GDR, 1990, 89 min, color
In German; English and German subtitles
Assistant Director
Set Design
Costume Design
Music (Score)
Music (Performance)
Special Effects
Production Company


In a small East German town shortly before the fall of the Berlin Wall, Ulla, a sensitive and principled 10th-grader, meets computer-obsessed Winfried, son of a chemical plant manager. On a field trip with her biology class, Ulla discovers that a trout farm and weekend homes are being built illegally in a local conservation area. The situation gets complicated when she discovers that Winfried’s family is responsible. She nevertheless passionately agitates to stop the construction project, even soliciting Winfried to help her create a touched-up photograph of a rare bird as "evidence" that the conservation area is home to an endangered species. When Ulla's deception is discovered, she faces serious consequences.


Biology! was one of very few East German feature films to address environmental issues. The topic was taboo in the GDR and all data on environmental damages was classified. In the 1980s, grassroot activists nevertheless began a vigorous environmental movement.


Although the East German government introduced ambiguous environmental laws as of its founding in 1949, its ideals could not be fulfilled in tandem with the country’s economic growth plans and budget restrictions. Over the next decades, environmental problems increased to such an extent that the government classified all kinds of environmental data as “confidential” in 1972 and “secret” in 1982. At the end of the 1970s, the first grassroots environmental groups were founded, and the growing ecological movement became critical in drawing public attention to increasingly disastrous environmental problems. The activities of these groups were closely watched, infiltrated or stopped by the Stasi. In 1986, the Chernobyl nuclear disaster and the founding of the East Berlin Umweltbibliothek were turning points in the increasingly political environmental movement, which became a crucial player during the peaceful revolution of 1989. 


The DEFA Studios produced many environmental films that followed the official party line. However, the growing public environmental awareness was also reflected in some films. Several documentaries, animation and feature films touched on environmental issues and questioned the officially promoted environmental situation. These films, especially the animation films, are sharp and satirical discussion of taboo topics, including forest damage and air and water pollution. Other films deal critically with problems caused by brown coal mining, including the resettling of villages. But these film projects were a red flag for the studio officials, and scripts and rough cuts went through extensive and complicated approvals.



Biology! (1990, dir. Jörg Foth) was a rare DEFA youth film that treated environmentalism as an existential issue, particularly for a younger generation concerned about the earth that they would inherit. Filmed between August and October 1989, the height of the peaceful revolution in East Germany that would ultimately trigger German unification, it also captures the energetic grassroots environmental activism that took hold in the GDR in the 1980s in response to secretive official handling of environmental damages. By the time the film was released in 1990, after the fall of the Berlin Wall, it was already a historical document.


Based on a young adult novel by Wolf Spillner, Biology! tells the story of Ulla, a spirited 10th grade girl in a small East German town. On a field trip with her biology class, Ulla discovers that a trout farm and weekend homes are being built illegally in a local conservation area. She passionately agitates to stop the construction project, boldly confronting the adults in her town. Long tracking shots of the wetlands invite the audience to consider Ulla’s cause.



2021 East Day Film Festival, Goethe-Institut Boston
1990 East Berlin National Film Festival


Press comments

“A story that severely critiques injustice, opportunism and moral cowardice.”   —


“A film about the difficulty of finding one’s identity in the midst of a deteriorating ideological system.”   —Potsdam Film Museum


“A different take on generational conflict and the ability to exercise civil courage.”    —Zwischen Marx and Muck 


“A portrait of the ailing social system of the GDR that balances between satirical and unintended exaggeration.”   —


“The film was not influenced by changing events, but [now] meets a completely changed reality.”   —Ina Lemme, Für Dich, 1990


“An eco-drama critiquing the GDR.”   — Neues Deutschland






Buy the DVDStream
DVD Bonus Features:
  • Biographies & Filmographies
  • “Activism to Protect Species and Speech in Jörg Foth’s Biology!” by Reinhild Steingröver (Univ. of Rochester)
  • “Life’s Little Ironies. Interview with Jörg Foth,” by Hiltrud Schulz (DEFA Film Library)
  • Biology! 93rd Film of the Babelsberg Production Group,” by former DEFA Chief Dramaturg Dieter Wolf
  • Timeline of GDR Environmentalism       
  • Teaching Guide, by Victoria Rizo Lenshyn (Arizona State Univ.)

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