Rebels with a Cause

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					                                    … illustrating wealth and innovation of
                                     filmmaking in former East Germany.
                                                - The Museum of Modern Art

                                       The Other Deutschland Films from ‘
                                     anti-fascist’ East Germany offer a new
                                  perspective on Nazism and anti-Semitism.
                                                          - The Jewish Week

                                       …fascinating…retro from the GDR.
                                                      - The Village Voice

                                      The most comprehensive retrospective
                              of East German film ever screened in the U.S.
                                                              - In the Loop

    Rebels with a Cause – The Cinema of East Germany
    DEFA Film Library at the University of Massachusetts Amherst ● phone ● (413) 545-3656 ●
                               Rebels with a Cause
                           The Cinema of East Germany
                                           Presented by
The Museum of Modern Art, Department of Film and Media, and the Goethe-Institut New York,
   in collaboration with the DEFA Film Library at the University of Massachusetts Amherst

               Screened at The Museum of Modern Art, October 7-23, 2005

The Museum of Modern Art and the Goethe-Institut New York, in collaboration with the DEFA
Film Library at the University of Massachusetts Amherst, present the most comprehensive
retrospective of East German cinema ever screened in the U.S. It brings together scholars,
directors and actors of the DEFA period (1946–92) to present the films and reflect on the political
complexities of artistic production in the East German state-owned DEFA studios. DEFA
produced over 7,500 films—many of them at the famous Babelsberg Studio outside of Berlin.
More than a dozen have been voted among the 100 best German films ever made in recent
surveys. Yet, these and other original and creative documentaries or fiction films from East
Germany are largely unknown to film enthusiasts, both in Germany and around the world.

Rebels with a Cause presents a selection of significant works, rich in theme, structure, and style,
and deserving of (re)discovery. These films were crafted by inventive filmmakers who dared to
test the limits of censorship, and whose films‘ political engagement and depth add to their
creative merit in the context of film history. In selecting films for this series we viewed over 200
titles in Berlin and New York, and were impressed by the depth and variety we found in this
"other" German cinema. For this series of 21 films, we looked for a range of voices and styles
from five decades of filmmaking, placing an emphasis on creative energy, artistic innovation, and
challenges to authority – hence the title, Rebels with a Cause.

We are extremely grateful to the Max Kade Foundation, Inc., and the other supporters and
sponsors that have made it possible to screen these films in new 35mm prints with new English
subtitles. I would also like to express my special thanks to my co-curator Juliane Wanckel
(Program Manager, Goethe-Institut New York) and to Hiltrud Schulz (Sales and Outreach
Manager, DEFA Film Library, University of Massachusetts Amherst), who have made this
project an especially gratifying and joyful collaborative experience.

I hope you will enjoy the screenings and seek out more of these groundbreaking films.

Jytte Jensen
Department of Film and Media
The Museum of Modern Art

             Rebels with a Cause – The Cinema of East Germany
            DEFA Film Library at the University of Massachusetts Amherst ● phone ● (413) 545-3656 ●
Press Release - The Museum of Modern Art

MoMA presents series from DEFA studios, illustrating wealth and innovation of
filmmaking in former East Germany

Series of Features and Shorts Includes Works Banned by Former East German

Rebels with a Cause: The Cinema of East Germany

NEW YORK, September 19, 2005—The Museum of Modern Art presents a series of 21 films
produced by the German Democratic Republic‘s (GDR) state-owned DEFA (Deutsche Film AG)
film studios. The films in Rebels with a Cause: The Cinema of East Germany, a collaboration
among MoMA‘s Department of Film and Media, the Goethe-Institut New York, and the DEFA
Film Library, University of Massachusetts Amherst, runs October 7–23, 2005, at The Roy and
Niuta Titus Theaters. The series, which will tour throughout the United States and Germany, is
the most comprehensive retrospective of East German cinema ever screened in the U.S. and
includes several works banned by the Socialist Unity Party in 1965 and never before screened in
this country. Several of the works in the series utilize the medium to undercut the communist
regime in humorous and satirical ways. The dramatic features, documentaries, and animations in
the series chronicle the angst, insecurities, and problems of identity faced by German citizens
under the postwar Communist administration, as well as their energy and buoyant spirits as they
dealt with this new regime. Almost all of the films will be screened in new 35mm prints, in
German, with new or improved English subtitles, and several posters from films in the series will
be exhibited in the Titus 1 Lobby. The opening night screening (October 7) of Egon Günther‘s
Der Dritte (Her Third, 1971) will be introduced by its lead actor, Jutta Hoffmann. The exhibition
is organized by Jytte Jensen, Curator, Department of Film and Media, The Museum of Modern
Art; and Juliane Wanckel, Program Manager, Goethe-Institut New York; with Hiltrud Schulz,
DEFA Film Library, University of Massachusetts Amherst.

Over the course of almost 50 years (1946–92), the DEFA studios produced more than 7,500
films, ranging from dramatic features dealing with the problems of rebuilding war-ravaged
Germany and the chilly climate of interpersonal relationships through the Cold War years to
Grimm‘s fairytale adaptations shot in the company‘s Studio Babelsberg. Since the fall of the
Berlin Wall, the films, many of which had rarely been seen in Germany, have been screened to
acclaim both domestically and internationally: in recent international critics‘ surveys more than a
dozen have been voted among the 100 best German films ever.

The titles in the exhibition reflect the sociopolitical contradictions under which the directors
labored, often to the extent of the films being banned: the 1965 Plenary Session of the Central
Committee of the Socialist Unity Party of Germany was responsible for censoring much of
DEFA‘s output. After 1965 directors learned to convey messages of dissent more subtly. The fall
of the Berlin Wall on November 9, 1989, coincided with the premiere of DEFA‘s first feature
dealing with homosexuality—Coming Out, directed by Heiner Carow. Carow is represented in
this series by Die Legende von Paul und Paula (The Legend of Paul and Paula, 1972), a cult
favorite about an affair between a single mother and a bureaucrat.

             Rebels with a Cause – The Cinema of East Germany
            DEFA Film Library at the University of Massachusetts Amherst ● phone ● (413) 545-3656 ●
Among the titles in Rebels with a Cause are noted works by Frank Beyer (Karbid und
Sauerampfer (Carbide and Sorrel, 1963) and Kurt Maetzig (Das Kaninchen bin ich [The Rabbit
Is Me, 1965/1990]). Beyer‘s comedy follows a cigarette factory employee in postwar 1945 as he
tries to transport nine barrels of carbide across the country to his factory to provide raw
material—and employment—for himself and his colleagues. Encounters with a randy widow,
incompetent Soviet and American officers, thieves, and black marketeers shed light on the
chaotic disorder that prevailed in the immediate aftermath of the war. The Rabbit Is Me is a
searing condemnation of political opportunism in the 1960s in which a young woman has an
affair with the judge of her convicted brother, only to find that her lover has used the case to
advance his career by imposing a maximum sentence.

Gerhard Klein‘s Berlin—Ecke Schönhauser… (Berlin—Schönhauser Corner, 1957) echoed many
of the ―youth‖ films that were being produced in Europe and the United States at the time,
demonstrating the fluidity of themes that were preoccupying directors worldwide. With powerful
performances by a group of young actors, particularly Ekkehard Schall, the film highlights the
ennui of postwar youth and their ill-considered and ill-fated moneymaking schemes. The film was
received negatively by East German officials—as was Jürgen Böttcher‘s banned Jahrgang 45
(Born in ’45, 1966/1990), which features strong performances by Monika Hildebrand and Rolf
Römer as a pair of dissatisfied newlyweds—for being too critical of the utopian social ideals that
the Socialist authorities wished to portray. Even as late as 1990 films such as Peter Kahane‘s Die
Architekten (The Architects) illustrate the stifling social and occupational conditions under which
citizens of the GDR labored. From a sociological point of view, Rebels with a Cause opens a
window on daily life in East Germany under communism. The films in the series also illustrate
the wealth of talent—on both sides of the camera—that flourished in tandem with innovations in
West German cinema during the same period.

             Rebels with a Cause – The Cinema of East Germany
            DEFA Film Library at the University of Massachusetts Amherst ● phone ● (413) 545-3656 ●
Press Release - DEFA Film Library, University of Massachusetts Amherst

A retrospective of 21 East German films from the campus-based DEFA Film Library will be
featured at New York‘s Museum of Modern Art (MoMA) next month before touring the United
States and Germany.

Rebels with a Cause: The Cinema of East Germany, which opens Oct. 7 at MoMA, is the most
comprehensive retrospective of East German films ever screened in the United States and
includes several works that were banned by the Communist government. The series is a
collaboration between MoMA‘s department of film and media, the Goethe-Institut New York and
the DEFA Film Library, housed within the Department of Germanic Languages and Literatures
since 1997.

Professor Barton Byg, director of the DEFA Film Library, says MoMA‘s interest in developing
the series began in 1999 when the archive supplied a restored copy of Frank Beyer‘s 1974 film,
―Jakob the Liar,‖ to the museum for a special screening.

―That piqued the interest of the curator, Jytte Jensen,‖ says Byg, ―because MoMA had never
shown many East German films before.‖

Working with Hiltrud Schulz of the DEFA Film Library and Juliane Wankel of Goethe-Institut
New York, Jensen organized the retrospective. DEFA, with support from UMass Amherst and a
grant from the Max Kade Foundation, produced new 35mm prints of the selected films.

―The new prints have new or improved subtitles and will be part of the DEFA Library, for future
tours and DVD release,‖ says Byg.

Following its run at MoMA from Oct. 7-23, Rebels with a Cause is scheduled to travel to Atlanta,
Chicago, Ohio, Rochester, N.Y. and the National Gallery of Art in Washington, D.C. The exhibit
will also tour to eight cities in Germany.

According to Lee Edwards, dean of the College of Humanities and Fine Arts, the museum series
and subsequent tour will raise the profile of the DEFA Film Library, which is the only archive
and study center outside Europe devoted to the study of a broad spectrum of filmmaking by East
German filmmakers or related to East Germany from 1946 to the present.

―This MoMA retrospective recognizes the broad significance of the DEFA film archive as both a
cultural phenomenon and an aesthetic artifact,‖ says Edwards. ―I‘m especially grateful to Barton
Byg for the imagination, energy and initiative he displayed in acquiring the entire archive for our
campus and securing its North American distribution rights.‖

             Rebels with a Cause – The Cinema of East Germany
            DEFA Film Library at the University of Massachusetts Amherst ● phone ● (413) 545-3656 ●
                       The Architects (Die Architekten)
1990, 97 min., color
Director: Peter Kahane
Cinematography: Andreas Köfer
Music: Tamás Kahane
Screenplay: Thomas Knauf, Peter Kahane
Cast: Kurt Naumann, Rita Feldmeier, Uta Eisold, Jürgen Watzke, Ute Lubosch

Filmed as the GDR crumbled, this somber and nuanced portrait of life in East Berlin depicts a
young architect who feels his life and goals are being strangled by communist dogma, represented
in part by the older generation. The film team had to rebuild part of the Wall to depict scenes
from 1989, as it had been removed so fast.
                                                            ―Telling, finely drawn, superbly acted!‖
                                                                            – The New York Times

Peter Kahane, born in Prague in 1949, studied at the Film and Television Academy in Potsdam-
Babelsberg. His debut film, Women’s Work, premiered in 1984. Prepared for Love and the prizewinning
Ete and Ali: (a coming-of-age story featuring two friends who have just completed their mandatory military
service), exemplify Peter Kahane‘s superb depictions of everyday life. The Architects was his most critical
and politically engaged film. After the fall of the Berlin Wall, he took a short break from filmmaking
before releasing Cosima’s Lexicon (1992) and To the Horizon and Beyond (1999). Since the mid-1990s, he
has also been directing and writing screenplays for TV movies and crime series. Kahane is currently
working on a feature film for release in 2006.

Other Press Comments:
"The decay of a society isn't always signified by a flashy Roman orgy. As The Architects suggests, it can be
synonymous with a pervasive, soul-deadening dreariness."
                                                                 -Stephen Holden, The New York Times, Oct. 29, 1993

"The story behind the making of this tragedy is integral to understanding the picture itself. Shooting started in
September 1989 as multitudes took to the streets throughout East Germany. By the time the film was finished, East
Germany no longer existed. Then and now, East German filmmakers are faced with unemployment. Many of the DEFA
studio executives who initially approved this picture are no longer working. Kahane deftly shows the bureaucratic inner
workings of the former East German centrally controlled economy. His protagonist (Kurt Naumann) assembles a team
of irreverent architects who intentionally goad the powers that be. They want to see just how much they can get away
with, and that turns out to be precious little."                       -Variety, March 11, 1991

"The story about the building is fascinating, particularly the main character's dilemma as a young architect trying to
make it."                                                               -Jen Livingston, filmmaker, Paris is Burning

"It is incredible that this film was released at all, and just as incredible how effectively it both challenges the old East
German government and touches on universal themes."                         -Joel Pearce, DVD Verdict 2005

                 Rebels with a Cause – The Cinema of East Germany
               DEFA Film Library at the University of Massachusetts Amherst
  ● phone ● (413) 545-3656 ●
The Architects - Socialist Family in Stress
The Architects concerns a collective of young East Germans that wins a competition to design a
cultural and shopping center for one of the vast new housing blocks in East Berlin‘s periphery.
Typical of many such projects built throughout the German Democratic Republic, it suffers from
uniformity, isolation and lack of identity. The Architects conveys the idealistic attempt of the
collective to develop variety and human scale in housing. It is starkly contrasted with the
technocracy that has settled into a deadening routine of pre-fabricated building and
compartmentalized thinking.

The collective consists of former architecture students who, having abandoned their profession by
choice or circumstance, are brought together by the film‘s central figure, Daniel Brenner. Unlike
the others, Daniel has remained in the profession but at the age of thirty-eight has not realized a
project of any size or substance. Given the opportunity of the competition, Daniel assembles the
group that becomes, in effect, his second ―family‖; one that is juxtaposed with his wife and
daughter. Daniel‘s fate is to negotiate not only between idealism and technocracy, between ―the
possible and the utopian‖ as his office superior tells him, but between these two families and their
symbolic function.

The collective wins the competition and problems begin. Occupying a central position in the
project is the sculpture ―Family in Stress‖ depicting a father and mother straining in opposite
directions with an isolated child between. It stands for Daniel‘s daughter and for the ―child‖ of
the second family, the architectural project, as well as for Daniel as he struggles between two
families and uncompromised failure and compromised success. These aspects give the film its
universal appeal. They are complemented with a convincing portrayal of the complexity and
tensions of the architectural design process as we learn, for example, that even within the
otherwise united collective one member‘s fantasy is another‘s chaos. Thus The Architects stands
above other films depicting architects as singular heroes (such as The Fountainhead) or in which
―architect‖ is simply coded as ―professional.‖

In an overarching sense the child stands for the visionary socialist project that was, like Daniel,
fatally caught between the possible and the utopian. Even as the film‘s architectural project finds
belated but unexpected support from the representatives of the State Security (Stasi) and the Free
German Youth (FDJ), the various strands of the story end without socialist redemption. That the
script was accepted without incurring the wrath of the state censors owes much to the fact that
The Architects was filmed during the tumultuous fall of 1989 as the German Democratic
Republic collapsed and, with it, its most nefarious building project, the divisive Berlin Wall.

