Photo © Hiltrud Schulz
Wolfgang Kohlhaase was born in Berlin on March 13, 1931. In 1947, he began his career as a writer for the youth magazines Start and Junge Welt. He joined the DEFA Studio for Feature Films as an assistant dramaturg in the early 1950s.
Kohlhaase, who had written scripts for over six decades, was one of Germany’s best-known and most successful scriptwriters. He was known for working closely with directors, in that his contribution did not end with the delivery of the script; instead, he remained involved throughout the production. His work includes some of the most important titles in German film history, made in collaboration with leading filmmakers, including: Gerhard Klein, Konrad Wolf, Frank Beyer, Heiner Carow, Andreas Dresen, Andreas Kleinert, Volker Schlöndorff and Matti Geschonneck.
Kohlhaase wrote his first script in 1953, for the children’s film Die Störenfriede (dir. Wolfgang Schleif). Only one year later, he collaborated with Gerhard Klein on Alarm im Zirkus, a story about young boys who plan a robbery in East Berlin. This film was the beginning of a long-term working relationship. Kohlhaase and Klein, both influenced by Italian neorealism, created a series of four films that became known as the Berlin Series. Eine Berliner Romanze and Berlin - Ecke Schönhauser depicted the lives of young people in a divided Berlin before the Wall. Although these films won praise, the last title in the series, Berlin um die Ecke, was banned in 1966 and first screened in 1987. The duo also worked on two other films together. In Sonntagsfahrer, they tell a story about eight people who want to go to West Berlin… but arrive in East Berlin only to find that the Wall has been built. Der Fall Gleiwitz dramatizes the historical event—the alleged attack by Polish forces on the German border town of Gleiwitz—which the Nazis manufactured as a motive for invading Poland in 1939, thereby starting WWII.
The acclaimed WWII film Ich war neunzehn marked the start of Kohlhaase’s collaboration with director Konrad Wolf. The pair returned to the theme of the antifascist struggle in Mama, ich lebe. They also made two movies about contemporary East German society: Der nackte Mann auf dem Sportplatz and Solo Sunny (which Kohlhaase co-directed). Kohlhaase and Wolf also co-wrote the script for the film adaptation of Russian writer Daniil Granin’s short story Die schöne Uta (The Beautiful Uta); the script about a confrontation between Germans and Russians shortly after WWII was never filmed.
Kohlhaase wrote the screenplay for Frank Beyer’s 1982 film Der Aufenthalt based on episodes in Hermann Kant’s autobiographical novel. The film adaptation was shown at many international film festivals, including in Venice and San Francisco, and was East Germany’s official submission for Best Foreign Film at the 1984 Academy Awards. Beyer later also directed Kohlhaase’s Der Bruch, based on an authentic 1946 crime case in Berlin.
Kohlhaase was able to continue his successful career after German unification. At the end of the 1990s, he collaborated with director Volker Schlöndorff for the first time. They co-wrote the script for the feature film Die Stille nach dem Schuss, inspired by actual events involving West German RAF terrorists who went underground in the GDR in the 1970s. In 2005, Kohlhaase teamed up with director Andreas Dresen on Sommer vorm Balkon, which won Best Screenplay at the San Sebastián International Film Festival. Together they made two further productions. The tragicomic Whisky mit Wodka is told through the eyes of an aging actor and reflects on personal and professional relationships. Als wir träumten, based on the acclaimed novel by Clemens Meyer and set in divided Germany, offers a dramatic depiction of Leipzig youth in the immediate aftermath of the fall of the Wall.
Kolhhaase’s latest work was the film adaptation of Eugen Ruge’s award-winning debut novel, In Zeiten des abnehmenden Lichts (2011). The expansive family saga, set against the backdrop of the collapse of East Germany, premiered at the 2017 Berlin International Film Festival. With this film, Kohlhaase returned again to a story set in his native Berlin.
Wolfgang Kohlhaase, who was known for his witty writing style and detailed description of situations, was awarded the Honorary Golden Bear for Lifetime Achievements at the 2010 Berlin International Film Festival. He died in Berlin on October 5, 2022.
Festivals & Awards:
|2011||German Film Award (LOLA) for Lifetime Achievement|
|2010||Honorary Golden Bear for Lifetime Achievements, Berlin International Film Festival|
|2010||Whisky and Vodka, nominated for Best Screenplay, German Film Awards|
|2007||Summer in Berlin, Best Screenplay, German Film Critics Association Award|
|2006||Summer in Berlin, Best Screenplay, German Film Awards|
|2005||Summer in Berlin, Best Screenplay, San Sebastián International Film Festival|
|2000||The Legend of Rita, nominated for European Film Awards|
|1990||The Break-In, Ernst Lubitsch Award|
|1984||Best Scenario, GDR National Film Festival, Karl-Marx-Stadt, for Der Aufenthalt|
|1980||Solo Sunny, Best Script, Chicago International Film Festival|
|1980||Best Director (with Konrad Wolf), GDR National Feature Film Festival, Karl-Marx-Stadt, for Solo Sunny|
|1980||Solo Sunny, nominated for Golden Bear; FIPRESCI Prize; Berlin International Film Festival|
|1977||Art Prize of the Free German Trade Union Federation for Mama, ich lebe|
Bibliography & More:
Um die Ecke in die Welt: Über Freunde und Filme. Berlin: Neues Leben, 2014.
Zeitzeugengespräch (2001, 252 min., color)
Silvester mit Balzac und andere Erzählungen. Berlin: Aufbau Verlag, 1977.
|2017||In Zeiten des abnehmenden Lichts (In Times of Fading Light)|
|2015||Als wir träumten (As We Were Dreaming)|
|2011||I Phone You|
|2009||Haus und Kind (House and Child, TV)|
|2008||Whisky mit Wodka (Whisky and Vodka)|
|2005||Sommer vorm Balkon (Summer in Berlin)|
|2000||Die Stille nach dem Schuss (The Legend of Rita)|
|1999||Victor Klemperer - Mein Leben ist so sündhaft lang (Victor Klemperer: My Life Is So Outrageously Long, TV, doc)|
|1997||Der Hauptmann von Köpenick (The Captain of Köpenick)|
|1992||Inge, April, Mai (Inge, April, May, TV)|
|1991||Begräbnis einer Gräfin (A Countess' Funeral, TV)|
|1988||Der Bruch (The Break)|
|1984||Die Grünstein-Variante (The Grünstein Variant, TV)|
|1983||Der Aufenthalt (Held for Questioning)|
|1978||Zünd an, es kommt die Feuerwehr (Set a Fire, the Fire Brigade Is Coming, advisor)|
|1977||Ein Trompeter kommt (A Trumpeter Is Coming, TV)|
|1976||Mama, ich lebe (Mama, I'm Alive)|
|1973||Der nackte Mann auf dem Sportplatz (The Naked Man on the Sports Field)|
|1972||Leichensache Zernik (Murder Case Zernik)|
|1970||Fisch zu viert (Fish for Four, TV)|
|1967||Ich war neunzehn (I Was Nineteen)|
|1966/1990||Berlin um die Ecke (Berlin around the Corner)|
|1963||Sonntagsfahrer (Sunday Drivers)|
|1961||Der Fall Gleiwitz (The Gleiwitz Case)|
|1959||Der schweigende Stern (The Silent Star)|
|1957||Berlin – Ecke Schönhauser (Berlin - Schönhauser Corner)|
|1956||Eine Berliner Romanze (A Berlin Romance)|
|1954||Alarm im Zirkus (Alarm in the Circus)|
|1953||Die Störenfriede (The Troublemakers)|