Photo: Still from ‘Virtual Reconstruction of Ripped Stasi Files’
Virtual Reconstruction of Ripped Stasi Files is a documentary from Fraunhofer IPK, the company commissioned by the BStU (Bundesbeauftragten für die Unterlagen des Staatssicherheitsdienstes der ehemaligen Deutschen Demokratischen Republik or Federal Commissioner for the Records of the State Security Service of the former German Democratic Republic) to develop the “e-Puzzler”, a tool for the virtual reconstruction of thousands of documents destroyed by the Stasi in the lead up to the fall of the Berlin wall.
I was 14 year old when the Berlin wall fell and when I think back to that time two distinct pictures form in my mind: joyful Berliners dancing on the wall on the night it ‘fell’, 9 November 1989; and a more serious crowd storming the Stasi headquarters on 15 January 1990.
What they found when they entered the building were thousands of sacks of torn documents, many of which had previously been part of the detailed files the Ministry of State Security kept on the people of East Germany.
For years, the Stasi had inspired fear in the ordinary citizens of the DDR but as they rebelled and protests intensified the tables turned and shredding machines ran day and night in an attempt to destroy vital evidence of the ministry’s wrongdoings.
When the machines burnt out agents started ripping up the files by hand.
In the aftermath of the fall of the wall, reconstructing those files and allowing citizens access to the information that had been gathered about them became a vital part of the reunification process.
First, papers were examined and repaired by hand but it was clear that this process would take decades and in an attempt to speed up the task automated solutions were sought.
The development of Fraunhofer IPK’s “e-Puzzler” is now in the testing phase having proved viable in the pilot period and the company is looking at options to further speed up the virtual reconstruction of the files of the Stasi.
Photo: Still from Fin DAC – Magnificent 7 by Trevor Whelan
Watch street artist Fin DAC at work on his huge Magnificent 7 mural, a series of 7 beautiful portraits, at The Point Village, Dublin during an art residency at The Gibson Hotel, filmed and directed by Trevor Whelan for Dragon Armoury Creative.
Fin DAC has been one of my favourite street artists since I saw him painting at Stroke Urban Art Fair and he was back in Berlin over the last few days working at Teufelsberg for Berlin Rising.
Photo: Still from Declassified – Rise and Fall of the Wall
Shown on the History Channel to mark the 15th anniversary of the fall of the wall on 9 November 2004, Declassified: Rise and Fall of the Wall is a documentary peppered with facts gleaned from then recently declassified files about events.
The documentary starts with a famous quote* from Nikita Kruschev:
I consider Berlin to be the testicles of the West. When I want the West to scream, I squeeze on Berlin.
* I have seen this more often written as, “Berlin is the testicle of the West. When I want the West to scream, I squeeze on Berlin.”
It then follows events in the German capital from the division of Berlin between the allied powers following the end of the war in 1945 to the fall of the wall on the night of 9 November 1989.
The evolution of the wall was cleverly shown with the use of computer graphics, though more detailed and sophisticated animations have been made in the years since thanks to technological advances.
The programme mistakenly identifies Rudolf Urban as the first casualty of the Berlin Wall. Urban died in the Lazarus hospital on the 17 September 1961 having contracted pneumonia whilst being treated for the injuries he suffered jumping from his first floor apartment at Bernauer Strasse 1 on 19 August 1961.
Ida Siekmann is the first official casualty of the Berlin Wall. She died on her way to the Lazarus hospital on 22 August 1961 as a result of the injuries she sustained jumping from the third floor window of her apartment at Bernauer Strasse 48.
Photo: Still from Berlin, Berlin: Spring by Nehemias Colindres
Berlin, Berlin: Spring is the second instalment in a 4-part series about Berlin that director Nehemias Colindres calls “a poetic visualization of a city’s manifesto” that started with Berlin, Berlin: Autumn.
The last few days in Berlin have been glorious and many have been declaring that ‘winter is over’ or ‘spring is sprung’ and whilst I’m all for a bit of optimism I’d also urge a little caution. Don’t pack away all your warm clothes just yet because winter might just have a little sting in the tail.