Building is Political
Thus Peter Kahane‘s The Architects belonged to history before it was even fully completed and
perhaps more than anywhere the history of Berlin exemplifies the notion that building is political,
a representation of power. In the film this sentiment is expressed by Daniel‘s former professor as
he looks out of his window onto East Berlin‘s Stalinallee (renamed Karl-Marx-Allee) that was
built during the early 1950s when socialist zeal was at its zenith and the GDR could afford to
build impressive ―workers‘ palaces.‖ This view is followed by a short montage, a visual critique
of the industrialized construction dominating the latter decades of the GDR‘s short life, reminding
us of the many competing architectural and social visions born in Berlin. These include Cold War

             Rebels with a Cause – The Cinema of East Germany
            DEFA Film Library at the University of Massachusetts Amherst ● phone ● (413) 545-3656 ●
competition between East and West Berlin as well as the antipathy of the early twentieth-century
utopians towards Berlin‘s vast tracts of tenements, the Taylorist-inspired reform movements of
Weimar and early modernism, the radical restructuring of the city proposed by the National
Socialists, as well as early postwar initiatives to erase Berlin‘s center, devastated by Allied
bombing, with the aim of creating a city landscape. In an environment such as Berlin‘s, the terms
―city,‖ ―country,‖ ―housing block‖ and Heimat (―home‖) indicate not only place, but ideological

Sprinkled throughout the film are references to architectural history and political ideologies. They
can be found in the opening sequence as Daniel busily draws images of crystals and shells
(reminiscent of the utopian projects of Bruno Taut and Hermann Finsterlin), when Daniel equates
the city with bad air and disease, and in brief depictions of Max‘s Berlin apartment (replete with
an elevated train and a site for extra-marital sex). They also occur as Daniel visits Max, who is
restoring a noble villa, Schloss Lindstedt, located near the palace grounds of Sanssouci in
Potsdam. In the film this villa is depicted as belonging to another world, one far removed and
very privileged. Underscored by the exchange between Max and the workers about his ability to
acquire alabaster plaster, the depiction of the privileging of patrimony and representative
structures over social housing hovers between critique and envy. It is emphasized again at Max‘s
apartment as he tells Daniel that together they will build structures to make the GDR‘s modern
Palace of the Republic look ―like a miserable shack.‖

The Architects presents a running commentary on the interrelationship of the GDR‘s social and
architectural politics. When Franziska insists that the collective wishes to create a ―new GDR
architecture,‖ she is speaking less about stylistic innovation than social regeneration. That her
hopeful assertion is answered only with the skepticism of a group of youths joking about the
―collapse of new buildings‖ (einstürzende Neubauten also the name of a rock group) clearly
indicates that the time of youthful dreams is over. As Martin, the photographer, remarks
elsewhere: ―after thirty-nine years, it is finally time to grow up.‖

For the GDR film was as equally political as building. One of DEFA‘s (Deutsche Film
Aktiengesellschaft) most fascinating legacies is the intertwining of these two representational
systems. Here too The Architects develops topics addressed earlier in Heiner Carow‘s The
Legend of Paul and Paula (1972) and Hermann Zschoche‘s Island of Swans (1983). But The
Architects also serves as a bookend to the overall history of DEFA and the GDR. Wolfgang
Staudte‘s The Murderers Among Us (1946) and Gerhard Lamprecht‘s Somewhere in Berlin
(1946), depicted Berlin as a city of ruins, symbolic for both the destruction of the Third Reich and
the fertile ground upon which the dreams of a better, socialist future would take root.

If the beginnings of DEFA were marked by depictions of a ruined city full of dreams, then The
Architects marks its end: depicting a new city, but one in which the dreams now stand in ruin. As
such, The Architects is a poignant and essential chapter in understanding the GDR, its
architecture, and its cinema.

Ralph Stern
Architectural Historian

             Rebels with a Cause – The Cinema of East Germany
            DEFA Film Library at the University of Massachusetts Amherst ● phone ● (413) 545-3656 ●
   Berlin–Schönhauser Corner (Berlin – Ecke Schönhauser…)
1957, 82 min., b/w
Director: Gerhard Klein
Cinematography: Wolf Göthe
Music: Günter Klück
Set Design: Oskar Pietsch
Screenplay: Wolfgang Kohlhaase
Cast: Ekkehard Schall, Ilse Pagé, Ernst-Georg Schwill, Helga Göring

Rebels with a cause. This classic 1950s teen cult film is a perceptive social portrayal of a city in
which political and economic division have affected the entire population. Although the film
became a box-office hit, it was greeted with suspicion by GDR cultural officials. Gerhard Klein
and screenwriter Wolfgang Kohlhaase were reproached for emphasizing ―negative problematic
images of our [East German] life.‖ Despite the negative reception from GDR officials, this film
was loved by the public precisely for its truthful portrayal of everyday life. Ranked by film
critics among Germany‘s 100 most important films, this and other ―Berlin films‖ by director
Klein and screenwriter Kohlhaase made an important contribution to the international youth film
                                                                      "…told in a neo-realistic style"
                                                             – The Oxford History of World Cinema

Gerhard Klein (1920–1970) was born in Berlin. He joined the resistance against the Nazis and was
arrested twice. Klein was self-educated and after the war worked as a cartoonist and documentary
filmmaker. He began working for DEFA as a screenwriter for short and documentary films in 1946 and for
feature films in 1952. All his films express the poetry of daily life and his fascination with his beloved
Berlin. Along with screenwriter Wolfgang Kohlhaase, Klein produced a series of what are called the
―Berlin Films.‖ Berlin Around the Corner was banned by East German officials in 1966 and the style of his
film, The Gleiwitz Case, was interpreted as converging too closely with a fascistic aesthetic.

Other Press Comments:
"Everyday details reflect the inner life of the characters. Klein and Kohlhaase put their fingers on the open sores of the
everyday life of the time - without mincing matters or glorifying anything, without confusing a vain wish for reality."
                                                                        -Fred Gehler in the Berlin "Magazin" 8/1987

"Over many years this film has retained much of its Berlin feel, realism, accuracy of detail, honest portrayal of conflict,
especially in comparison to more recent DEFA productions."             -Jutta Voigt in the Berlin "Sonntag"

"It remains a classic of German and European youth films."              -Prof. Barton Byg, University of Massachusetts

"a courageous film, that marvelously portrays a problem of youth today"                      -Junge Welt - Sept. 3, 1957

"It would be desirable, that this film be shown to us, even though it is a communist accented film. In its heart, it is
everything else. Hats off to the men that made it."                                        -Die Welt - Sept. 7, 1957

                 Rebels with a Cause – The Cinema of East Germany
              DEFA Film Library at the University of Massachusetts Amherst
 ● phone ● (413) 545-3656 ●
Berlin - Schönhauser Corner (Gerhard Klein, 1957)

Gerhard Klein was responsible for some of the most artistically significant works of the
East German cinema—especially the group of films usually referred to as the ―Berlin

Within the DEFA Studio tradition the ―Berlin Films‖ – and their connection to Italian
neo-realism – reflect an attempt to resist the stifling strictures of ―Stalinist Socialist
Realism‖ and develop a ―critical entertainment cinema‖ instead. A political ―thaw‖
followed Khrushchev‘s public denunciation of Stalin‘s crimes in 1956, in which East
German filmmakers hoped to liberalize their production arrangements and, for a brief
period in the late 1950s and early ‗60s, production groups at DEFA had somewhat more

The end of World War II had witnessed signs of continuity with the creativity of the
Weimar Cinema. In the late 1940s, Slatan Dudow, Wolfgang Staudte, Helmut Käutner,
Gerhard Lamprecht, Roberto Rosellini and Billy Wilder all made films that made use of
the unique urban persona of Berlin. As Stalinist elements then crystallized in the East,
such a populist aesthetic became suspect until it was revived by Kohlhaase, Klein and
Carow. These filmmakers attended to small-scale issues with neo-realist aesthetics to
make films that looked shockingly different from the grand, instructive, uplifting films of
classic Socialist Realism. They used grainy, high-speed newsreel stock; they filmed on
location with minimal supplementary lighting; they employed lay actors and children as

That Kohlhaase, Klein and Carow were linking up with the Soviet and Weimar avant-
gardes of the 1920s was at first of little interest to young East Germans of the mid-
1950s—if they were even aware of it. In any case, they would not have dared cite either
the taboo films of the pre-Stalinist past or the immensely popular youth films from the
West, such as Blackboard Jungle or The Wild One. But the fact that the latter films had
caused a number of riots among teenagers in West German cities – as well as in Berlin,
where East Germans could still cross into the Allied zone to join audiences – attests to
both the demand for films that addressed real issues facing young people and the terror
such works could instill in the generally conservative political leadership of both German

Kohlhaase/Klein‘s Berlin—Schönhauser Corner – the third of their ―Berlin Films‖, after
Alarm in the Circus and A Berlin Romance – is the most influential in the series, both in
artistic terms and in its tremendous and sustained popularity. In the film, the Cold War
conflict between East and West Germany and its impact on the everyday frustration of
young people are shown with a hard edge. The film depicts episodes of juvenile
delinquency by ordinary young people, to whom the future of Socialism supposedly

            Rebels with a Cause – The Cinema of East Germany
            DEFA Film Library at the University of Massachusetts Amherst ● phone ● (413) 545-3656 ●
A young Ekkehard Schall plays Dieter, a Marlon-Brando-like young man who is barely
staying out of jail—mainly because he has a brother in the police force. Through their
unintentional involvement in a forgery scheme, Dieter and his friend Kohle escape to
West Berlin, where they are interned in what was a called a reception camp. One purpose
of these camps was to be sure immigrants were not Communist spies and to find out
about whatever useful information they might have about East Germany. In an attempt to
get an early release from the camp for illness, Kohle drinks a mixture of water and
ground-up cigar, which kills him. This trauma sends Dieter back to the socialist GDR
where he belongs, but there is little grand optimism about how well he will fit in.

Despite its careful avoidance of explicit references to Western youth films, this film was
attacked by East German Party functionaries as being too ―nihilistic‖ in its depiction of
an alienated and hopeless youth—something that was ideologically impossible in
socialism. These attacks ignored the fact that one motive for such honest and innovative
depictions was to help socialism deal with its problems, rather than drive young people
out of the country. The original title of the film, Wo wir nicht sind… (literally, ―Where
we are not . . .‖), had clearly made this motive explicit, and it is still voiced in the final
version by the eternally-patient police officer who hears the story of yet another young
person ―lost‖ to the other side—―If we’re not there [for our young people], our enemies
will be.” By banning any such topical and innovative films that addressed the alienation
and frustration of young people in socialism in 1965-66, the East German government
thwarted all attempts to interpret this phrase as a call for a youth culture that would attract
people to socialism. Youth culture not in the eyes of GDR artists, but in the eyes of many
of its leaders was a suspicious import from the West. And when they weren‘t there for
their youth, their enemies indeed were.

Barton Byg
University of Massachusetts

             Rebels with a Cause – The Cinema of East Germany
            DEFA Film Library at the University of Massachusetts Amherst ● phone ● (413) 545-3656 ●
                           The Bicycle (Das Fahrrad)
1981, 89 min., color
Director: Evelyn Schmidt
Cinematography: Roland Dressel
Set Design: Marlene Willmann
Screenplay: Ernst Wenig
Cast: Heidemarie Schneider, Roman Kaminski, Anke Friedrich, Heidrun Bartholomäus

Susanne is a single mother living a somewhat carefree lifestyle. After quitting her job, she finds
herself in deep financial trouble and attempts a minor fraud to make ends meet. Despite its rare
view of everyday socialism from a woman's perspective, GDR officials were critical of this frank
portrayal of a less-than-ideal socialist citizen and turned down all invitations for the film to be
screened abroad. In West Germany, however, Evelyn Schmidt‘s film received much praise for its
critical view and feminist approach.

"The Bicycle is a little story packed with tremendous hope ... it raises important and essential
questions of personal responsibility and what we can expect from life."
                                                                    - Norddeutsche Zeitung

―A sensitive portrait of a woman by DEFA director Evelyn Schmidt . . . . Remarkable are the
sympathetic portrayal of a work-rejecting outsider and the realistic description of East German
daily life.―
                                                                   - Lexikon des Internationalen

Evelyn Schmidt was born in Görlitz in 1949 and moved to Berlin in 1963. She spent a year as an
apprentice with East German television and graduated with a degree in directing from the Film and
Television Academy in Potsdam-Babelsberg in 1973. Schmidt participated in Konrad Wolf's master class at
the Academy of the Arts in Berlin and began directing in the 1970s. From 1977 to 1990 she worked as an
assistant director and later as a director at the DEFA Studio for Feature Films, debuting with Infidelity
(1979). Since 1990 she has directed documentaries for television and produced 13 plays at an experimental
theater. Schmidt has also taught film and acting, and is currently working on a children‘s movie.

