the soundtrack; instead of hiding this aggressive censorship, these passages are marked with text inserts.


“This film was inspired by the Czechoslovakian film Až přijde kocour (When the Cat Comes), by Vojtěch Jasný. This film of the Prague Spring was not without influence on DEFA at the time.”


Der Spiegel


Available rental formats: DVD (NTSC, Eng. ST)

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