Juvenile Detention Center


GDR, 1982, 31 min, b&w
In German; no subtitles
Music (Score)


Director Roland Steiner visited various juvenile detention centers for three years before he was finally able to film—although without an official permit—at the Hummelsheim Center in February 1982. Over the course of four weeks, he met many young people who were there because they had committed petty crimes, faced problems with their parents or had been officially labelled as difficult or problem teenagers. Local youth welfare offices and educational institutions had sent them there for “re-education,” to make them better able to fit into the general society.


In the film, the director meets Martina, Ines, Birgit, Andreas and Maiga. Maiga is fifteen and it is her first day at Hummelsheim; she was sentenced to 18 months because she skipped school and work and was caught stealing. Steiner follows her and other inmates, talking with them to find out why they were sent here and what their future aspirations and dreams are. He discovers that many of the young people are homesick and long for love, understanding and acceptance.


Part of Steiner’s four-part series Jugend-Zeit (Teenager Years), Juvenile Detention Center is the only documentary ever made about GDR juvenile detention centers. There are two very different versions of what happened to this film. Official documents state that the film was first rated as “especially valuable” and apparently released with 19 prints in December 1982 and then, in September 1983, officially banned and removed from distribution—ostensibly because Maiga had not adhered to the center’s norms. She was sent to the Torgau Closed Juvenile Detention Center, a more-or-less secret, prison-like institution for the “socialist re-education” of 14- to 18-year-olds. The Ministry of Culture instructed to hand over the original negative and two prints to the State Film Archive. Although the film was officially released in September 1988, it remained banned from export.


Director Roland Steiner remembers a different story, including that the film was never released! Here is what he remembers: The test screening at the 1982 Leipzig International Festival of Documentary and Animated Film was successful and the film earned a positive review in the daily paper Neues Deutschland. Just few days after the screening, however, Margot Honecker—the minister for national education—heard about the film and was outraged at the image it painted of youth education in the GDR. In addition to demanding the film be banned immediately, Honecker also demanded that all prints be destroyed. Steiner was able to save one print, however, and traveled with it to various screenings in the years before the fall of the Berlin Wall.



1982 Leipzig International Festival of Documentary and Animated Film Festival

Press comments

“The film gives a small glimpse into life in youth detention centers that is almost unknown to GDR citizens or marked with stereotypes and prejudices.”

—Rahel Marie Vogel, Auf dem Weg zum neuen Menschen


“Although the film features a Juvenile Detention Center, which was apparently a model institution in the GDR, the film’s images and scenes conveyed a depressing and oppressive situation.” 

—Report Main



Shibboleth login