Who's Afraid of the Bogeyman

(Wer fürchtet sich vorm schwarzen Mann)

GDR, 1989, 52 min, b&w
In German; English subtitles
Music (Score)
Production Company
Themes & Genres:


A close-up of a small private company that delivers heating coal in the Prenzlauer Berg district of East Berlin. The feisty woman who runs the business does so with humor and understanding, and her seven male employees respect her. On the outside, they seem like tough guys but as they describe their lives, their vulnerabilities come to light. Their discussions range from the building of the Berlin Wall and possibly escaping to the West, to child abuse, suicide, prison and alcoholism. 


In German, the title of the film refers to a rhyme in a common children’s game with roots in the Middle Ages. Now, and for centuries, it has also had racist overtones. We think the English word “bogeyman” best parallels and captures the intentions of the director. —DEFA Film Library, 2021


2022 Play Doc International Film Festival Tui, Spain
2021 Retrospective POESÍA DE LO COTIDIANO: Los primeros films de Helke Misselwitz, Mar del Plata Int. Film Festival, Argentina
2021 Retrospective Everyday Poetry: The Films of Helke Misselwitz, Anthology Film Archives, New York
2019 Self-Determined. Retrospective of Woman Filmmakers, Berlin International Film Festival, Germany
2019 DocLisboa, Portugal
2012 Cottbus Film Festival, Germany
2005 Rebels with a Cause: The Cinema of East Germany retrospective, The Museum of Modern Art, New York, USA

La Sept Cultural Television Prize, Cinema du reel Festival Paris

1989 DOKLeipzig, East Germany

Press comments

“Refreshing and new…. A beautiful, sometimes whimsical document of East Berlin workers. A cinematic correction of what, in general, was valued in an East German documentary.”  —Elke Schieber, film historian


“Fiercely intent on authenticity, which is why it was shot in ‘outdated’ black-and-white, the film documents a trade that would soon become obsolete… turning it into a survey of social contradictions in East Germany, made just a few months before the country’s political collapse.” —Berlin International Film Festival


“The camera takes its time and gives us a chance to look beneath the surface. A wonderfully photographed snapshot of East Berlin in the 1980s; a faithful depiction of people on the margins of society, of how they lived and saw the world.” —Cottbus Film Festival


“The film captures the lives of these people in a remarkable manner and provides a quiet, realistic contradiction to paeans to the working class found in comparable DEFA films.” —Austrian Film Archive



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