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 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 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.
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.
Exploring the concept of urban gardening in Berlin, the documentary film, Speaking Gardens by Teresa Beck and René Reichelt shows the different ways Berliners are finding to use or create green spaces in the city.
Speaking Gardens introduces six different urban gardening projects across Berlin:
In conversation with participants in each of the featured projects, diversity is a word that comes up often. As do the benefits for children of growing up in an environment where they see their food being grown, which in turn feeds into a desire amongst people to know where their food comes from and favouring local produce.
In German with English subtitles, Speaking Gardens, is an educational and absorbing documentary that successfully conveys the multiculturalism and community feel of urban gardening projects in Berlin.
Speaking Gardens – The Berlin urban gardening movement
Photo: Centro Berlin, Bolivia courtesy of Berlin Producers
Given its turbulent history and key role in the politics of twentieth century Europe it’s no surprise that when you say ‘Berlin’ to most people, they will think of the German capital. However, there are more than 100 Berlins around the world. Telling a day in the life of six of those Berlins, Worldwide Berlin is a documentary from Berlin Producers, made with the support of mbb, in cooperation with RBB and Deutsche Welle.
The documentary starts in Berlin, Germany at 6am as Uwe cleans the streets around Brandenburger Tor. From there we travel to Berlin, Russia, a small village on the Kazakhstan border; a small fishing village named Berlinhafen (Berlin Harbour) in Papua New Guinea; Berlin, El Salvador, where we witness the preparations for a beauty contest; an Amish community in Berlin, Ohio, USA; Centro Berlin in Bolivia with its population of 10 supplemented by 1,000 llamas; and the village of Berlin in Guinea, which some believe was named in memory of a night of passion in the German capital.
Repeatedly crossing borders and time zones we experience a snapshot of life in each of these Berlins over the course of 24 hours.
Photo: Berlin Ohio courtesy of Berlin Producers
Worldwide Berlin focuses on a few characters in each of the seven Berlins featured, showing aspects of their daily lives that illustrate the differences between their cultures and surroundings but also at times the similarities in their routines and experiences.
You have to wonder how the Club Mate drinkers of Berlin, Germany would enjoy the Mate tea from which it is derived, drunk in Centro Berlin in Bolivia, or indeed how the inhabitants of any of these other Berlins would react to some of the sights nobody bats an eyelid at in the Hauptstadt.
Filmed, edited and directed by Berlin-based filmmaker Sammy Metwalli, Ostblut is a short documentary about Kalle, a tattoo artist who opened East Berlin’s fist tattoo shop.
Growing up in East Berlin under DDR rule, Kalle describes himself as ‘a public enemy’, and it was whilst imprisoned for his political views that he learned how to tattoo from an older inmate who recognised his artistic talents.
Tattoos were not tolerated in the East German prison system and inking or being inked was punished by 3 weeks solitary confinement in the ‘Bunker’. Kalle was serving out one such punishment when he learned of the fall of the wall, an event that would dramatically alter his life and facilitate his new career.
My second life started that day. Before that, I didn’t have a life.
The walls of Kalle’s shop, Oldschool Tattoo Berlin, in his native Friedrichshain are decorated with the homemade tattoo needles used by youths in the DDR during his childhood, though these days the equipment he uses is obviously more sophisticated.
Ostblut is a cracking documentary on many levels: Kalle’s is a fascinating story and an interesting portrait of life in Berlin before and after the fall of the wall; it is artfully shot and creatively put together; it has a pulsating soundtrack ideally suited to the film – my only criticism, I wish there was more of it.
“Wow. He’s more good looking than in the pictures.” This is how Eija-Riitta Eklöf-Berliner-Mauer, who married the Berlin wall on 17 June 1979 describes her feelings on first ‘meeting’ the wall.
Eklöf-Berliner-Mauer, who lives in Liden, Sweden in a house that doubles as a guillotine museum, fell in love with the Berlin wall when she saw it on television when she was 7.
Asked for the Swedish TV series 100 höjdare (100 Highlights) about the first time she had sex with the Berlin wall, she says that she was 12 or 13, though she is coy about the details of the encounter.
In her bedroom she shows Fredrik Wikingsson the 1:20 scale model of the wall she sleeps with, the sixth such model she built complete with barbed wire. She also has a fence in her room though ‘he’ is too big to take to bed.
Unlike the many thousand of people celebrating on 9 November 1989, Eklöf-Berliner-Mauer describes the day the wall fell as a ‘catastrophe’.
In Lars Laumann’s film Berlinermuren, which was shown at the 5th Berlin Biennale and propelled her into the media spotlight she elaborates on her feelings about what she feels is the mutilation of her husband and singles out the Hoff for criticism for the part she feels he played:
Shame on you David Hasselhoff – you are nothing without that talking car.
100 höjdare – Berlin Wall Woman (Berlinmurenkvinnan)
Eija-Riitta Eklöf-Berliner-Mauer isn’t alone in having strong feelings for the wall. Erika Eiffel is an American who married the Eiffel Tower in 2007 and also has a relationship with the Berlin Wall.
She is the founder of OS Internationale, an organisation for those who are attracted to and have relationships with inanimate objects.
On the 9th of November 1989 the eyes of the world were on Berlin. TV crews and journalists from all corners of the globe gathered in the German capital to document one of the 20th century’s defining moments – the fall of the Berlin Wall. 25 years on from that incredible night it is only right that today’s Sunday Documentary should be about the Mauerfall. Photographer Anthony Suau was amongst those capturing the scenes of jubilation and euphoria for Time Magazine and he recounts his experiences in The Iconic Photo of the Fall of the Berlin Wall.
As thousands of people gather in Berlin to celebrate the 25th anniversary of the opening of the border that separated East and West it is time to reflect on the events that made it all possible.
Tonight in Berlin the border is visible once more. The Lichtgrenze (Border of Light), an installation of 8,000 illuminated balloons marks the course a 15km stretch of the wall from Bornholmer Strasse to the Oberbaumbrücke.
Like the Lichtgrenze, on 9th November 1989 it all started at Bornholmer Strasse.
In response to mass protests and a giant tear in the Iron Curtain making it possible for citizens to escape through Hungary into Austria, the East German government decided to relax it’s border controls and allow travel between East and West. In a fortuitous twist of fate an uninformed Günter Schabowski appeared at his daily press conference and told the gathered reporters about the easing of restrictions. Asked when the new directive would take effect he replied ‘As far as I’m aware, immediately. Straight away.’
And so the fate of the Berlin Wall was sealed.
East Berliners curious to see the Western half of their city went immediately to the border crossing points and thousands gathered at Bornholmer Strasse. Harald Jaeger was the guard in charge of Passport Control at the crossing point and under increased pressure from the crowd he disobeyed the orders of his superiors and opened the border.
As a symbol of Berlin, the Brandenburg Gate was a natural gathering point for the celebrations that night.
No doubt emboldened by alcohol, the new sense of freedom afforded to them and a feeling that the guards no longer had the same power over them, revellers climbed onto the wall. But even that wasn’t enough for some and they began attacking the barrier that had divided the city for 28 years. The wall had fallen symbolically that evening but many were determined to see it fall literally too.
With knives, hammers and pick axes they set about destroying the Berlin Wall. It was this destruction that was captured by Anthony Suau for Time Magazine in what has become one of the iconic photos of the fall of the Berlin Wall.