Other Press Comments:

"What succeeds most, to my mind, is the way the film grasps and addresses the character´s social context - it is
judgmentally unobtrusive and completely accurate (Camera: Roland Dressel)." -Guenter Sobe in the "Berliner Zeitung"

               Rebels with a Cause – The Cinema of East Germany
              DEFA Film Library at the University of Massachusetts Amherst
 ● phone ● (413) 545-3656 ●
The Bicycle (Evelyn Schmidt, 1981)
         During the late 1970s and early 1980s, criticism of East German society, such as
that tacitly implied in The Bicycle, was often voiced through young women on screen. As
the ‗natural‘ inhabitant of the domestic sphere, a permitted private space of intimacy
beyond public control, female misfits were used to express more general feelings of
disaffection with everyday life under socialism. The Bicycle is a prime example: on its
release, it was indirectly censored by limiting its release to a few performances in minor
cinemas only and without any prior advertisements whilst at the same time having it
dismissed as a flop in scathing film reviews in the official papers. The career of Evelyn
Schmidt – one of the few East German women directors who had set out as a privileged
student in a master class by Konrad Wolf– was nipped in the bud.
         The Bicycle transgressed the officially proclaimed norms and expectations of a
‗good‘ socialist film on various levels. Most crucially, the portrayal of the female
protagonist presented the ‗wrong‘ kind of heroine according to the criteria of the
‗sozialistisches Menschenbild‘ (socialist image of the new man). The so-called ‗positive
model hero or heroine‘ was intended to combine both the characteristics of a realistic and
credible person with the potential for an ideal personality of the future. For instance, in
several films produced up to the late 1970s, the filmmakers tended to portray model
heroines, who were well educated, professionally qualified and politically conscious, who
knew exactly what they wanted, and who were able to address and solve their problems.
         In those earlier years, the preference for female protagonists by predominantly
male film directors may have been due to the fact that strong screen heroines, who were
portrayed as men‘s equals in their new roles in the work place, could best be used to
illustrate the emancipation of women under socialism which was essential to the East
Germany‘s self-perception as the ‗better‘ Germany: as a society of true equals, morally
superior to the west.
         In East German cinema of the late 1970s and early 1980s, however, there
emerged a new kind of female protagonist. These heroines tended to be loners and misfits
struggling to survive on the margins of society, expressing views and attitudes which
clearly deviated from those held to be worthy of a socialist hero. Susanne, the protagonist
of The Bicycle, is a single mother and an unqualified menial labourer, who can get only
monotonous and badly paid factory jobs. In a moment of crisis and to make ends meet,
she reports her bicycle as stolen and claims the insurance money.
         As the crime rate in East Germany was very low compared to the West, petty
crimes, such as theft and fraud would be considered serious offences by most GDR
citizens. However, in The Bicycle, the desperate situation experienced by one of the
weaker members of society, her poverty and loneliness are depicted in such graphic detail
that her descent into delinquency is justified by making it understandable.
         This view challenges the concept of a socialist society where nobody is left to
struggle on their own, where there is always the work collective standing by to help. Very
subtly, and more often through visual imagery than through verbal discourse, this film
implies that it is society which is failing someone like Susanne rather than the other way
around. It is quite clear to the viewer observing the heroine‘s body language and facial

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        expressions, which show very strong feelings of fear, shame and guilt, that she is
not a cold-blooded habitual delinquent. In fact, throughout the film the heroine is
portrayed as someone who is not naturally devious, but rather is an individual forced into
cautious reticence and withdrawal by a repressive and controlling environment.
        This portrait of a screen heroine was found unacceptable and met with scathing
comments by most East German critics, one of whom, at the time, characterised Susanne
as ‗a screwed-up misfit, suspicious towards everybody except her obscure drinking mates
in the disco-cellar‘ and dismissed the film as a ‗lame expression of grumpy discomfort
with society‘ (Renate Holland-Moritz, 1982).
        Curiously, however, in the course of the film, this apparent ‗loser‘ is shown to be
worthy of our sympathy and respect, being portrayed in a positive light and inevitably
drawing sympathy and a sense of identification form the viewers. In an interview
conducted after the demise of the GDR, the director Evelyn Schmidt summarised the
comments made by viewers who had seen the film in local repertory cinemas: ‗Those
discussions revealed how many people dreamt of holding on to an internal liberty the way
Susanne does‘ (Elke Schieber, 1994).
        The central, yet ambivalent metaphor for Susanne‘s development throughout the
whole film is her bicycle: from characterising her as a vulnerable young woman, exposed
to the hostile elements while struggling to get past heavy traffic in the pouring rain, to
being the hidden evidence of Susanne‘s descent into crime, until finally becoming a
metaphor of autonomy and empowerment. In the film‘s closing sequence, one of the very
few shot in bright sunlight, the bicycle has come to express the bond between mother and
daughter; Susanne is finally succeeding in teaching her small child to ride the bicycle on
her own, passing on her newly gained sense of independence and liberty.

Andrea Rinke
German and Film Studies,
Kingston University

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                             Born in '45 (Jahrgang 45)
1966/1990, 94 min., b/w
Director: Jürgen Böttcher
Cinematography: Roland Gräf
Set Design: Harry Leupold
Costume Design: Günther Schmidt
Screenplay: Klaus Poche, Jürgen Böttcher
Cast: Monika Hildebrand, Rolf Römer, Paul Eichbaum, Holger Mahlich

Born in ’45 is the only narrative film by painter and documentary filmmaker Jürgen Böttcher.
Inspired by Italian neo-realism, he developed a sensitive style characterized by detailed social
observation and poetic verve. Newlyweds Alfred and Lisa decide to divorce. Alfred takes a few
days off to clear his head, wandering through Berlin and meeting strangers. Though he ultimately
returns to Lisa, the plot remains open-ended. This film can be considered East Germany's closest
counterpart to early Godard. Officials banned the film in 1966, describing it as ―indifferent and
insignificant.‖ It wasn‘t seen by audiences until 1990 and Böttcher never returned to narrative

"This film is like a kind of ballet, expressing what cannot be said with words. There are the most
beautiful arrangements. The naive nature of the performance and the beauty of the camera
movements and angles are stunning.…‖
                                                                         - Rolf Richter, Filmspiegel

Jürgen Böttcher, also known as the painter ―Strawalde,‖ was born in 1931 in Frankenberg. He studied at
the Dresden Academy of Fine Arts from 1949 to 1953, during which time he worked as an independent
artist and taught night school, where he met the now famous painter A.R. Penck. From 1955 to 1960,
Böttcher studied directing at the Film Academy in Potsdam-Babelsberg and worked as a director in the
DEFA Studio for Documentary Films until 1991. Having made more than 30 artistically provocative films,
he has attained cult status among cineastes. Jürgen Böttcher has been working as an independent artist since
1991 and currently lives in Berlin.

Other Press Comments:

"This film is like a kind of ballet, expressing what cannot be said with words. There are the most beautiful
arrangements. The naive nature of the performance and the beauty of the camera movements and angles are stunning.
Every-day life is shown as both powerful and trivial - as space for movement in which we can study and develop
ourselves and in which we define ourselves by means of endless repetitions and attempts to break out. The director's
tools are sensitive feelers. He does not flaunt his professionalism; rather, he displays an excellent sense of timing."
                                                                          -Rolf Richter in the Berlin "Filmspiegel", 1/1991

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Born in ’45 (Jürgen Böttcher, 1966/1990)

Born in ’45 seems to me like a clear-sighted daydream, like a memory of such accuracy
that I would swear by it. Watching this film, I experience images as I would expect from
a movie, but understand them immediately as part of my life. I take them for my own
with such naturalness, just like you take the morning sky as your own sky, the streets as
you own streets and keen, aromatic smell the pavement emits as exactly the smell you
need to fully wake up. I sometimes get strange looks from people when I talk about his
film so effusively, but I‘m not exaggerating—it is my film!

At the beginning, a young man walks out onto his balcony and stares for a long time at
other houses, at walls, at trees. This neighborhood is Prenzlauer Berg, where I have lived
and where I still live, a gray place, but still also somehow green, like the trees that grow
there despite the very limited space. And I know I‘m not the only one; a whole generation
has stood and stared down from the balconies in a rare, impatient kind of waiting: is
something still to come, or is that it? Many have silently and defiantly yearned and
protested with this waiting, and many, suddenly, just up and left, broke out. These young
people (though in my time they were a little older) wanted to know what the future held
for them, still not believing or accepting that it would end up being what finally came—
uniformity, disappointment, loneliness, confusion. There were no words for this situation
at the time, but through body language, movements, the situation could be sensed and

Born in 45’ is truly a kind of ballet through which the unspeakable is captured. There are
gorgeous arrangements. Almost like a dance with a feather, it is an elegy about
tenderness, including the wish to escape, to disappear and if nothing else works, to
explode, just to do something completely different afterward. In his performance, actor
Rolf Römer presents a stunning combination of understatement and magnificent,
shameless exaggeration, in which the unspeakable elements of the future emerge.
Director Jürgen Böttcher guides him into situations and spaces that, in a most elegant
way, protest the caged-in feeling, the frustration and bitterness, granting the character his
desperate desire for something different, something more like freedom. The naïveté of
this performance, along with the certainty of the camera movements and the scenes they
capture, is unbelievable.

Everyday life, with its power and triviality, appears as space for movement. Space in
which we experience and develop ourselves, where we become who we are through
endless repetition and attempts to escape. The film is both a candid snapshot and a
deciphering. In its fascinating portrayal of a young person‘s many attempts to not lose his
footing, to defend himself, to form alliances and to get to know himself carefully, without
hurry, time is used as an indication of this search for another rhythm. The director‘s tools
are sensitive antennae; he doesn‘t exhibit professionalism, but rather presents his piece
with the slogan: ―It happens like this, but it doesn‘t have to be this way.‖ That is his
creative way of protesting. The film is then to be seen as a sign, an offer.

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Böttcher was 34 when he made this film; he was a documentary filmmaker and a painter
whose talents were known and respected. The film, however, was banned and never
released. Finally reaching the screen in 1990, Born in '45 is one of the most informative
depictions of the life of young people in the Sixties, a prophetic document that not only
those who are interested in the art of the time period should watch, but everyone.

Rolf Richter
Filmspiegel: 1991, Heft I

Rolf Richter (1932-1992)
was a teacher, film critic and publisher who lived in East Germany. He published reviews and
books about African, Latin American and Arabian cinematography and about the East German
DEFA films.

In October 1989 he was appointed chairman of the commission that worked on the rehabilitation
of the banned films of East Germany. His personal commitment helped make possible the
restoration of at least a few of these forbidden films. In 1990 eight of these banned films were
shown at the Academy of Art in East Berlin for the first time in 25 years. The presentation of
these films at the Berlin Film Festival brought them enormous international attention.

Acting as chairman of an association for the preservation of the art house cinema Babylon,
located in Berlin, he took action to insure the continued support of Babylon as a place for
international film art, especially for European and East European productions.

Rolf Richter was not only interested in film; he was also an accomplished graphic artist and poet.

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     Carbide and Sorrel (Karbid und Sauerampfer)
1963, 80 min., b/w
Director: Frank Beyer
Cinematography: Günter Marczinkowsky
Set Design: Alfred Hirschmeier
Screenplay: Hans Oliva
Cast: Erwin Geschonneck, Kurt Rackelmann, Rudolf Asmus, Marita Böhme, Margot Busse

At the end of World War II, workers in Dresden send their colleague Kalle hundreds of miles
north to pick up welding supplies for their factory. Kalle‘s attempts to move the supplies through
the Soviet occupation zone become a hilarious odyssey full of high jinks and misadventures. The
screenplay was a lucky find for the director, as was the leading actor Erwin Geschonneck, a man
whose self-confidence and laconic wit had gotten him through many ups and downs. The film‘s
comic high point is a boat trip down the Elbe, when Kalle raises the suspicion of both Soviet and
American patrols. Director Frank Beyer first took his film to Moscow, since GDR officials often
questioned humor which flouted political authority. The hearty laughter of the Soviet
functionaries there gave the green light for a German premiere.

                                                                    ‖One of the best German film comedies.‖
                                                                      - The Oxford History of World Cinema

Frank Beyer is known for having directed some of the most powerful and historically significant films at
DEFA. Born in Nobitz in 1932 he studied theater in Berlin, and then directing at the renowned Prague Film
School (FAMU). From 1958 to 1966 Beyer directed films such as Naked Among Wolves and Five
Cartridges, as well as Carbide and Sorrel. In 1966 Trace of Stones was banned and Beyer was expelled
from the studio. He then directed for the stage and began a prolific career in television, which continues
today. In 1974 he re-emerged at DEFA with Jacob the Liar, which was nominated for an Oscar for best
foreign film. Since German unification, Beyer has primarily worked in television, creating feature films
such as St. Nicholas Church (1995), an account of the collapse of the GDR. In 1990 Beyer became a
member of the Academy of Arts and in 1991 he was awarded the State Film Prize in Gold for lifetime
achievement. The Film Museum Potsdam has recently purchased the Frank Beyer collection, including
materials that provide an in-depth view of his life and work.

Other Press Comments:

"Giving away details of the storyline and the gags would be spoiling the fun. Besides, many of the punch-lines are so
cinematographic that retellling them would prove difficult." -Margot Schroeder in the Berlin "Junge Welt", 03.01.1964

"A film for Erwin Geschonneck. That long face, that thin mouth - altogether that matter-of-fact dryness. Take pity on
those sides of yours - they will be splitting once the joke gets to the laughing muscles!"
                                                     -Hans-Dieter Schuett in the Berlin "Junge Welt", 07.03.1984

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Carbide und Sorrel (Frank Beyer, 1963)

Carbide and Sorrel (Karbid und Sauerampfer) was the sixth film of Frank Beyer, after Konrad
Wolf arguably the most successful director of the DEFA. This film is a flashback to the
immediate postwar period from a vantage point twenty years later and from inside a ―protective‖
Wall which had been built two years before the film was made. Many East German filmmakers,
Beyer among them, have viewed the erection of the Berlin Wall, bitter reality though it was, as
potentially productive in one respect: They hoped it would produce a buffer enabling artists to
address sociopolitical problems in the GDR candidly, a process which had theretofore been
impeded by the potential instrumentalization of such critique by the ideological foe in the Cold
War. Frank Beyer told actor Armin Mueller-Stahl, commenting on the building of the Wall: ―Es
war richtig, was sie gemacht haben: Mauer zu, dann haben wir endlich Ruhe!‖ (―What they did
was correct: Wall us off—and now leave us alone!‖). But that protected artistic space was short-
lived; in 1965 the 11 th Plenary Session of the SED (the East German Communist Party) lashed
back, confiscating the majority of the DEFA films produced that year and hiding them in vaults
of the Polibüro, where most of them remained for a quarter century. Carbide and Sorrel (not
among the confiscated films, having been completed before the 1965 political chill) is one of the
notable films from that brief period of increased candor between the building of the Wall and the
11th Plenary Session. It comments upon the political exigencies, the infrastructural devastation,
and the motley pragmatics of human coping in the Soviet Zone of occupation in the immediate
aftermath of WWII with candor and refreshing wit.

The film has a simple narrative structure: There is a problem to be solved, and its solution
requires a journey. A group of workers has gathered in the rubble of what was once their place of
work —a cigarette factory in Dresden— with the intent of rebuilding it. But they lack carbide,
essential for the welding work that must be done. Kalle, the only non-smoker of the group, is
charged with the task of procuring it through his brother-in-law in a distant town. The
procurement proves simple enough and is narrated deftly, but then the real challenge begins: How
to move seven barrels of a rationed raw material from Wittenberg to Dresden with no means of
transportation and without being detected by Soviet authorities?

The story is narrated as a series of encounters with people who provide a variety of transport
opportunities and a socio-psychological panorama of devastated Germany: an energetic and
beautiful farm girl who shares with Kalle both her horse-driven cart and her bed; two truck-
drivers who gobble up the mushrooms a famished Kalle had unwittingly braved a mine field to
harvest; Russian officers who ―tax‖ Kalle‘s load by a few barrels after detaining him for some
time; an undertaker, who gives Kalle a lift in exchange for his delivering the eulogy for a corpse
neither of them knew; an opera singer and a young girl, eager to escape to the American bank of
the Elbe, who leave Kalle stranded with what is left of his load on a rampart in the middle of the
river; an American officer in a motorboat who collects him and the carbide from the rampart,
only to be stranded in turn when Kalle absconds with his boat and his officer‘s cap; two
scammers who make off with the carbide at dawn on foot, rolling the barrels down the road
(toward Dresden, a detail that increases Kalle‘s tolerance of this temporary theft).

