Category Archives: Music & Films

Sunday Documentary: The Real Kaiser Bill – Wilhelm II of Germany

Kaiser Wilhelm II

Photo: V.Scheurich Berlin. Reproduktion Günter Josef Radig. – Cabinet Photographie 1888

The Real Kaiser Bill: Wilhelm II of Germany, a documentary for Channel 4 in the UK tells the story of Germany’s last Emperor, Wilhelm II from his birth in 1859 in Berlin to his death in 1941.

The son of Queen Victoria’s eldest daughter, Wilhelm suffered from Erb’s palsy – which left him with a withered and stunted left arm – due to complications from a breech birth.

Wilhelm was a frequent visitor to Great Britain and his appointment as Admiral of the British Fleet and appreciation of the Royal Navy influenced his own decision to develop Germany’s naval powers.

Despite his admiration for the British aristocracy and longing for the approval of his grandmother, Wilhelm’s shortcomings in diplomacy and foreign policy ultimately led him to view the British as rivals.

He led Germany, though reluctantly it would seem, into war in 1914 but he was an ineffectual leader and allowed his generals to dictate military strategy.

The German people blamed Wilhelm for a marked turnaround in the country’s fortunes during his reign and fearing reprisals he abdicated in November 1918 and fled to Doorn in the Netherlands, where he lived out the remainder of his days in exile.

At the time of his death in 1941, the former Kaiser, Wilhelm II was a supporter of the Nazi party and Adolf Hitler, whose anti-semitic attitudes he shared.

The Real Kaiser Bill: Wilhelm II of Germany

Sunday Documentary: The Berlin Wall 1961 – 1989

A boy stands at the Berlin Wall in 1961

Photo: Still from ‘The Berlin Wall 1961 – 1989′

Produced for Berlin Story to accompany the book of the same name, The Berlin Wall 1961 – 1989 is an informative and entertaining documentary covering the lifecycle of the world’s most infamous border fortification.

The usual historical events are covered: the building of the ‘wall’ on 13 August 1961, Kennedy’s ‘Ich bin ein Berliner’ speech and Reagan’s challenge to his Soviet counterpart, “Mr Gorbachev, tear down this wall”; but there are also personal insights that add colour to the story.

The film lacks a little of the polish of a documentary produced by the likes of the BBC, National Geographic or the History Channel but the abundance of archive footage make this a must-see for Berlin history fans.

The Berlin Wall 1961 – 1989

Sunday Documentary: Life Behind The Wall

East German lady and Milka Cow - Thomas Hoepker for Magnum

Photo: Thomas Hoepker for Magnum

In Life Behind The Wall, a short documentary for The Economist, Magnum photographer Thomas Hoepker talks about his experiences in Berlin and his photographs, first in a divided city and then shortly after reunification.

Born in 1936 in Munich, Hoepker is a celebrated photographer with a long association with the Magnum Photos agency, serving as president from 2003 to 2006.

Hoepker first worked in East Berlin in 1959 when he was sent to photograph the ‘10 Jahre DDR’ (10 years GDR) celebrations. He describes a drab city, the grey punctuated only by the red of communism.

In 1972 whilst working as a photographer for Stern magazine, Hoepker and his wife Eva Windmöller, a writer for the magazine, moved to East Berlin on assignment.

Thomas Hoepker’s photos from this time are the backbone of Life Behind The Wall and his memories of and motivations for taking the pictures, along with observations about life in East Berlin accompany an impressive slideshow.

Life Behind The Wall

Sunday Documentary: Frederick the Great and the Enigma of Prussia

Portrait of Frederick the Great (Friedrich der Grosse) from the BBC documentary 'Frederick the Great and the Enigma of Prussia'

Photo: Still from ‘Frederick the Great and the Enigma of Prussia’

Professor Christopher Clark details the life of one of Germany’s (then Prussia) most famous rulers, Friedrich der Grosse, in the BBC documentary ‘Frederick the Great and the Enigma of Prussia’.

Fritz, as he was affectionately known, was a cultured man who gathered like-minded intellectuals and artists such as Voltaire at Schloss Sanssouci to enjoy music and discuss philosophy in a time now referred to as the Enlightenment.

A complex man, he is also recognised as one of the greatest military strategists of all time.

Frederick the Great came to power in May 1740 following the death of his father, Friedrich Wilhelm I (Frederick William I).  In a move that would shock his enemies, within seven months of his accession, Fritz, the Philosopher King, invaded Silesia.

