The Ascent of Chimborazo

(Die Besteigung des Chimborazo)

GDR/FRG, 1989, 93 min, color
In German; English subtitles
Set Design
Costume Design
Music (Score)
Production Company


In 1802, young Alexander von Humboldt led a scientific expedition to Chimborazo in Ecuador, which was thought to be the highest mountain in the world. At great risk to their lives, von Humboldt and his team—including French doctor and botanist Aimé Bonpland and local aristocrat Carlos Montúfar—carefully measure and document the flora, fauna, soil, rocks, water, and air. The expedition explores regions unknown to Europeans and survive snow, cold and the thin mountain air. But what fascinates von Humboldt the most are his encounters with the indigenous people of Ecuador; as he explores their culture and language, he comes to see German society in a new light. This West and East German co-production was partially filmed on location in Ecuador and involved a local film crew.





1989 Special Jury Prize, Tenerife International Festival of Feature Films about Nature and the Environment

Press comments

The Ascent of Chimborazo is one of those films with which DEFA artists, in the late 1980s, shook off their bonds and opened the hearts and minds of viewers to a new reality beyond their small, narrow, self-satisfied country. Politically subversive, aesthetically challenging—a sensation to this day!”   —Ralf Schenk, film historian


“The film starts like a psychedelic trip, accompanied by electronic music, through blazing sunlight, colorful oceans of clouds and blazing volcanic heat; these fascinating images, shot by Roland Dressel, summon the ungovernable powers of nature. Very soon, however, this alternatingly panoramic and documentary narrative gesture is interrupted by sepia-colored flashbacks to Humboldt’s past. In seamless transitions between different temporal layers, Simon illuminates the loosely intertwined stages of an intellectual expedition.   —Wolfgang Nierlin,



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