Today is officially the first day of spring by the astronomical definition but Berlin has a habit of lulling everyone into a false sense of security. After a cold and dark winter the first days of spring are such a release but winter is often lurking in the wings, waiting to be called on for an encore and one final bow, determined not to let spring have all the attention just yet.
That being said I’m sure that many of us feel the sense of rebirth that Nehemias Colindres evokes in Berlin, Berlin: Spring as the days start to get longer and indeed, ‘crisp air fills our faces with hope, a new sensation comes to life’…I say bring on Berlin, Berlin: Summer.
Photo: Still from Playin’ Berlin by Alex Smetana x Adidas
Alex Smetana produced his documentary, Playin’ Berlin, highlighting the streetball (think basketball pick up games) scene in Berlin with the support of Adidas.
Basketball is like jazz because it’s a team concept but it gives the soloist space for self-expression.
Playin’ Berlin offers an insight into the motivations and skills of some of the best players in what is a thriving streetball scene in the German capital and the documentary presents one aspect of the vitality of street culture in modern Berlin.
Photo: Still from Stainless, Alexanderplatz by Adam Magyar
I am constantly amazed by the incredible effects that some people are able to create with a camera and editing techniques I could only dream of mastering. One of the most mind-blowing Berlin videos I have seen is Stainless, Alexanderplatz by Adam Magyar, a Hungarian photographer based in Berlin.
Stainless, Alexanderplatz is a super slow motion video of people standing on the U-Bahn platform. The video was shot with a custom built system based around an industrial camera, generally used for quality checking items produced on factory assembly lines. Over the years, Magyar has honed his equipment to suit his techniques.
He started out using a tripod for his work shot from the underground train platforms but a fine from the transport police in New York led to him finding a way to shoot handheld with his scanner in his backpack. To further improve his mobility and draw less attention to his equipment he developed his own iPhone application for processing and viewing the images he shoots.
This is how he sees his work:
In STAINLESS I scan rushing subway trains arriving to stations. The images record a number of tiny details of this moment. We see people staring towards their destinations standing at the doors framed by the sliding door windows. They are scrutinizing the uncertain future. Similarly to all my images, their main motivation is arrival. The darkness of the tunnels deep below the city turns these chemically clean mock-ups into fossils of our time.
Stainless, Alexanderplatz, shot in Berlin, is just a small part of a larger project that has taken Adam Magyar to a host of other cities across the world – check out his Vimeo channel and website for more details and more incredible videos and I highly recommend you watch the presentation below for PopTech where he talks about his techniques and equipment.
Photo: Still from The Castle of Charlottenburg by Gil Holten
My parents were in Berlin last week and top of their must-see list was the interior at Schloss Charlottenburg, built in 1699 as a summer palace for Sophie Charlotte, by her husband, Friedrich I, then Friedrich III, the Elector of Brandenburg.
Whilst searching for a documentary about Schloss Charlottenburg for my Sunday Documentary series I came across these videos of drone footage with great aerial views of the palace, the gardens and the Belvedere.
The Castle of Charlottenburg
DJI PHANTOM 2 // GOPRO BE // BERLIN CHARLOTTENBURG
The tale of Gail ‘Hal’ Halvorsen and his role as ‘The Candy Bomber’ (or Rosinenbomber for Germans) dropping chocolate and sweets for the children of Berlin during the Berlin Airlift must be one of the most moving and uplifting stories of the Cold War.
In 1948 as tensions in Berlin mounted and the Cold War began the Soviets blocked road and rail routes to West Berlin cutting off all supply lines. Determined to hold on to a strategically and symbolically important part of the country the Western Allies launched Operation Vittles and kept the people of West Berlin alive by flying in thousands of tonnes of supplies during the 15 months of the blockade.
Gail Halvorsen was a pilot in the US Air Force flying C-54s loaded with food, milk, coal and other essentials. In his free time Halvorsen liked to explore West Berlin with his video camera and on one of his breaks he met a group of children at the fence at Tempelhof Airport. He was touched by the warmth of their greetings and their gratitude for the job he was doing. Impressed by their restraint, as they didn’t beg him for anything he decided to reward them with sweets and chocolates.