He then waged war with the Austrians, who had been largely responsible for the violent and hate-filled relationship Frederick had with his father after he was forced to witness the execution of his friend, Hans Hermann von Katte – punishment for a failed attempt to flee the tyranny of his father.

Joseph Goebbels, who produced the Nazi propaganda film, Der Grosse König, adopted Fritz as a symbol of German strength.  Hitler identified so strongly with Frederick the Great that a portrait of the King of Prussia was one of his most prized possessions.

Frederick the Great’s legacy is evident in Berlin in the architecture of the Bebelplatz and his statue stands before it in the middle of Unter den Linden.  The nearby Friedrichstrasse is also named in his honour.

A story of scandal, intrigue, enlightenment and war, the life of Frederick the Great makes for a compelling documentary.

Frederick the Great and the Enigma of Prussia

Berlin Songs: Die Berlin Hymne // BERLIN-IST-BESTE

Die Berline Hymne - Berlin ist Beste - BMX Handstand

Photo: Berlin ist Beste

‘Morgens Berlin, Mittags Berlin, Abends Berlin, Nachts Berlin’.  Die Berlin Hymne is a song about how Berlin makes you feel alive from Frank Wolf, the man behind Berlin ist Beste – ‘the unofficial image campaign for Berlin’.

You can find the full song lyrics on the Berlin ist Beste website and for non-German speakers Google Translate is your friend, though it struggles a little with the Berlinerisch.

The video was filmed over 4 sunny days in Berlin and one night at the car park of the ICC for the BMX scenes.  A few tourist attractions feature – there are brief glimpses of the Fernsehturm, Potsdamer Platz and Brandenburger Tor – but only in a section that makes a distinction between this side of Berlin and how Berliners see their city.

‘Eine Stadt, 12 Bezirke, viele Freaks.  Jeder stolz auf Berlin, jeder stolz auf seinen Kiez’.

(One city, 12 districts, lots of freaks.  Each proud of Berlin, each proud of their neighbourhood).

Die Berlin Hymne // BERLIN-IST-BESTE

If you liked that, you might also want to check out another song, Let’s Go Moabit.  You may have seen the ‘Moabit ist Beste’ stickers that Frank leaves around his district.

The BESTE Boys – Let’s Go Moabit

You can keep up to date with the latest news from Berlin ist Beste on their website, Facebook and Twitter.

Sunday Documentary: The Big Picture – Berlin Duty

Soldiers in a tank marked Tempelhof from the US Army documentary The Big Picture - Berlin Duty

Photo: Still from the US Army documentary ‘The Big Picture – Berlin Duty’

The Big Picture – Berlin Duty was produced by the Army Pictorial Centre and presented by the United States Army.  What is essentially a propaganda film for the US Army is valuable as a documentary as it includes footage of day-to-day activities in West Berlin as well as key events in the history of the city.

The footage at 6:41 shows the utter devastation wrought on the city of Berlin by the bombers of the Allied Forces during World War II.  Looking at the rebuilt city it is difficult to imagine just how much needed to be cleared and reconstructed in the years following the war.

Amongst the historical moments captured are the Berlin Airlift in 1948-49; the riots in East Berlin in 1953 that came to be known as the People’s Uprising in East Germany (Volksaufstand in der DDR), commemorated in Berlin in the name of one its most famous boulevards, Strasse des 17 Juni; and the construction of the Berlin Wall in 1961.

Of course no US depiction of events in Berlin would be complete without a mention of JFK’s ‘Ich bin ein Berliner’ speech – an important sign that the US would not forsake the people of West Berlin.

Keep your eye out for some familiar Berlin sights: Schloss Charlottenburg; the Reichstag; the Soviet Memorial on Strasse des 17 Juni; and Tempelhof Airport for instance.

Also featured is the Protestant Church of the Reconciliation Parish, blown up by the East Germans in 1985 and now the site of the Chapel of Reconciliation (Kapelle der Versöhnung), part of the Gedenkstätte Berliner Mauer.

The Big Picture – Berlin Duty

Lost Dreams – Spreepark Berlin

Still from Lost Dreams - Spreepark Berlin by Friedhelm Fischer

Photo: Still from Lost Dreams – Spreepark Berlin by Friedhelm Fischer

Berlin’s abandoned theme park, Spreepark Plänterwald, must be one of the most well-known urbex destinations in the world.

The neglected amusement park has been in my thoughts often since it was bought back by the city of Berlin in March 2014.