Kalle‘s twofold struggle —against the stasis of barrels and against getting caught— is further
complicated by trials and encounters which illustrate and comment upon the postwar condition:
Hunger, trickery, human dislocation and loneliness, mined forests. But grim as these realities are,
the film treats them lightly, with classic comic devices which validate their reality while
providing the opportunity for ironic distance. The film looks back at hard times from the vantage
point of substantially better ones and provides a gauge for measuring the relative

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accomplishments of the GDR, of a generation that had resolved staggering problems with some

It does so with tact and with more candor than censor might have allowed in a non-comic genre;
the stranded American is not the only victim of Kalle‘s cunning—he also outwits a blockheaded
Soviet officer. The factory his coworkers want to rebuild is anything but essential to the building
of socialism (a cigarette factory), and Kalle‘s role in its rebuilding is anything but heroic. He is
not eager to undertake the task and grumbles repeatedly along the way; he doesn‘t even have a
personal interest in its rebuilding— he doesn‘t smoke. He withstands the wiles of a horny widow
along the way, but only because he is too drunk to make love. And he no sooner makes it back to
Dresden with what is left of the carbide than he abandons his co-workers to join the farm girl
whose unborn child, as he learns from letters she has been sending to him at the factory, he has

The deceptively light humor this film maintains is carried largely by the expert performance of
Erwin Geschonneck. Several roles contribute to this tone well, particularly non-working class
figures, such as the widowed owner of a lumber mill with the wonderful name Clara Himmel (a
pun which mean ―clearer skies‖), whose bourgeois airs are humanized by her desperate attempts
to seduce whatever man happens by, and the lecherous opera singer whose self-estimation is as
over-sized as his ample body.

Reference is made to some of the classic themes of the DEFA, but in passing and with a grain of
salt: building socialism (smokers build a cigarette factory); victory of fascism (hungry Kalle finds
shelter in a hay loft, sleeps with an empty stomach, only to discover after the Soviets have already
done so, that he was sleeping on a vast store of luxurious foods stowed away by the SS). The
second time he is arrested by the Soviets we learn, in one of the in-the-know exchanges between
party members so recurrent DEFA films, that Kalle is a communist, but it seems here irrelevant
except as a means for getting him out of a tight spot. Kalle is more Kumpel than comrade.

Carbide and Sorrel is an enjoyable period piece and an interesting document of its era. Its
successful comic realism provides the casual viewer and specialist alike a rewarding viewing

Karen Kramer
Stanford University

Karen Kramer, a native of California, has lived in Berlin for three decades. She directs the
Stanford University Program in Berlin, where she teaches film, theater, and cultural studies. In
addition to numerous scholarly texts, she has published poetry in English and German.

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               The Gleiwitz Case (Der Fall Gleiwitz)
1961, 69 min., b/w
Director: Gerhard Klein
Cinematography: Jan Čuřík
Music: Kurt Schwaen
Costume Design: Gerhard Kaddatz
Screenplay: Wolfgang Kohlhaase, Günther Rücker
Cast: Hannjo Hasse, Herwart Grosse, Hilmar Thate, Georg Leopold, Wolfgang Kalweit

The Gleiwitz Case is a detailed reconstruction of the 1939 surprise attack by a Nazi unit on the
radio station in Gleiwitz, which was blamed on Polish forces and served as Hitler‘s justification
for marching into Poland—thus starting WWII. Cool and distanced, the film reflects on the
possibilities and techniques of provocation, and how facts and opinions can be manipulated to
make people accept lies, murder, and war.

Director Gerhard Klein and his Czech cameraman Jan Čuřík create an impressive visual language
to describe fascism. This enlightening perspective on the underpinnings of totalitarian power and
violence was met with resistance among GDR officials. The film was accused of aestheticizing
fascism and, although it narrowly escaped censorship, it disappeared after only a few weeks in
theaters. Today, the film is considered one of the most modern and experimental films in DEFA

―… a clever story … an eccentric reenactment of an event from history. The Gleiwitz Case
suggests a more starched, controlled Dr. Strangelove crossed with the formal austerity of
Triumph of the Will, and its tone falls just short of loco.‖
                                                             – Felicia Feaster, Creative Loafing

Gerhard Klein (1920–1970) was born in Berlin. He joined the resistance against the Nazis and was
arrested twice. Klein was self-educated and after the war worked as a cartoonist and documentary
filmmaker. He began working for DEFA as a screenwriter for short and documentary films in 1946 and for
feature films in 1952. All his films express the poetry of daily life and his fascination with his beloved
Berlin. Along with screenwriter Wolfgang Kohlhaase, Klein produced a series of what are called the
―Berlin Films.‖ Berlin Around the Corner was banned by East German officials in 1966 and the style of his
film The Gleiwitz Case was interpreted as a converging too closely with a fascistic aesthetic.

Other Press Comments:
―… a smartly constructed, almost cubist rendering of the hours leading up to the Nazi invasion of Poland, recounting in
minute detail the Germans‘ secret plan to fake a Polish incursion into German territory, thereby giving Hitler a pretext
for the long-planned invasion. The film is meticulously detailed to great effect, and Klein gives it a hammer rhythm
that is very powerful.‖                                                                     - The Jewish Week

―…the most Brechtian of GDR movies is Klein and Kohlhaase's 1961 The Gleiwitz Case. A laconic 70 minutes of
modernist music, Nazi newsreels, and alienating camera angles, Gleiwitz restages the fake attack that precipitated
World War II. Nazi machine men issue robotic commands to the local pod people, orchestrating a fake Polish attack on
an antiseptic sci-fi radio station broadcasting light Latin pop from a few miles inside the German border. Back in the
day, Gleiwitz's deadpan satire of Riefenstahlian aestheticism was mistaken for Nazi nostalgia—now its icy
experimentalism might inspire Ostalgie for a lost German avant-garde.‖                       - The Village Voice

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The Gleiwitz Case (Gerhard Klein, 1961)

The Gleiwitz Case offers an almost documentary account of the events surrounding the Nazi‘s
staged attack on a radio transmitter near Gleiwitz on the German-Polish border August 31st, 1939.
Most of the narrative reconstruction is based on statements by the commanding officer to British
military personnel. This little-known ―incident‖ gave the Third Reich a reason for invading
Poland and, in so doing, starting World War II. Under the command of SS-officer Helmut
Naujocks, six ethnic Germans living in Poland are selected and prepared for the secret operation.
They take over the station and create the appearance of an assault, complete with radio message
by the alleged Polish insurgents. One dead concentration camp inmate in Polish uniform is left
behind as proof of the attack. The film ends with the voice of Hitler announcing, ―As of today,
4:45 a.m., we are shooting back‖ and a tranquil image of the Gleiwitz transmitter station with
―43,000,000 dead‖ projected in bold over it.

The film is noteworthy for a cinematic style that creates an almost documentary sense of
detachment with formal devices reminiscent of Expressionism and New Objectivity, as well as
film techniques modeled on both classical Soviet montage and New Wave styles.

Director Gerhard Klein (1920-70) made numerous documentaries and newsreels for the DEFA
Studios and frequently collaborated with author Wolfgang Kohlhaase. His most famous films are
critical studies of Berlin youth culture: Berlin-Schönhauser Corner (1957) and Berlin Around the
Corner (1965-1990). These films stand out through their contemporary sensibility and realist
style. The same attention to the material world characterizes The Gleiwitz Case, ―a documentation
with artistic means,‖ in the words of Klein. The film is also enhanced by its convincing utilization
of classical avant-garde traditions in film and photography from the 1920s and early 1930s. From
the thematic and structural concerns, it is associated with the New Wave cinemas of the 1960s.
The stark black-and-white cinematography of Jan Curik recalls the work of Czech and Polish
filmmakers, especially with the dramatic lighting and highly symbolic close-ups. Kurt Schwaen
intersperses an original score in the dissonant, brassy style of Hanns Eisler with quotations from
classical music, fold songs and popular songs from the Third Reich in order to create a
deceptively peaceful, and therefore all the more foreboding, atmosphere. Book and screenplay not
only reduce the dialogue scenes to a minimum, but also limit all exchanges to the passing of
information and giving orders. In highly restrained performances, the actors, beginning with the
brilliant Hannjo Hasse, rehearse the mechanisms of political oppression and shed light on the
psychopathology of what Hannah Ahrendt once called ―the banality of evil‖.

The Gleiwitz Case accomplishes the simultaneous reconstruction and deconstruction of fascist
imagery by presenting its constituent elements in highly self-reflexive fashion, including an acute
awareness of the convergence of aesthetics and politics under fascism. The carefully composed
shots of ordinary settings and locations, the hard lighting and low camera angles in the close-ups
of faces and the preference for geometrical configurations in the exterior scenes must all be
understood as deliberate references to the cult of racial community by Leni Riefenstahl in
Triumph of the Will. Likewise, the detached perspective of the camera makes a fetish of the
inanimate object in a way that recalls the functionalist photographs of Albert Renger-Patsch, as
well as the cultural films by Walter Ruttmann. However, the atmosphere of cold objectivity
conjured by camerawork and mise-en-scene is time and again destabilized through the means of
analytical montage. This is especially evident in the opposition between image and sound, and
between successive images and sounds, and through the introduction of radically different visual
styles (e.g., the surrealist train ride) and locations (e.g., the idyllic garden terrace). The chilly
beauty of the images and the compulsive linearity of the narrative only draw attention to the

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paucity of the relationships among the protagonists and offer disturbing insights into their
collective mentality, especially given the film‘s resistance to psychological motivation. Even the
flashback of Naujock‘s youth, which contains the main elements of a typical petty-bourgeois
biography, serves less to offer socio-psychological explanations than to ground the inhumanity of
fascism in the culture of everyday life.

Because of its innovative cinematic style, The Gleiwitz Case became the target of much official
criticism. Party functionaries accused the filmmakers of ―objectivism‖ and ―lacking partiality‖.
Audience responses to what many critics perceived as a very detached, almost clinical view of
National Socialism were also very mixed, and some reviewers took offense at what might appear
as a surrender to ―fascinated fascism‖. As a result, the film was not submitted as the official GDR
entry at the Moscow International Film Festival in 1961, and it quickly disappeared from the

Finally, the film‘s bold aesthetic and political vision can now be appreciated as an important
contribution to the film avant-garde of the 1960s and compared favorably to modernist classics
like Resnias Last Year in Marienbad (1961) and Antonioni‘s The Red Desert (1964), as well as
the kind of radical political cinema identified with the names of Straube, Kluge and Godard.

Prof. Sabine Hake
University of Texas, Austin

Sabine Hake is Chair of German Literature and Culture at the University of Texas. Her research
interests include German cinema and Weimar culture. She has published the on films of Ernst
Lubitsch, early German film theory, cinema in the Third Reich, as well as a complete German
film history.

             Rebels with a Cause – The Cinema of East Germany
            DEFA Film Library at the University of Massachusetts Amherst ● phone ● (413) 545-3656 ●
                                Her Third (Der Dritte)
1971, 111 min., color
Director: Egon Günther
Cinematography: Erich Gusko
Set Design: Harald Horn
Screenplay: Günther Rücker
Cast: Jutta Hoffmann, Barbara Dittus, Rolf Ludwig, Armin Mueller-Stahl

Her Third recounts eighteen years in the life of Margit through a series of flashbacks. After two
failed relationships, each of which produced a child, a newly liberated Margit discovers herself.
Her amorous pursuit of a colleague provides not only an entertaining love story, but also a
testament to the evolving self-confidence and independence of East German women. Jutta
Hoffmann was named Best Actress at the 1972 Venice Film Festival for her performance in this
film, playing opposite Oscar-nominated actor Armin Mueller-Stahl.

―Jutta Hoffmann [is] a small person with enormous charisma, who establishes such a direct
connection with her viewers that they experience each emotion and laugh and cry with her.‖
                                                                     - Heinz Kersten, film critic

Egon Günther was born in Schneeberg in 1927. In 1958 he began working as a dramaturg and
screenwriter at the DEFA studios and by 1964 was directing his own screenplays. His works are about
contemporary life but he also directed literary film adaptations. With Lotte in Weimar (1975) he started a
series of films about Goethe – which continued with The Mask of Desire (1999). Critics describe Günther
as an avant-gardist of East German cinema, known for his stylistically sophisticated and internationally
competitive films. Günther was increasingly beset with political difficulties, leading to the censorship of
several of his films. He finally decided to leave for West Germany in 1978 after his television film Ursula
was snubbed by the regime. In West Germany he worked mainly in television and returned to DEFA at the
end of 1989 to make his film Stein.

Other Press Comments:

"The film's audience senses the fun Ms. Hoffmann - as well as all the other cast and crew members - had when making
the film...Egon Guenther...really knows how to narrate his film and effectively reach his audience without becoming
banal or insincere".                                                  -Michael Hanisch in the Berlin "Junge Welt"

"A film embracing a number of problems such as the ones facing women in the society...An important film...".
                                                                                   -Klaus Eder in "Christ und Welt"

               Rebels with a Cause – The Cinema of East Germany
              DEFA Film Library at the University of Massachusetts Amherst
 ● phone ● (413) 545-3656 ●
A Woman and GDR Society: A Parallel History in Her Third

Her Third is a pivotal film in the history of East German narrative cinema. It proved that
artistic power, critical consciousness, aplomb and cinematic originality could not be
silenced. It came out in 1972 following a period of torpor caused by a politically
motivated ban on an entire year of film production in December 1965. This movie
appeared as the first light on the darkened horizon of GDR cinema and continues to
affirm its own cinematic brilliance today.

Her Third is a story about women‘s emancipation. Margit Fleißer, the main character, is
presented with a number of situations that test her strength and resolve. As a child when
her mother died, she witnessed the neighbors ransacking the apartment, even ripping the
sheets off the deathbed. She grew up as an orphan in a deaconess‘ house and was
subjected to isolation and a restrictive religious life imposed on her by the church. Yet
Margit delivered herself from this by studying mathematics and later entering into a
career as a computer scientist. She eventually becomes financially and mentally
independent. But is she happy? There still remains the issue of her potential inner
liberation and the difficulty of finding happiness.

After two long-term relationships that both fail, she ends up alone with two children.
Based on her experiences she makes a firm resolve: the next man, her third, she will
consciously choose only after thoughtful scrutiny. With courage and ardor she resists
traditional expectations, but does so also out of fear of fulfilling the stereotype of women
as passive and weak. She galvanizes herself, uncertain (as is the audience) as to whether
or not her resolve makes her happier. The film leaves this question open, despite the
wedding at the end.