He explained that when he flew in the next day he would drop chocolate and chewing gum from his plane for them. Concerned that they would not know which aircraft to watch out for Halvorsen explained that he would wiggle his wings as he flew over a beacon at the airport, earning him the nickname Uncle Wiggly Wings (Onkel Wackelflügel).
As the popularity of his missions grew, word reached Halvorsen’s commanding officer, who summoned him. Fearing a reprimand, he was surprised to be praised for his act of kindness and candy drops were eventually officially approved by the commander of the Berlin Airlift, Lieutenant General William H Tunner. The sweet drops became known as Operation Little Vittles, a play on the full operation’s title.
Produced by KUED and aired on PBS, The Candy Bomber tells the touching story of Gail ‘Hal’ Halvorsen and the joy he brought to the children of West Berlin during the Berlin Airlift. I have only been able to find a 5-minute excerpt from the full documentary so if anyone knows where to watch the whole program I would love to know.
Ever since I first set foot in the city in 2009 I’ve been fascinated by Berlin and no matter how much I learn about my adopted home it seems there will always be a million and one fascinating facts or stories left to discover.
Due to the significance of Berlin to the peace and politics of Europe and at times the rest of the world I’m not the only one to find it so interesting and much has been written about it.
As well as devouring countless blog posts and newspaper articles I’ve found documentaries about Berlin an invaluable resource. They have not only taught me about the history of the city but also introduced me to plenty of sights and attractions and other places of interest to visit.
I have spent hours trawling YouTube, often getting lost in a series of related or recommended videos.
Here are, what I consider to be, 6 of the best documentaries about Berlin. I will update the list as and when I come across a new favourite.
Hitler’s Hidden City
Following Berliner Unterwelten (Berlin Underworld Association), the masters of documentaries, National Geographic, present a side of Berlin that few have the chance to see.
There are now only a few remnants of Hitler’s planned Welthauptstadt Germania, designed in conjunction with his architect Albert Speer and some of those are below the surface of the city.
A gripping documentary, Hitler’s Hidden City will get you under Berlin’s skin.
Legendary Sin Cities – Berlin: Metropolis of Vice
“Berlin was what sexual daydreams wanted to be. You could find almost anything there and maybe everything.”
Several decades before Rock n’ Roll appeared, sex drugs and cabaret created a heady mix in 1920s Berlin. Performers like Marlene Dietrich and Anita Berber reflected and fuelled a period of sexual freedom and the city’s lively nightlife drew like-minded people.
Step back in time with Legendary Sin Cities – Berlin: Metropolis of Vice and learn about hedonism in Berlin, ‘the Babylon of the ‘20s’
Children of Berlin
The people of Berlin have always known how to enjoy themselves but when the Berlin wall fell, an abundance of empty buildings coupled with a new sense of freedom and a feeling that anything was possible made the city the perfect host for an explosion in musical expression and Techno was the genre of choice.
Children of Berlin allows the DJs, Producers and clubbers who were at the forefront of this musical revolution in Berlin to tell their story and chart the rise of Techno.
Berlin (by Matt Frei for BBC)
Screened by the BBC as part of the celebration of the 20th anniversary of the fall of the wall Matt Frei explores Berlin’s history and presents many of the characters and events that shaped the development of the city.
This documentary played a big part in fuelling my fascination with the city, introduced me to some of its more unusual landmarks and made me determined to better understand the complicated history of Berlin.
The Rise and Fall of the Berlin Wall
The Anti Fascist Protection Rampart, more commonly known as The Berlin Wall, was erected on 13 August 1961 and fell on 9 November 1989. In those 28 years Berlin was the focal point of the Cold War.
The History Channel tells the story of the building of the wall, the development of the border fortifications and the tales of some of those willing to risk their lives to cross to freedom in the West.
Part 1: The Rise
Part 2: Fall
It’s not just Berlin’s history that is fascinating. The city has been undergoing accelerated change since 1989 and Berliners are keen to play a part in shaping its future.
The rise of urban gardening and community garden projects in Berlin, the subject of Speaking Gardens, is a reflection of a desire for a more responsible and sustainable approach to feeding the growing population.
If anyone has any favourite or recommended documentaries about Berlin I would love to hear about them, particularly any new or upcoming releases. Perhaps they’ll make it onto my 6 of the best Berlin documentaries list.