Spreepark hasn’t been open as an amusement park since 2002, when the owners ran into financial difficulties. Those troubles were compounded when a botched drug smuggling operation landed the head of the Witte family, Norbert, and his son Marcel in prison.

I wrote more about this intriguing back-story in my ‘Spreepark Plänterwald – Berlin’s Abandoned Theme Park’ post.

Since its closure, Spreepark has been an unofficial playground for curious souls eager to be swallowed by the brightly coloured tiger’s mouth of the Spreeblitz ride whilst the slowly turning Ferris Wheel provides an eerie soundtrack.

This beautifully shot and wonderfully atmospheric video from Friedhelm Fischer has me longing to return to the abandoned theme park by the banks of the Spree – one of those places that makes me think ‘Dat is Berlin!

Lost Dreams – Spreepark Berlin

Ohrwurm: Bill Bailey Kraftwerk Tribute

Bill Bailey Tribute to Kraftwerk - Still from Part Troll DVD

Photo: Bill Bailey Tribute to Kraftwerk – still from the Part Troll DVD

“I would like now to present another tribute to a favourite band of mine – Kraftwerk”, says Bill Bailey.  “This is one of their lesser-known tracks…lesser-performed tracks, which I’d like to give a rare airing to tonight so this is my tribute to Kraftwerk.”  What follows, I hope you’ll agree is genius.

If anyone is unfamiliar with Kraftwerk you should check out Sunday Documentary: Krautrock – The Rebirth of Germany.

I won’t say any more for now because I don’t want to spoil the surprise.

Bill Bailey Kraftwerk Tribute

The attention to detail is what makes it so great – from the music to the set, to the translation of the lyrics.

For those not in the know, the Hokey Cokey (or the Hokey Pokey depending on where you come from) is a song with an accompanying dance routine, popular at children’s parties.

Sunday Documentary: Bauhaus – The Face of the 20th Century

Titles from the documentary Bauhaus: The Face of the 20th Century

Source: Titles from the documentary ‘Bauhaus: The Face of the 20th Century’

Bauhaus: The Face of the 20 th Century, a 1994 documentary, traces the development of the Bauhaus movement from its formation in Weimar by Walter Gropius to the establishment of the Bauhaus School in Dessau to its last stand in a derelict factory in Berlin.

Like so many aspects of life in Germany in the first half of the twentieth century the Bauhaus was affected by the political situation in the country – its lifecycle mirrors that of the Weimar RepublicBerlin-born architect Walter Gropius formed his ideas of simplistic design with an altruistic ideology following his service in the army during World War I.  He first put his ideas into practice in 1919 in Weimar, the political centre of the new Germany.

The growth of National Socialism in the area around Weimar and the school’s opposite political views effectively forced the Bauhaus to move to Dessau where a new building, which fully reflected the movement’s philosophy and designs was to be its new home.

Unfortunately, that wasn’t to be the end of the Bauhaus’s struggle with the Nazi party.  The school in Dessau was also forced to close and became a training school for party functionaries.

Gropius was able to gather an impressive faculty of important names from the fields of art, design and architecture including Paul Klee, Wassily Kandinsky, and Mies van der Rohe, who was to be the school’s last director.  He found new premises in Berlin, a derelict factory in Steglitz, and moved operations there in 1932.

The reprieve was short-lived and the Bauhaus was forced to close its doors forever when the Nazis again intervened in 1933, the year they came to power in Germany.

Though its tenure was unfortunately short, the Bauhaus movement has had a far-reaching influence on modern art, design and architecture.  Its mark can still be seen in Berlin – the Hansaviertel, Gropiusstadt and Neue Nationalgalerie all bear its architectural fingerprint.  And of course there is the wonderful Bauhaus Archiv, with an extensive collection of Bauhaus objects and designs.

Bauhaus: The Face of the 20th Century

Berlin Songs: Solomun – Kackvogel

Still from Solomun - Kackvogel featuring Friedrich Liechtenstein from the Edeka Supergeil advert

Still from Solomun – Kackvogel featuring Friedrich Liechtenstein from the Edeka Supergeil advert

An advert for the German supermarket chain Edeka went viral recently. My social media streams have been full of ‘Supergeil’ all week. The star of the advert is Friedrich Liechtenstein, a German musician and entertainer.  He also stars in the video for Kackvogel by Solomun, dancing through the streets of Berlin and eventually fighting with a man in a bear costume under a bridge near Alexanderplatz station.

Solomun – Kackvogel