Amidst this woman‘s story, Her Third provides at the same time an apt and
unconventional look at the historical development of East Germany from the end of the
war to the seventies. It shows the poverty and moral dilapidation of the immediate
postwar period, the enthusiasm at the new beginning the fifties promised, and the
normalization that occurred in domestic relationships in the seventies which led to a
certain resignation. At that time society‘s lofty collective goals dissipated and the issue of
individual happiness became more important.

The protagonist‘s experience lends a unique insight to the GDR‘s image of its own
history. Jutta Hoffmann portrays a woman filled with vitality and obstinacy. Her
character is both affectionate and self-confident, cuddly and recalcitrant. She is searching
for the love of her life and goes her own way in spite of it. The character‘s complexity is
imparted through the actress‘s entire composure and gestures, which one could describe
as modern, timeless and utterly contemporary in the same breath. Her movements and
manner of speaking have a hazy, ironic quality; she talks dismissively about things that
are very important. At the same time, she is capable of powerful, tumultuous emotions,
such as when she discovers her younger child may go blind. She is neither sentimental
nor coolly scientific. Words fail to describe her screen presence, as it is ineffably
cinematic and original.
            Rebels with a Cause – The Cinema of East Germany
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When the film came out, many women in the GDR felt that the figure of Margit Fließer
mirrored their desires and fears, since she had the same problems with love and life that
they had. The actress‘s playfulness and that of the film in general -- both which lightened
any dark, serious undertone -- gave women hope that they could overcome their problems

Egon Günther‘s very unique cinematic language always allows the fact that film is
something which is ―created‖ shine through and that it is never simply about representing
reality. Everyday observances mesh together with stylized scenes; life‘s trials and
tribulations are frequently broken up with comic moments. He creates a need for a
comfortable distance between the individual viewer and the dramatic scenes and then
fulfills it. Within this stylistic concept, the entrancing Jutta Hoffmann unleashes all of her
hypnotic power. Her most genuine female figure is brought to life right before our eyes in
a film that preserves her character‘s depth and provocative power to this day.

Erika Richter
Film Publicist Berlin

            Rebels with a Cause – The Cinema of East Germany
            DEFA Film Library at the University of Massachusetts Amherst ● phone ● (413) 545-3656 ●
  The Legend of Paul and Paula (Die Legende von Paul und Paula)
1972, 106 min., color
Director: Heiner Carow
Cinematography: Jürgen Brauer
Music: Peter Gotthardt
Set Design: Harry Leupold
Screenplay: Ulrich Plenzdorf, Heiner Carow
Cast: Angelica Domröse, Winfried Glatzeder, Heidemarie Wenzel, Fred Delmare

Author Ulrich Plenzdorf and director Heiner Carow winningly portray this story of undefeatable,
passionate love between a single mother and a married bureaucrat in East Berlin. Featuring the
music of the East German cult rock band, the Puhdys, the film proved enormously popular,
despite limited media coverage. The Legend of Paul and Paula remains a cult favorite today.

―[This film] shows that the 70s all over the world, even in the GDR, were the 70s.‖
                                                 – Jennie Livingston, filmmaker (Paris Is Burning)

―I knew that the film would be good. It was going to be explosive and maybe it wouldn‘t make it
through, but it was going to be good.‖
                                                                 – Ulrich Plenzdorf, screenwriter

Heiner Carow (1929–1997) was born in Rostock. Directors Gerhard Klein and Slatan Dudow were his
mentors in the DEFA studio class for young directors from 1950 to 1952. In 1956 Carow made his first
feature, Sheriff Teddy, with many similarities to Klein‘s ―Berlin Films.‖ His film, The Russians Are Coming
(1968), was banned and labeled as ‖contaminated with modernism.‖ The Legend of Paul and Paula became
an unparalleled success, however, and is said to have been the longest playing film in German cinemas.
Carow‘s penchant for creating films that candidly reflected everyday life in socialism often put him into
conflict with officials, but his professionalism and artistic acuity gained him the position of Vice President
of the Academy of Arts of the GDR (1982–1993). He was awarded many film prizes, including a Silver
Bear at the 1990 Berlin International Film Festival for Coming Out, the only East German feature film
about homosexuality.

Other Press Comments:
"Heiner Carow directed this 'legend' - a word already suggesting a detached approach to East Berlin reality - in an
imaginative and easy-going way, placing it between realtiy and imagination."
                                                                  -Volker Baer in the Berlin "Tagesspiegel", 18.04.1973

"We have not been spoiled with moving love stories in the cinema. Therefore my unconditional praise for this
treatment of the love theme. I am all for talking about love in the appropriate sensual terms rather than having the topic
rhetorically exhausted."
                                                                         -Fred Gehler in the Berlin "Sonntag", 22.04.1973

                Rebels with a Cause – The Cinema of East Germany
              DEFA Film Library at the University of Massachusetts Amherst
 ● phone ● (413) 545-3656 ●
The Legend of Paul and Paula

Heiner Carow‘s The Legend of Paul and Paula was the most popular East German film
ever made. Together with Konrad Wolf‘s Solo Sunny (1980), it belongs to a select group
of films which achieved cult status in the GDR. Based on a script by the well known
writer, Ultrich Plenzdorf, Carow‘s film was one of the first to profit from the more liberal
climate that was ushered in with the change of political leadership in the GDR in 1971.
After a difficult period for artists and writers – a period that culminated in the series of
bans in the wake of the infamous Eleventh Plenum in 1965 – the replacement of Walter
Ulbricht by Erich Honecker in 1971 seemed to hold out the promise of a new era of
tolerance. In one of his earliest speeches, Honecker went as far as to declare that
‗Providing one starts from an established socialist standpoint, there cannot…be any taboo
subjects for art and literature‘. Indeed Ulrich Plenzdorf with his highly acclaimed novel,
The New Sorrows of Young Werther (1972), was – at least to begin with – one of the
principal beneficiaries of the new improved relations between writers and the State. But
taboos or no taboos, the new climate of tolerance was short-lived, a fact highlighted by
the expulsion of the singer-poet Wolf Biermann in 1976. And amongst those who, in the
wake of the ‗Biermann affair‘, decided to leave the GDR of their own accord in the late
1970s and early 1980s were a number of DEFA stars, including Manfred Krug, Jutta
Hoffmann, Armin Mueller-Stahl, Katharina Thalbach and, of course Angelica Domröse,
the star in The Legend of Paul and Paula.

The success of The Legend of Paul and Paula lies in the ability of Carow and Plenzdorf
to present the life of ordinary GDR citizens in a wholly new and challenging format.
Paula‘s situation – that of a single parent trying to bring up two children whilst at the
same time working as a check-out assistant in a GDR supermarket – was a reality with
which many GDR citizen could identify. Indeed part of the originality of Carows‘s film
was that – in market contrast to such films as Horst Seemann‘s A Declaration of Love to
G.T. (1971) and Egon Guenther‘s Her Third (1971) – it dealt not with a member of the
intelligentsia, but with a uneducated (thought by no means unintelligent) woman
employed to do a menial job. For whilst the drive to develop the GDR‘s industrial
economy at the beginning of the 1970s inevitably led to greater opportunities (and
difficulties) for well-educated women in a predominantly male-dominated work-force,
few film-makers had stopped to consider the plight of women at the other end of the scale
– women like Paula – and it this respect, Carow‘s film was well ahead of its time,
anticipating the direction taken by such films as Erwin Stranka‘s Sabine Wulff (1978) and
Evelyn Schmidt‘s The Bicycle (1981).

We do the film a disservice, however, if we attempt to assimilate it to the canon of
‗women‘s cinema‘ in Germany as represented, for example, by Helke Sander‘s The All-
round Reduced Personality (1977) or the early films by Helma Sanders-Brahms. Given
the extent to which The Legend of Paul and Paula is a celebration of the power of
romantic love, those searching for a racial reappraisal of gender relations are bound to be
disappointed. Not surprisingly, feminist‘s critics have often fallen foul of the film,
dismissing it as – to quote the title of an academic essay on the film – ‗a sexist schmaltz
from the GDR‘. Yet it is precisely in its relentless insistence that human beings must
            Rebels with a Cause – The Cinema of East Germany
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indulge the emotional, irrational side of their nature if they are realize their full potential
that the revolutionary thrust of the film is both to be sought and found. Add to this the
fact that of the two characters, it is Paul, a minor government official, who has the
greatest difficulty in breaking free from the shackles of rationality and self-restraint, and
it is not hard to see why the film occupies such a unique place in the minds and hearts of
those who saw it.

But The Legend of Paul and Paula is much more than just an intense love story. It is, as
its titles suggests, a ‗legend‘. In order to underline the fairy-tale character of this love
affair, Carow makes use of a provocative montage of fantasy and realism. At one moment
we watch as the weary Paula all but collapses from the repeated effort of carrying coal
from the cellar up the stairs in the block of flats where she lives; at the next, we are taken
on a magical journey with Paula and Paula in a bed bedecked with flowers, a journey in
which the logic of time and space has ceased to have any meaning. Given the deliberate
use of such ‗Romantic‘ elements – together with a corresponding refusal to adhere to
adhere to the conventions of realism – it is tempting to see Carow‘s film as making its
own distinctive contribution to the renewed interest in German Romantic art and
literature generally in the GDR at the beginning of the 1970s. And just as German
Romanticism developed as a response to the often overly mechanistic approach to human
nature endorsed by the writers and philosophers of the eighteenth-century Enlightenment,
so too the Romantic elements of Carow‘s film serves as a reminder to us today that we
ignore the irrational elements of human behavior at our peril.

Sean Allan
University of Warwick, UK

             Rebels with a Cause – The Cinema of East Germany
            DEFA Film Library at the University of Massachusetts Amherst ● phone ● (413) 545-3656 ●
                                Mother (Die Mutter)
1958, 147 min., b/w, screening in 16mm
Director: Manfred Wekwerth
Cinematography: Harry Bremer
Screenplay: Käthe Rülicke-Weiler, Manfred Wekwerth, Harry Bremer, Isot Kilian
Editor: Ella Ensink
Sound: Kurt Wolfram, Rolf Rolke
Cast: Helene Weigel, Fred Düren, Erich Franz, Fritz Hollenbeck, Günter Naumann, Helga
Raumer, Norbert Christian
Produced by the DEFA Studio for Newsreels and Documentary Films, on behalf of the Berliner Ensemble.

Bertolt Brecht‘s grand epic of political theater, written in 1931, is an adaptation of Maxim
Gorki‘s novel by the same title. It tells the moving story of an oppressed Russian woman who is
transformed into a militant revolutionary. The original production, written for the Berliner
Ensemble, was condemned by Stalinist critics as ―formalist‖ and ―politically harmful,‖ although it
was hugely popular. Filmed by DEFA, this production – directed after Brecht‘s death by Manfred
Wekwerth – retains much of Brecht‘s original cast, with a landmark performance by Helene
Weigel in the title role.

Manfred Wekwerth, acclaimed Brecht disciple and director of Brecht‘s plays, was born in Köthen in
1929. He belonged to an amateur theater group, when Bertolt Brecht discovered him and offered him a
position as an assistant director at the famous Berliner Ensemble in 1951. Only two years later he directed
his first production there. After Brecht‘s death, Wekwerth became the senior director of the Berliner
Ensemble. He first began filming in order to document some of the Brecht productions at the Berliner
Ensemble. Wekwerth left the Berliner Ensemble from 1969 to 1977 over disagreements with Brecht‘s
widow, Helene Weigel, but then returned to manage the theater until 1991. He was also the president of
the East German Academy of Arts for almost a decade and the director of the Institute for Directing in
Berlin. Since German unification he has continued to direct for various German theaters.

               Rebels with a Cause – The Cinema of East Germany
             DEFA Film Library at the University of Massachusetts Amherst ● phone ● (413) 545-3656 ●

On August 14th 1956, a quarter before midnight, the poet Bertolt Brecht died of a heart
attack. In accordance with his last will and testament, he was buried in the
Dorotheestädtischen cemetery in Berlin next to those graves of the great philosophers
Hegel and Fichte. An act of state took place in Brecht‘s own theater, the Berlin
Ensemble on August 18 th, in which East German Minister for Culture Johannes R. Becher
and the acting Prime Minister Walter Ulbricht among others held commemorative
addresses. The government and the artistic institutions of the country all agreed that the
memory of the author had to be maintained and that his work be preserved for the future
– including the productions of the Berlin Ensemble, whose artistic leadership was
Brecht‘s occupation.

Of course, nobody at that time had in mind the video technology with which one could
have documented these famous presentations. And 35mm film conservation would have
been too expensive and cumbersome. Nevertheless, the GDR Ministry of Culture
assigned the national film studio DEFA to complete the task and made available the
necessary funds for the project. The plan, which in all its documentation and relevant
production was entrusted to the director and friend of Brecht Erich Engel, was indeed
unfeasible on account of time and deadline reasons. So a few other close colleagues of
Brecht, his assistant Käthe Rülicke-Weiler among them, endeavored to preserve his all-
important production model as study material for posterity. Along with that, those
particular pieces that would be ―recorded‖ first would be the ones that would presumably
not be among the Berlin Ensemble‘s repertoire for much longer. The choice fell between
Brecht‘s Mother (Die Mutter) from 1951 and Erwin Strittmatters Katzgraben, which
Brecht produced in 1953.

As principal filmmakers for the production, director and student of Brecht Manfred
Wekwerth and the cinematographer Harry Bremer from the DEFA Studio for Newsreels
and Documentary Films were brought on board. In the case of Mother, they decided not
to make a film version of the play but rather for a strict documentary of the stage
performance with the scenery on-stage serving considerably as the base setting. Tracking
and panning shots were not allowed. As a specifically film-artistic medium, the team
allowed only certain kinds of cuts as well as restrictions on the framing during film takes:
the singling out of the stage background via the change of side limits remained
exclusively reserved for the titular character Pelagea Vlassova played by Helene Weigel
– that Russian ―mother‖ and working man‘s widow who is thrust among the
revolutionaries and begins to fight for the power of the state.

