What Would Happen If...?

(Was wäre, wenn…?)

GDR, 1960, 90 min, b&w
In German; English subtitles
Set Design
Costume Design
Music (Score)


In the late 1950s, the collectivization of agriculture is in full swing in the East German village of Willshagen on the German-German border. Those in charge have to face many obstacles, especially from a large-scale farmer who is unwilling to join the co-op. All of a sudden, mysterious men in a fancy car appear in the village and show an interest in the rundown manor house. Gossip spreads quickly, and some villagers think there will be a re-parceling of properties and a land swap with West Germany. They assume everything will go back to how it used to be and even expect the count to return to his manor. In preparation, the situation in the village escalates at a fevered pitch. 


This satirical comedy was the DEFA feature film debut of Austrian actor and director Gerhard Klingenberg, who was a member of the Berliner Ensemble at the time. After the Berlin Wall was built in 1961, he performed at many other theaters, including the Vienna Burgtheater in Austria, which he also directed from 1971 to 1976.



2023 Cinema of the Absurd: Eastern European Film 1958-89, Pacific Film Archive at Univ. of California Berkeley; Cinémathèque Québécoise, Montreal

Press comments

“We showed, more or less, the state of the GDR and the fact that three-fourth of the villagers would change their mind if the situation changed. Party officials were aware of it and got the film’s message. When the film was withdrawn from distribution, the head of the film studio, Albert Wilkening, tried to comfort me: ‘It does not matter. One day, people will remember that you made the first satirical film about the GDR.’”   —Gerhard Klingenberg, Das zweite Leben der Filmstadt Babelsberg


“The Austrian actor and director made a farcical film with touchy moments. At the DEFA Studio, there were long discussions about the presentation of the villagers’ ideological instability. The film was released into suburbia cinemas long after finalizing its production and withdrawn from distribution soon after.”   —F.-B. Habel, Das grosse Lexikon der DEFA-Spielfilme


“What was played down as ‘pure silliness’ (Neue Zeit, Sept. 14, 1960) at the time of its premiere, [film historian] Ralf Schenk newly evaluated in 2021: "Klingenberg ... drives the action into an absurd farce. But when the film was finished, ideological objections rained down on DEFA. ‘The maturation process of the farmers is not captured realistically. The film claims that its own political agitation in the countryside has not been successful. Most of the characters seem unstable in the face of the village’s imminent incorporation into the FRG. The rich farmers are smarter than the employees of the co-op.’ (Berliner Zeitung, Nov. 21,2021). After only a few screenings, the film was removed from theatrical distribution in 1960; the film seemed too rebellious a year before the building of the Berlin Wall.”   —mbh, Deutsches Historisches Museum



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