The Flight

(Die Flucht)

GDR, 1977, 94 min, color
In German; English subtitles
Set Design
Costume Design
Music (Score)


When Dr. Schmith’s (Armin Mueller-Stahl) important research proposal on infant mortality is rejected, he procures the services of an escape agency to leave East Germany and accept a leading position at a children’s hospital in West Germany instead. Schmith finds out that his project is approved after all, and he also falls in love with his new colleague, Katharina (Jenny Gröllmann), so he decides to stay. As he attempts to evade the escape agency, they try to coerce him through blackmail and intimidation, escalating their pressure until things turn deadly.




As the topic of escaping to the West was taboo in the GDR, The Flight is an exception in East German film history. The film won the Grand Prix at the Karlovy Vary International Film Festival in 1978; but it was also the last film Armin Mueller-Stahl made at the East German DEFA Film Studios. In 1980, only two years after the release of the film, he left East Germany for the West because of professional restrictions imposed upon him after he joined protests against the expatriation of the dissident singer/songwriter Wolf Biermann.


The commercial escape agencies thematized in this film were actual organizations that arranged a small percentage of the escapes from East to West Germany in the 1970s and 1980s. Addressing their existence was a high priority for East German authorities, who called their operators human traffickers and responded with the full power of the state secret police, including assassination attempts on the escape organizers. An escape organizer would therefore not actually enter the GDR, especially not for the express purposes of intimidating a wayward client. Instead, the procurement of the escape agency would be arranged through a third party, and arrangements would be made from the West.



Prager, Brad. "No Time Like the Present: The Edges of the World in Christian Petzold’s Barbara."  Senses of Cinema. Issue 84, 2017.


2011 Homage, Berlin International Film Festival
2001 Divided Heaven Retrospective, Film Archive Austria
1978 Official Selection, Vienna International Film Festival
1978 Grand Prix, Karlovy Vary International Film Festival
1978 Heinrich Greif Prize, Class 1 (Roland Gräf, Hannes Hüttner)
1978 Best Contemporary DEFA Film, Critics' Poll of the Theory and Criticism Section of the Association of GDR Film and Television Professionals

Press comments

“One of Armin Mueller-Stahl's best roles in the GDR and concurrently his last role at DEFA.”
— 2011 Berlin International Film Festival


“It was a balancing act… We wanted to clarify why people leave and that it is too bad about each person who leaves the country.”
— Roland Gräf, director The Flight, in Spur der Zeiten


“One of Jenny Gröllmann’s most important East German films.”
Berliner Zeitung


“A thrilling drama of love.”
— 2009 Mannheim-Heidelberg International Film Festival


“A film that starts as a film about social issues and ends as a crime story.”
— Deutsches Historisches Museum


“Roland Gräf grapples with this taboo subject in the GDR.”
— Roland Detsch, journalist and author


“Roland Gräf is one of the most important DEFA auteurs.”


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DVD Bonus Features:
  • Turn Subtitles On/Off
  • Biographies & Filmographies
  • From the Archive: Interviews with Christel and Roland Gräf
  • "Commercial Escape Organizations: the GDR's Public Enemy Number One," by historian Marion Detjen
  • Original film poster
  • About the DEFA Film Library

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