At the same time, the team decided not to film in the studio, but rather – because of
financial restraints but also for the ―comfort of the actors‖ and the retention of the stage
atmosphere – on the stage of the Berlin Ensemble. It turned out to be especially difficult
to ensure the necessary silence for the film – especially with single shots that required

            Rebels with a Cause – The Cinema of East Germany
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about eight minutes of complete concentration. Käthe Rülicke-Weiler recalled: ―The
disturbances surpassed all expectations. Let‘s take only the noises, for example: against
door slamming, humming vacuum cleaners and hammers in the house, we had help from
control sentries and strict regulations. Against the steam whistles of the motorboats, the
water guards were backing us up, airplane engine noises we could plan for around
midday with some certainty, insofar as some small, malicious private airplane did not
make unscheduled circles over the city center. Carpet-beating housewives reacted to a
good cajoling, but then our giving of tips to the hurdy-gurdyists outside proved to be
ineffective, because they would then send for their colleagues. Storms and rain were
delivered upon us without our consent, and strong winds would act like a storm when
they hit our drawing room.‖

For the final cut, it was envisioned that the film would be in color, ―because we would
very much like to see the beauty of the red flag.‖ (Rülicke-Weiler) Yet the technical
quality of the high-contrast Agfa-Ultra-Rapid film stock that was used did not allow it.
Thus even in the final version, it remained in black and white. Initially, Mother
constituted a kind of completion of the endeavor to document Brechtian productions.
Not until 1961 did the DEFA Studio for Feature Films propose a production of Mother
Courage and her Children. Bearing in mind the experiences with Mother, both directors
Manfred Wekwerth and Peter Palitzsch consequently realized this film in the studio and
did not refrain from using film techniques. Also belonging to the documents of
Brechtian directorial work are the TV adaptation of Senora Carrar's Rifles (Die
Gewehre der Frau Carrar, 1953), as well as the silent, Super-8 camera-recorded film
documents in 1952 by Hans-Jürgen Syberberg who, as one of Brecht‘s top students, had
taken lessons from him and was therefore allowed to film scenes from Urfaust, Mr.
Puntila and His Man Matti (Herr Puntila und sein Knecht Matti) and Mother.

Ralf Schenk
Film Historian

            Rebels with a Cause – The Cinema of East Germany
           DEFA Film Library at the University of Massachusetts Amherst ● phone ● (413) 545-3656 ●
          The Rabbit Is Me (Das Kaninchen bin ich)
1965/1990, 109 min., b/w
Director: Kurt Maetzig
Cinematography: Erich Gusko
Set Design: Alfred Thomalla
Screenplay: Manfred Bieler
Cast: Angelika Waller, Alfred Müller, Ilse Voigt, Wolfgang Winkler

The Rabbit Is Me was made in 1965 to encourage discussion of the democratization of East
German society. Soon afterwards, the film was banned by officials as an anti-socialist, pessimistic
and revisionist attack on the state. It henceforth lent its name to all the banned films of 1965,
which became known as the "Rabbit Films." After 1989, The Rabbit Is Me earned critical praise
as one of the most important and courageous works ever made at DEFA. The film portrays a
young student who has an affair with a hypocritical judge, who once sentenced her brother for his
political activities. She eventually confronts him with his opportunism and injustice.

―[The Rabbit Is Me] merits attention not least of all for its unvarnished search for truth. As for
form, Maetzig treads new paths. No-one in [East Germany] had ever dealt with stylistic
extravagances such as flashbacks and inner monologues with such ease.‖
                                                                         - Peter Claus, Junge Welt

Kurt Maetzig was born in Berlin-Charlottenburg in 1911. In 1932 he began a film internship, but in 1934
was denied work by the Nazis because his mother was Jewish. He made some of the first films in Germany
after WWII. Among others, Marriage in the Shadows (1947), the first German film to address Nazi anti-
Semitism shown in all four occupied German zones. Maetzig was one of the founders of DEFA. DEFA‘s
artistic director as of 1946, he later became the first president of the newly founded Film Academy in
Potsdam-Babelsberg, where he served as a professor of directing. Before retiring in 1975, Maetzig directed
more than 20 feature films. While some described his work as propaganda, GDR officials banned other
productions for being too critical. Maetzig‘s career spans decades across the entire history of DEFA.

Other Press Comments:
"This film has been released at last. It merits attention not least because of its unvarnished search for truth. As for form,
Maetzig treads new paths. No-one had ever dealt with stylistic extravaganzas such as flashbacks and inner monologues
with equal ease in this country."
                                                                        -Peter Claus in the Berlin "Junge Welt", 09.03.1990

"The extent of inhumanity and wretchedness that was possible - and normal - in the name of socialism outrages, even a
quarter of a century on. By no means a dated film. Today, we still shudder at the reality made apparent in the love story
of Maria Morzeck and judge Paul Deister."
                                                                  -Helmut Ullrich in the Berlin "Neue Zeit", 09.03.1990

                 Rebels with a Cause – The Cinema of East Germany
              DEFA Film Library at the University of Massachusetts Amherst
 ● phone ● (413) 545-3656 ●
The Rabbit Is Me and the Banned Films of 1965/66

In December 1965, the 11th Plenary of the ruling Socialist Unity Party‘s Central
Committee of the German Democratic Republic convened in Berlin to instigate a political
and cultural witch hunt that over the course of a year, systematically banned beat music,
nearly all the films in production that year, numerous television programs, plays and
works of literature.

The Cold War climate was becoming increasingly tense and East Germany was suffering
economically. The ascent of political and cultural liberalization that was fostered after the
Berlin Wall was built in 1961 began to decline when Khrushchev died and was replaced
by Brezhnev. The growing political and cultural thaw in neighboring Czechoslovakia
made GDR rulers uneasy. And crime in East Germany was on the rise, especially
‗rowdiness among the youth.‘ All these uncertainties prompted political hardliners to
reverse trends of tolerance and seek a scapegoat, which they found in the artists, whose
works they deemed dangerous to the political dignity and moral fabric of the country.

One film in particular was singled out for its ‗decadence and nihilism,‘ The Rabbit Is Me,
coining the term given to all of that year‘s banned productions: ―The Rabbit Films.‖

The Rabbit Is Me is set in Berlin in 1961-2, the time shortly before and after the building
of the Berlin Wall. It is the story of Maria Morzeck, a young independent Berliner, who
has a love affair with Paul Deister, a married judge and the man responsible for
sentencing her brother to three years in prison for political slander. Because Maria is
suspicious of the severity of the sentence and doesn‘t really understand why her brother‘s
behavior was criminal, she is denied admission to the university, preventing her from
fulfilling her dream to become an interpreter or travel agent. She is therefore a waitress in
a restaurant bar. As she and the relationship with Paul develop, she begins to see the
injustice and arbitrariness in the legal system. She finally ends the relationship when she
discovers it is Paul‘s careerist opportunism that guides his legal decisions.

The film was based on a Manfred Bieler novel of the same name. Although it was written
at a time when the East German government was easing restrictions and undergoing
reforms, it was banned in 1963 and never published in the GDR. When the Central Film
Administration was called to account for permitting a film adaptation of a banned book,
the then DEFA Studio Director Jochen Mückenberger defended it, saying that it showed
how the justice system was being reformed and becoming more democratic, and that
Maria‘s honesty was a hallmark characteristic of socialism. Yet it was in part because of
her honesty – in voiceover she offers her saucy commentary laced with biting Berlin
humor on the glaring hypocrisies around her – that led to the film‘s banishment.

The Rabbit Films were vehemently criticized because they revealed that the younger
generation was questioning the oppressive, suspicious socialism that offered them little

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for personal or professional growth – a socialism for which the older generation believed
they fought and suffered the Nazis. The Rabbit Films were despised in general because
they bore a distinct stylistic resemblance to a newly emerging European cinema at that
time led by filmmakers such as Fellini, Truffaut and Wajda: The New Wave, which was
seen as too pessimistic and highly infiltrated with individualism typical of the West.

Most of the Rabbit Films were unearthed and showcased for the 1990 Berlin International
Film Festival, where many of them were seen for the first time, some in mere
fragmentary form. While filmmakers, critics and the public hailed this collection as
highly artistic, politically challenging and socially optimistic, much of the relevance was
lost, as the time for an ambitious, revolutionary GDR cinema had come and gone.
Nevertheless, the Rabbit Films are an important and almost neglected part of GDR
political history, a testament to the will for reform and contribution to international film

Betheny Moore Roberts
University of Massachusetts Amherst

            Rebels with a Cause – The Cinema of East Germany
            DEFA Film Library at the University of Massachusetts Amherst ● phone ● (413) 545-3656 ●
               The Second Track (Das zweite Gleis)
1962, 80 min., b/w
Director: Joachim Kunert
Cinematography: Rolf Sohre
Screenplay: Günter Kunert / Joachim Kunert
Cast: Albert Hetterle, Annekathrin Bürger, Horst Jonischkan, Walter Richter-Reinick

Station Inspector Brock is witness to a robbery. When he fails to report one of the culprits, he
experiences flashbacks of his earlier failure to take a stand against Nazi persecutions years ago.
The Second Track is the only East German film which explores the theme of former Nazis leading
normal lives in the GDR. This sensitive subject matter was one reason why the film was rarely
shown in theaters. Remarkably expressive images and black and white photography intensify a
story about guilt, repression and oblivion, making this film a true discovery.

―An idiosyncratic film … the cinematographic narrative mode engenders an immense and
ultimately unsettling impact.‖
                                                        – Erika Richter, Film und Fernsehen

Joachim Kunert was born in Berlin in 1929. He worked as a director of DEFA newsreels and
documentaries from 1954–1955 and of feature films until 1970. Kunert moved to television then where he
worked until his retirement in 1990. He belonged to the so-called ―second generation‖ of DEFA
filmmakers, characterized by a worldview primarily shaped by the East German experience. Kunert tried to
address taboo topics in his films. He succeeded with the film The Adventures of Werner Holt (1964), which
focused on WWII and the unspoken past of his father‘s generation. The Second Track (1962), dealing with
traces of the Nazi era in 1960s East Germany, gained no recognition until its recent critical rediscovery.
This film was his second collaboration with the author Günter Kunert, president of the German P.E.N.

              Rebels with a Cause – The Cinema of East Germany
             DEFA Film Library at the University of Massachusetts Amherst ● phone ● (413) 545-3656 ●
Breaking with Conventions in The Second Track
Nighttime at a freight train depot. Two men are tampering with a sealed railway car. By
chance, station inspector Brock, a seasoned and knowledgeable railroad employee, comes
along and averts the robbery. But when he later recognizes one of the culprits at a police
lineup, he chooses to remain silent. Then he suddenly and without apparent reason ask s to
be relocated to a different station. Why would he want to run away? What secret would
he like to suppress… and forget?

The Second Track (1962) latched onto what was a highly unconventional topic for DEFA.
Since the early 50s, GDR films conventionally portrayed National Socialism as a
completed chapter of history. Hardly any DEFA film investigated the traces of the Hitler
regime in the eastern part of Germany, where according to the official version, fascism
was completely eliminated. The citizens of the GDR, who at the time were constructing
socialism, were supposed to see themselves as ―de-Nazified‖ across the board,
unencumbered in their status as the ―Victors of History.‖ Whenever questions arose about
the lines of connection between the Third Reich and the present, the accusatory gaze was
almost exclusively cast on the Federal Republic of Germany (FRG). The Second Track
does not settle for this mindset, however. Rather, screenwriter Günter Kunert and director
Joachim Kunert devised a tale that delved into the involvement of ―present-day‖ GDR
citizens with the crimes of the Third Reich.

With the figure of station inspector Brock, they succeeded at creating an intriguing
character tormented by inner conflict. Indeed, Brock saddled himself with guilt at the end
of the Nazi period: during his leave from the front he discovered that his wife had hidden
a fugitive Jew. He revealed this secret under pressure of their fanatical building
superintendent. After the war, Brock lived under a false name in a different city. But
suddenly he came face-to-face with the former superintendent and Nazi as a thief.

The nuances of Brock‘s bad conscience are differentiated in the film and interpreted with
psychoanalytic overtones. His silence, his failure that he swept under the rug, gave birth
to fresh guilt and despair. The old wounds, which had never been treated, fester even
further under the poorly applied bandage; only fresh air can bring about a recovery. With
this credo in mind, The Second Track is not merely an account of a single case, but is a
parable for all of society – and not only relevant for the Nazi period, but in regard toward
Stalinism as well. Yet evidently such a corresponding debate in the GDR failed to occur:
the time was simply not ripe for The Second Track.

Beyond the significance of its content, Günter and Joachim Kunert also broke new
ground with the formal aspect and the avant-garde direction of their work. The train
station setting, with its tracks, switches and contact wires, was consistently used for its
symbol-laden ambiance. Even the title could have been interpreted as a metaphor: Did the
―second track‖ simply travel aside, or wasn‘t much more required of Brock in order to

leave the retracted ―first track‖ in the first place? Director of photography, Rolf Sohre,
shot the film in expressive black-and-white; Pavol Simai wrote a hazy, electronic

            Rebels with a Cause – The Cinema of East Germany
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sounding music for the film that only further underlines its experimental character.
Together with Konrad Wolf‘s Professor Mamlock, Gerhard Klein‘s The Gleiwitz Case
(1961) and Frank Beyer‘s Star-Crossed Lovers (1962), The Second Track can be counted
among the most intellectually prominent, image-intensive films of those years. It was
unjustly and almost completely forgotten for a long time.

Ralf Schenk
Film Historian

           Rebels with a Cause – The Cinema of East Germany
           DEFA Film Library at the University of Massachusetts Amherst ● phone ● (413) 545-3656 ●
     Your Unknown Brother (Dein unbekannter Bruder)
1981, 108 min., color
Director: Ulrich Weiß
Cinematography: Claus Neumann
Music: Peter Rabenalt
Set Design: Paul Lehmann
Costume Design: Lydia Fiege
Screenplay: Wolfgang Trampe
Cast: Uwe Kockisch, Michael Gwisdek, Jenny Gröllmann, Bohumil Vavra, Arno Wyzniewski

Returning from a Nazi camp for political prisoners in 1935, Arnold Clasen is ambivalent about
re-establishing contact with his resistance group, afraid he is being watched. Isolation, fear, the
need for friendship, and betrayal are the themes of this film. This rare psychological take on
antifascism represents a milestone in East German filmmaking, as it both sustains and breaks with
the antifascist tradition. Invited to compete at the Cannes Film Festival, Your Unknown Brother
was withdrawn by East German officials, despite the filmmakers‘ feverish preparations. Ulrich
Weiß, a talented director for whom this film represented great strides in creative development,
emerged embittered from this experience and, from this point on, all his artistic activities were
undercut. It appears that those in power didn‘t want to take any more risks with this independent,
untamable and unpredictable talent.

                                                         ―For me, film is the discovery of the sensual world.‖
                                                                                      – Ulrich Weiß, director

    ―Ulrich Weiß was the greatest talent to emerge from the Babelsberg film school in the 1970s.‖
                                                          – The Oxford History of World Cinema

Ulrich Weiß was born in Wernigerode in 1942. From 1965 to 1970, he studied cinematography and
directing at the German Film Academy in Potsdam-Babelsberg and did camera work for GDR television.
He started directing at the DEFA Studio for Documentary Films in 1971 and moved to the DEFA Studio
for Feature Films ten years later. After making the children‘s film Tambari, he made his feature film debut,
Dance in the Community House, a story about East Germany in the 1950s. Studio management rejected this
script, however, as well as many others in the years that followed. Even the films Weiß was able to produce
– such as Your Unknown Brother (1981) and Good Old Henry (1983), which received international praise –
were met with indignation by East German officials.

Other Press Comments:
"This film is narrated from a psychological point of view showing guts to experiment and great sense of style."
                                                                    -Katholisches Institut fuer Medienforschung, 2002

"It has been for quiet a time that I haven't been able to forget so many of the images in a DEFA-film, as I did in this
one."                                                                    -Jutta Voigt, filmjournalist, "Sonntag" 22/1982

                Rebels with a Cause – The Cinema of East Germany
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 ● phone ● (413) 545-3656 ●
Your Unknown Brother

Your Unknown Brother is a milestone, a work that equally continues and breaks with the
antifascist tradition of DEFA films. It tells the story of the young communist, Arnold Clasen, who
is caught and arrested for displaying antifascist slogans at the Hamburg harbor. He is sent to a
concentration camp, released again, and now tries to resume his acts of resistance despite his
great fears. His new contact, an experienced Communist Party comrade, turns out to be a traitor,
to whom Arnold again falls victim.

With the very first images the director leaves no doubt that he‘s telling the story from the
perspective of a person who did not himself experience fascism, rather shows us a cinematic
impression of his thoughts and feelings about it. He describes the film as an attempt ―to translate
the inner plight of a person living during that time for those living today. It is an attempt at
mediation. We pass on what we haven‘t experienced ourselves.‖

The film begins where we observe water in motion, then above the water on an iron railway
bridge we see a figure, who quickly paints the inscription ―Be united, be…‖ which remains
unfinished because a soft whistle urges him to run. The person flees and while running, closely
followed by the camera, the bridge‘s iron struts move rapidly past us. This continues for some
time and gives the impression of a net in which someone, as well as we the viewers, are trapped.
The image of the struts grabbing into each other and the individual running becomes a metaphor
for the psychological containment of a prisoner. With tormenting precision the film presents in
full view the mental anguish of someone who not only has nothing to do with National Socialist
society, which within the film‘s narrative is still at the beginning, rather consciously fights it and
as a result of the brutality he experienced, he‘s terribly afraid.
Arnold Clasen finds himself in a continual struggle with his fear but does not yield to it. His
struggle is told with cinematic rigor: it is non-verbal. For example, he is repeatedly shown in his
room nervously cowering behind closed draperies, through which a narrow strip of light falls onto
the dismal, dark green wallpaper. Through the crack in the curtain he peers out at the street,
which appears dead and deserted with only a swastika flag – which gets larger as the story
progresses – hanging limp from a building, or faceless columns of SA-men march in formation
bawling out their songs. The image of the lonely man in his gloomy abode increasingly captivates
the fear for the viewer.

Proceeding from the protagonist the film develops a picture of society‘s paralysis that extends
beyond him. There are astonishing compositions. For example, the meeting between Arnold and
his contact on a summery pleasure boat that chugs ahead. The passengers aboard sit motionlessly
with closed eyes, their faces all turned in one direction toward the sun. Or the old tobacco
shopkeeper, Deisen, who rides the streetcar thought the city on the way to ―his‖ Nazi Party office,
in the hope of getting some help out of a troublesome financial situation. On both sides he is
pressed between riders next to him, all with stony, rigid faces, unperceptive, sitting with their
backs to the houses on the city streets through which the streetcar travels as through a backdrop.
Clasen‘s fate is carried out in a society that lies in agony. Even those in opposition are marked by
this inhuman situation. It‘s a striking and precise image of cinematic intensity that had no
precedent in DEFA film. Something else was also new. Halfway through the film the characters‘
perspectives expanded so that Clasen‘s story becomes closely tied with the story of his contact,
the traitor, so that both fates at the end bear almost equal importance. The traitor, Walter, is in a
different way just as fearful as Arnold. He too is caught in the net. The initial sequence is
resumed in a wonderful final scene: Walter is surrounded by nets as he stands in the doorway of a
fisherman‘s hut, in which negotiations are being made about him. Filled with contempt his former

              Rebels with a Cause – The Cinema of East Germany
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comrades leave him without further discussion. The camera increasingly distances itself in
several angled shots, so the man becomes smaller and more obscure, finally slipping into
oblivion. The near equal importance of the story of the traitor, who is out of his element, parallel
to that of the protagonist affords us a universally human image of the threat people faced at that
time. The barbarity was complete. Perhaps this keen, merciless look into such a physically or
psychically destructive society could only be achieved by someone who was not involved, who
from the distance of childhood saw things clearly and callously and transformed them into

Old antifascists felt irritated by this film. It spoiled their legend. Hermann Axen, a member of the
politburo who was incarcerated at the age of 18 and was in a concentration camp from ages 24 to
29, was understood as saying ―we weren‘t like that.‖ There is nothing wrong with that. What was
disastrous – which affected cultural understanding in the GDR generally – was that high-ranking
party officials felt justified to ban what was in their opinion a ―dishonest‖ film, or at least prevent
it from being shown.

At the time Your Unknown Brother was being seen and awarded at the Max Ophüls Festival in
Saarbrücken and received an invitation from the Cannes Film Festival. However, after views such
as Axen‘s gradually became known, the film was withdrawn, despite feverish preparations. Thus
the film did not appear at Cannes. The bad thing about it was that Ulrich Weiß, a talented person
who made great strides in his creative development with this film, had his artistic self confidence
damaged. From that point on every inch of artistic progress he made was suspiciously pursued.
He made another movie right after Your Unknown Brother, but before the lovely film Good Old
Henry could create any resonance, the GDR had ended. One could surmise that those responsible
didn‘t want to take any more risks with this independent, untamable and unpredictable genius.
After the Berlin Wall fell Ulrich Weiß said, ―That Your Unknown Brother was prevented from
taking part at the Cannes competition didn‘t throw me. Cannes was a nice, childhood dream. I
was touched by French cinema because of its elegance, as well as the Russians and Italians, and
my dream was to go to Cannes just once. It was a kind of inner pilgrimage. Later one of the
bosses took me aside and said, ‗next year we‘ll do something in France,‘ but France was over for
me. The time had passed for the one from the backwoods shack to go to Cannes, and jump into
the water in a borrowed tuxedo.‖

Erika Richter
Film Publicist Berlin

              Rebels with a Cause – The Cinema of East Germany
             DEFA Film Library at the University of Massachusetts Amherst ● phone ● (413) 545-3656 ●
                                   Shunters (Rangierer)
1984, 21 min., b/w
Director: Jürgen Böttcher
Cinematography: Thomas Plenert
Screenplay: Jürgen Böttcher

A GDR version of cinéma verité, this film offers viewers a glimpse into the physically-
demanding and dangerous precision work of experienced shunters. Day and night, in all kinds of
weather, they hook and unhook railway cars in the largest goods-and-shunting station in the
former GDR: Dresden-Friedrichstadt. Impressive images of the dignity of the working man.

―Shunters is a symbolic film which manages without symbols. Watching the everyday routine in
a shunting yard opens up a view of the entire world.‖
                                                           – Rolf Richter, Film und Fernsehen

Jürgen Böttcher, also known as the painter ―Strawalde,‖ was born in 1931 in Frankenberg. He studied at
the Dresden Academy of Fine Arts from 1949 to 1953, during which time he worked as an independent
artist and taught night school, where he met the now famous painter A.R. Penck. From 1955 to 1960,
Böttcher studied directing at the Film Academy in Potsdam-Babelsberg and worked as a director in the
DEFA Studio for Documentary Films until 1991. Having made more than 30 artistically provocative films,
he has attained cult status among cineastes. Jürgen Böttcher has been working as an independent artist since
1991 and currently lives in Berlin. [See also, Born in '45]

     Who's Afraid of the Bogeyman (Wer fürchtet sich vorm schwarzen
1989, 50 min. b/w
Director: Helke Misselwitz
Cinematography: Thomas Plenert
Screenplay: Helke Misselwitz

A close-up of Berlin coal carriers from Prenzlauer Berg. No portrayal of worker heroes or
progress here. Instead, bright, deeply-felt sketches of rough men and their resolute woman boss.

―Refreshing and new. . . . A beautiful, sometimes whimsical documentation of Berlin workers. A
cinematic correction of what, in general, was valued in an East German documentary.‖
                                                                   - Elke Schieber, film historian

Helke Misselwitz was born in 1947 in Planitz and spent nine years working for GDR television in youth
programming. She studied directing at the Academy for Film and Television in Potsdam-Babelsberg from
1978 to 1982. Her request to enter the DEFA Studio for Feature Films was refused, so she took other jobs
while making short essayistic films for the DEFA Studio for Documentary Films. When Heiner Carow
accepted her as a master pupil at the GDR Academy of the Arts in 1985, she created a key documentary
film about women in the final years of the GDR, Winter Adé (1988). Misselwitz was a director at the DEFA
Studio for Documentary Films from 1988 to 1991. She directed her first feature film, Herzsprung, in 1992,
followed by Little Angel in 1996. She is professor of directing at the Academy of Film and Television in
              Rebels with a Cause – The Cinema of East Germany
             DEFA Film Library at the University of Massachusetts Amherst ● phone ● (413) 545-3656 ●
                Wittstock Girls (Mädchen in Wittstock)
1974, 20 min., b/w
Director: Volker Koepp
Cinematography: Michael Zausch
Screenplay: Volker Koepp, Richard Ritterbusch

This is the first of a masterly chronicle of seven documentaries, made over a 23-year period. It
features snapshots of three funny and sensitive young women in a small town just north of Berlin,
their personal dreams and wishes, and their troubled work at the knitting factory. The latest
installment of the long-term project is Wittstock, Wittstock (1997).
                                                           ―An exceptional record of passing time.‖
                                                                                          - Variety

                   ‖…Koepp understands how to make his figures – quite ordinary people – shine.‖
                                         - freedom film festival (American Cinema Foundation)

Volker Koepp was born in Stettin (now Szczecin, Poland) in 1944 and studied at the Technical University
of Dresden from 1963 to 1965. In 1966, he entered the German Academy of Film in Potsdam-Babelsberg
and obtained his diploma as a writer and director in 1969. He was a director at the DEFA Studio for
Documentary Films from 1970–1991 and has been a freelance director since then. In 1974, Koepp began
long-term filming in Wittstock, focusing on the women workers in a textile factory. By 1997, he had made
a total of seven films about Wittstock. The Wide Field (1976) was Koepp‘s first film in a decades-long
series of portraits showing people in historical areas. This series also includes Cold Homeland (1995), Herr
Zwilling and Frau Zuckermann (1999), Uckermark (2002), and This Year in Czernowitz (2004). Koepp has
directed over 50 documentaries and is one of Germany‘s most internationally-celebrated documentary

       Yell Once a Week (Einmal in der Woche schrein)
1982/89, 15 min., color
Director: Günter Jordan
Cinematography: Michael Lösche
Screenplay: Günter Jordan

The film´s title is taken from a song, used here as a leitmotif, written by Günter Jordan and the
East German rock group Pankow. This sensitive report about rebellious teenagers in Berlin's
―wild East‖ was banned before its first screening.

―The rock music in this film was very political, a slap in the face of the communist system.
Young people went to both the disco and the barricades. For this reason, this honest, unvarnished
and rough film was banned for six years.‖
                                                                         - Ralf Schenk, film historian

Günter Jordan was born in Leipzig in 1941. He studied Slavic literature, history and pedagogy at the
University of Jena and then worked as a teacher. He studied at the Film Academy in Potsdam-Babelsberg
from 1966 to 1969 and joined the DEFA Studio for Documentary Films as an assistant cinematographer. In
1974 he wrote and directed his first documentary, specializing in children‘s documentaries from 1976 to
1986. Jordan has directed over 40 films, and is a film curator and published film historian.

              Rebels with a Cause – The Cinema of East Germany
             DEFA Film Library at the University of Massachusetts Amherst ● phone ● (413) 545-3656 ●
Consequence (Konsequenz)
1987, 2 min., color
Director: Klaus Georgi
Cinematography: Werner Baensch
Screenplay: Klaus Georgi, Hedda Gehm
Animation: Peter Mißbach, Lutz Stützner, Ellen Herrmann, Stefan Kerda

The cars stop, smoking with exhaust. A driver coughs and then the driver behind him also
coughs. The animal in the forest coughs. The earth coughs . . . end of film. The viewers applaud
and rush outside – into their cars.

The Full Circle (Der Kreis)
1989, 4 min., color
Director: Klaus Georgi
Cinematography: Brigitte Schönberner, Steffen Nielitz
Screenplay: Klaus Georgi
Animation: Barbara Atanassow, Ralf Kukula

Black clouds of smoke billow unendingly out of a huge industrial plant. All the people outside are
wearing gas masks. The giant factory works on and on without stopping. Inside are row upon row
of machines, producing … gas masks!

The Monument (Monument)
1990, 4 min., color
Directors: Klaus Georgi, Lutz Stützner
Cinematography: Helmut Krahnert
Screenplay: Klaus Georgi, Lutz Stützner
Animation: Barbara Atanassow, Holger Havlicek

A statue, with outstretched arm pointing ―forward,‖ is unveiled to thunderous applause. Then one
day it turns around to point the other way. Thunderous applause.

Klaus Georgi was born in Halle/Saale in 1925. From 1946 to 1952, he studied at the Institute for Artistic
Design at Burg Giebichenstein and became a freelance graphic designer. He belongs to the founding
generation of the DEFA Studio for Animation Films in Dresden and was one of their major animators from
1954 until 1989. Georgi has primarily directed animated cartoons, except for an occasional foray into
puppet animation. His oeuvre includes almost 70 films.

Lutz Stützner was born in Königsbrück in 1957. From 1979 to 1982, he studied graphic art in Berlin and
worked as an animator, designer and writer. His debut as a director was the cartoon Queen of Hearts
(1987). In 1988 he joined the DEFA Studio for Animation Films, where he directed the series Mausi and
Kilo and co-directed films with Klaus Georgi until 1990. Stützner currently works with the Studio 88
cartoon company in Dresden and is the co-director of the cinema version of the children‘s cartoon series,
The Little King Macius, based on stories by Janusz Korczak.

              Rebels with a Cause – The Cinema of East Germany
             DEFA Film Library at the University of Massachusetts Amherst ● phone ● (413) 545-3656 ●
East German Cartoons
When the DEFA Studio for Animation Film was founded in Dresden on April 1, 1955,
the chief investor – the East German state – expressed one wish: eighty percent of the
films to be made there were to specifically target children. Because of this, the German
fairy tale and oral traditions as well as new children‘s books were seen as templates for
primary source material. On top of that were the individually developed didactic stories
from the everyday lives of children. Anthropomorphic animal characters were used to
portray human characteristics and modes of behavior. In cartoons by Otto Sacher (Who
Rests, Rusts, 1956) or Lothar Barke (Of the Hare Who Didn’t Want to Learn, 1956), for
example, one can clearly recognize that specific Walt Disney model. Experimental forms
were seldom employed: those at the Dresden-based animation studio did not want to
expose themselves to formalism, that overemphasis of form over content which served as
an antithesis to socialist realism.

Up until 1990, the fundamental mission of the East German animators changed very
little. Naturally among the approximately 750 animated films of all kinds, including
animated cartoons, puppet films, shadow plays and stop-motion animation, there were
also many works intended for adults. One of these was the paper-cutout animated film
Greetings, Mr. H (1966) by Katja and Klaus Georgi which explored, with collage
material consisting of photos, newspaper clippings and painted figurines, what would
happen if Adolf Hitler reemerged in the Federal Republic of Germany after the statute of
limitations for Nazi crimes had passed: a savage satire. The puppet film The Life and
Times of the Famous Knight Schnapphahnski (1978), in which Günter Rätz sketched out
the biography of a Prussian junker in his decline as well as his questionable triumphs,
was well regarded internationally. Belonging to the few banned films from Dresden was
the cartoon ...And Keep the End in Mind‖ (1981, Director: Lothar Friedrich), in which
two impenetrable storms circle the Earth, engulf nature and destroy all life. That
particular motif, which both world systems fancied and thus hinted at the coming
apocalypse, was too imprecise for the East German Ministry of Culture officials in its
ideological aims. Friedrich‘s work was only released in theaters in 1990, after the director
had already died.

The fact that people ―from the outside‖ who did not belong to the studio‘s core still had
the opportunity to work on animated films was primarily attributed to the work of active
chief dramaturge Marion Rasche, starting in the mid-70s. In this fashion, painter and
graphic artist Lutz Dammbeck succeeded at creating a few exceptional cartoons.
Especially his Einmart (1981) became an insider‘s piece among East German
intellectuals: here Dammbeck illustrated one of the craters of a scattered futuristic world
where mutated humanoids are ruled by a giant black monster and are obstructed in their
attempt to escape. Einmart with its gigantic ears implanted in the landscape and
dangerous worm-like roots that snap out of the ground betrays the danger of a populace-
monitoring authoritarian state, in which the individuals can only experience utopias in
their dreams even in the best of times.

            Rebels with a Cause – The Cinema of East Germany
            DEFA Film Library at the University of Massachusetts Amherst ● phone ● (413) 545-3656 ●
Naturally, such critical material was always threatened by the danger of never even being
filmed. Chief dramaturge Rasche described her problems in a 1981 letter to Film
Minister Horst Pehnert as such: ―All of the in-any-way inflammatory ideas are simply not
possible. Therefore we have to content ourselves with nice, small pleasantries. But then
we have to hear from those people that are then to be taken seriously: say how the world
is full of problems! And what are you doing with such harmless, banal productions?
Explore for once the real questions of life! But then the most effective and substantial
form in which life problems and real questions attain a filmic significance in an animated
film is of course the satire, a grotesque over-exaggeration.‖ Yet these were always
proscribed in East Germany because dogmatic culture officials caught wind of an attack
against the State.

Not until the end of East Germany did they succeed with any regularity at getting to the
heart of societal nuisances by filming cheeky, aggressive and witty animations. Counted
among those are The Monument (1990) by Klaus Georgi and Lutz Stützner, in which the
masses rejoice about a monument regardless of whether or not his arm points in one
direction or the other. In Consequence (1987), Georgi took on smoking as a danger for
individuals and the environment. And also in The Full Circle (1989), the director hinted
at the lunacy and paradox of environmental pollution. In another later cartoon, The Break
Down (1990, directed by Klaus Georgi and Lutz Stützner), a small Trabant-brand car
pulls an entire state cordon complete with limousines, tanks and motorcycle echelons
from a pothole in the street. But for all this remarkable work to save the State, it was
naturally already too late for East Germany: on October 2, 1990, it was dismissed from
world history.

Ralf Schenk
Film Historian

            Rebels with a Cause – The Cinema of East Germany
           DEFA Film Library at the University of Massachusetts Amherst ● phone ● (413) 545-3656 ●
Short Narrative Films
These two short films represent a series of almost 300 productions of the Stacheltiere
series (literally, ―porcupines‖) made between 1953 and 1964 and are an example of the
lively cabaret-style tradition of social and political satire that existed in East Germany.

―The series of Stacheltiere shows the modest glory and tragedy of domestic political
satire in a public sphere under party control.‖
                                                                      - Sylvia Klötzer, cultural historian

A Love Story (Eine Liebesgeschichte)
1953, 7 min., b/w
Director: Richard Groschopp
Cinematography: Erwin Anders
Screenplay: Günter Kunert
Cast: Rudolf Wessely, Herwart Grosse, Ulrich Thein

A writer tries to get a love story published. Two bureaucratic editors ask for more and more
changes. But even his spiced-up version, with smoking chimneys and steel production, gets

Richard Groschopp (1906–1996) was born in Kölleda. He began to direct short films at the age of 25,
joined the Amateur Filmmaker Association and later made documentaries and commercials for an
advertising studio in Dresden. During WWII, he worked on educational films for the navy. Groschopp
joined the DEFA Studio for Documentary Films in 1946, as a cinematographer and editor, and directed
more than 100 documentaries, mainly newsreels. He started his feature film career in the early 1950s and
was a member of the Stacheltiere team, directing the short satirical film series about daily life in East
Germany. He later became well known for his crime stories, spy films, and Westerns.

News from the West (Es geht um die Wurst)
1955, 8 min., s/w
Director: Harald Röbbeling
Cinematography: Walter Fehdmer
Screenplay: Harald Röbbeling
Cast: Erwin Geschonneck, Hannelore Wüst, Horst Kube, Marianne Wünscher

―Poisoned sausages in East Germany!‖ Karl gets scared when he hears this news on the West
Berlin radio station RIAS (Radio in the American Sector). What a surprise to see his supposedly
dead friends a few days later – sitting happily in the pub.

Harald Röbbeling (1905–1989) was the son of Hermann Röbbeling, the actor and later director of the
Burgtheater Vienna. Harald Röbbeling took acting lessons and had his debut at the Thalia Theater in
Hamburg at the age of 20. In the 1930s, he worked as a film editor, writer and assistant director. After
WWII Röbbeling founded his own film company in Austria and directed his first film Potassium Cyanide
(1948). Röbbeling‘s film Asphalt (1951), in which he used neo-realist elements, was a financial fiasco and
after two subsequent flops he returned to the theater. From 1954 to 1955 he worked at DEFA as a guest
director, including on 17 short films for the satirical series Stacheltiere. A Heart Needs Love (1959), for
which he also wrote the screenplay, was his last feature film.

              Rebels with a Cause – The Cinema of East Germany
             DEFA Film Library at the University of Massachusetts Amherst ● phone ● (413) 545-3656 ●
The DEFA series Stacheltiere

          Before cabarets even existed in the GDR, the DEFA had put out its first ―cabaret film.‖
The five-minute short film ran in the movie theater along with the newsreel before the main
feature film and was the beginning of the Stacheltiere series (literally, ―porcupines‖). The cabaret
film, the first GDR venture in the realm of satire, was commissioned in January 1953, in April the
first pilot episodes came into being, and two of them were given test screenings at the beginning
of May in East Berlin cinemas. In September, the Stacheltiere series was finally released.
          The project of presenting satire in the filmic medium dates back to the crises of 1952 and
1953. The official state film committee promised to deliver not merely a series of short films that
would be able to quickly increase the DEFA‘s box office; above everything else, it was about
attracting larger audiences to the cinemas. The Stacheltiere was to make the cinema program
more attractive, in that they were adding a ―more carefree and relaxed‖ component to the usual
―heavy‖ main feature. This was principally and urgently necessary in East Berlin, where the
viewers tended to stay away from the cinemas and/or visit the cinemas in the western sector of
the city. On top of that, people were relocating there in ever increasing numbers. Yet it took
until the crisis in June of 1953 and a ―new course‖ of the SED (the East German communist
party) for these satirical pre-films to be put in regular production. Under the influence of June
17th, 1953 (the day on which a nationwide popular uprising took place in the GDR) the content-
plan for the Stacheltiere was revised. Contrary to an earlier conception of the series, in which its
emphasis was on attacks against political opponents and the West, the films offered exclusively
domestic political material in their first production year.
          On September 4, 1953, the first episodes of Stacheltiere came out, announcing a new
course for the politics of film and suggesting the connectedness of the SED with the people
(―popularity via humor‖), in that they offered lighter fare as something normal and bespoke a
certain readiness for self-criticism. Per episode, 20 copies were initially produced and at the end
of the year, nearly 50. The films played exclusively in the cinemas of the large cities; half of
them in Berlin alone. And even there, they were preferably shown in the cinemas that lay close to
the sector borders. Per year, the DEFA produced – initially in the Studio for Newsreels and
Documentaries, but after 1955 in the DEFA Studio for Feature Films – close to 30 Stacheltiere
episodes until the end of the series in 1964, a total of over 260 films.
The footage and films were repeatedly appraised and selected. And even at the conclusion of the
series, about ten percent of the completed films had yet to receive permission to be shown by the
film oversight committees in the Department of Film.
          The first chief director of the series was Richard Groschopp (1906-1996), from whom
also the very conception of the ―cabaret film‖ came. Harald Röbbeling took over his function in
1955 for a short time, and then different directors worked alongside Groschopp for the later
Stacheltier productions. The differing signatures ensured certain dynamism of the series for the
young directors following Groschopp‘s lead, as well as a modernization of its aesthetics. The
numerous variations show similar themes, however, like how restricted the possibilities were for
domestic political satire in the GDR. But for those mostly young artists – including later-
significant DEFA directors such as Frank Beyer, Herrmann Zschoche and Horst Seemann as well
as theater directors like Benno Besson and Heinar Kipphardt – the short and relatively cheap
project of a Stacheltier offered the possibility of proving themselves in the film medium. Many
of the (young) writers came from newspaper satires or, like Erich Brehm, from the first GDR
cabaret Distel.
          In the 12 year-old history of the Stacheltiere there are always attempts at domestic
political satire and phases of harsh repudiation. It started in the spring of 1954 when quotas for
domestic political satire were introduced and taboo spheres were established, as well as more
satire against the West was requested. The greatest sensitivities were to be found in the official

             Rebels with a Cause – The Cinema of East Germany
            DEFA Film Library at the University of Massachusetts Amherst ● phone ● (413) 545-3656 ●
party film committees (particularly the ―State Committee of Film Affairs‖ and the ―Department
of Film‖ in the Ministry of Culture) regarding materials that came close to the Party itself;
domestic political satire had to dispense with specific, detailed critiques and all too often present
a solution to the conflict. Under these circumstances, the Stacheltiere could only rarely offer
actual satire. But at the same time, they cannot be brought under the label of ―propaganda.‖ The
series primarily consists of entertaining and lively films – along with a few irritated and crude
episodes – as well as the more deep-digging films. Sometimes they even achieve a certain
domestic political satire.

An example of this is A Love Story (Episode 5). This Stacheltier attacks socialist realism as an
aesthetic approach and a doctrine that obstructs the creation of art. The decisive foundation for
the film‘s level of quality is delivered by Günter Kunert‘s (born in 1929) script, which Richard
Groschopp filmed. His satire can be read as an attack against the ―true-to-life editors/censors,‖ as
proclaimed by the tormented writer at the end of the film. Yet Kunert goes even further. With
his main character, he records the dilemma in which an artist finds himself if he should wish to
work for the new society: should he dabble in art, then nobody needs it, and should he
accidentally produce something usable, then it is not art. Even the GDR satirists found
themselves in a similar situation. Though satire was demanded, it was nevertheless supposed to
show an optimistic trend. In turn with that, satire that was directly grounded in protest and said
―no‖ was impossible and the subsequent conflict between satirist and culture functionary
inescapable. For its time, Kunert‘s Stacheltier was almost unbelievable. That it was even filmed
was explained, among other things, by the issue that in the center stands an ancillary arena,
namely culture. Even that film restricted itself to one aspect and referred to the National Art
Commission, which at that time was enduring public criticism. It is also significant at what point
in time this episode was created. The script provided material when the SED urgently needed
relief from political strain, even through risky satires, in June 1953. In 1955, the political
conditions for such a satire were much worse. ―The helpless satirists are now writing about hot
sausages,‖ wrote Günter Kunert that year. Although he might not have had much to do with
Stacheltier (episode 51) that was filmed at that time, the film constituted exact evidence of this
claim. News from the West under the direction of Harald Röbbeling presents one of the (many)
varieties of the promoted issues by the Department of Film of the ―damaging influence of
Western ideology.‖ He shows how disadvantageous it is for GDR citizens to believe the
information of a western broadcaster, rendering with that another entry in the Cold (Media) War.
When, for example, RIAS canard (Radio in the American Sector) was broadcast on the radio
waves, it meant at that time only lies about the GDR economy with the express purpose of hurting
the GDR. The film saved the people in its situational comedy, consoling the public with the wit
and charm of the well-known actor Erwin Geschonneck and a story that has the aftertaste of

Sylvia Klötzer
University of Potsdam, Germany

              Rebels with a Cause – The Cinema of East Germany
            DEFA Film Library at the University of Massachusetts Amherst ● phone ● (413) 545-3656 ●
                         Rebels with a Cause – ON TOUR

BOSTON                 Harvard Film Archive, Goethe-Institut Boston

COLUMBUS               Wexner Center for the Arts

MONTREAL               Goethe-Institut Montreal, Wilfrid Laurier University, Bishop‘s

LENNOXVILLE            Bishop‘s University

ROCHESTER              George Eastman House

TORONTO                University Toronto, Goethe-Institut Toronto

WASHINGTON             American Film Institute, Goethe-Institut Washington, National
                       Gallery of Art

WATERLOO               Wilfrid Laurier University

To book touring films, please contact the DEFA Film Library at,
(413) 545-6681 or

To buy films from East Germany on video or DVD:

This retrospective is supported by the Max Kade Foundation, Inc.; The Museum of Modern
Art, Department of Film and Media; The International Council of The Museum of Modern Art
the DEFA Film Library and the University of Massachusetts Amherst; the Goethe-Institut New
York; Kulturstiftung des Bundes, Germany; German Films Service + Marketing GmbH; the
DEFA-Stiftung; PROGRESS Film-Verleih GmbH; ICESTORM Entertainment GmbH; Wilhelm-
Fraenger-Institut gGmbH; and the Bundesarchiv Filmarchiv Berlin.

Rebels with a Cause was organized by Jytte Jensen, Curator, Department of Film and Media, The
Museum of Modern Art; Juliane Wanckel, Program Manager, Goethe-Institut New York; and
Hiltrud Schulz, Sales and Outreach Manager, DEFA Film Library, University of Massachusetts

            Rebels with a Cause – The Cinema of East Germany
            DEFA Film Library at the University of Massachusetts Amherst ● phone ● (413) 545-3656 ●

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