Tag Archives: Documentary

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

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

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

Sunday Documentary: Nazi Megastructures – Fortress Berlin

Flakturm in Humboldthain Park: Screenshot from Nazi Megastructures - Fortress Berlin by National Geographic

Photo: Screenshot from Nazi Megastructures – Fortress Berlin by National Geographic

The National Geographic documentary, Nazi Megastructures – Fortress Berlin, tells how, determined to fight on to the bitter end, Adolf Hitler, with the help of his architect, Albert Speer, attempted to turn Berlin into a fortress with World War II approaching its conclusion.

Having turned the tide in the war, the Red Army was making significant progress into Germany.  At Seelower Höhen (Seelow Heights), near the Polish border, irrigation ditches were widened to act as tank traps, slowing down the Soviet army’s advance on Berlin.

The outer ring of Berlin’s defences was a natural obstacle, the Teltowkanal (Teltow Canal), and considerable armaments have been amassed at Flughafen Berlin Tempelhof (Tempelhof Airport).

The city was further protected by three enormous Flak Towers, concrete monoliths mounted with heavy artillery, of which only the Flakturm in Humboldthain park remains today.

At the centre of Hitler’s defences is the Führerbunker, from where he directs his forces in their last desperate attempts to hold Berlin.

A mixture of archive footage, computer reconstructions, and expert opinions with the likes of a tour guide from Berliner Unterwelten (who offer tours of the surviving Flakturm, as wells as other architectural treasures under Berlin) Nazi Megastructures – Fortress Berlin is a fascinating portrait of Hitler’s ultimately futile defence plans.

Nazi Megastructures – Fortress Berlin

Sunday Documentary: Do Communists Have Better Sex? (NSFW)

Do Communists Have Better Sex Cartoon Still 2

Photo: Still from Do Communists Have Better Sex Cartoon

The 2006 documentary ‘Do Communists Have Better Sex?’, explores the sexual attitudes of Germans and in particular the differences between the mind-set of East and West Germans when it comes to sex and sexuality.

After the fall of the Berlin Wall, scientists were keen to study the sociological and psychological differences of the previously divided people of the newly re-unified nation.

With footage from numerous TV programmes and public information films, the documentary examines the paradox that in the more controlled society of communist East Germany, people are more satisfied with their sex lives.

It is suggested that against the backdrop of seemingly overt sexual openness: pornography; nudity; Frei Körper Kultur (FKK); and prostitutes brazenly offering themselves on well-trodden streets, like the area around Berlin’s S-Bahnhof Zoologischer Garten, sex was not openly discussed in the more liberal West.

Do Communists Have Better Sex Cartoon Still 2

Photo: Still from Do Communists Have Better Sex Cartoon

In East Germany where abortion and prostitution were illegal, sex education and sexual discussions were more prevalent.

At 45 minutes, all I could think was ‘Wa-pa-pa-pa-pa-pa-pow!‘ because of Ylvis’s What Does The Fox Say?

Due to the subject matter and the inclusion of numerous scenes of nudity (including the obligatory naked volleyball shots) , the documentary ‘Do Communists Have Better Sex?’ has been age restricted by YouTube so you will need to sign in to view it.

Do Communists Have Better Sex? (2006)

Sunday Documentary: Sub Berlin – The Story of Tresor

Removing the Tresor sign - still from Sub Berlin - The Story of Tresor

Photo: Still from Sub Berlin – The Story of Tresor

Tresor was at the vanguard of the Techno movement in Berlin as the city adjusted to its post-reunification status.

Berlin newcomers and the press hail Berghain as one of the world’s greatest clubs but Techno lovers of the 90s and early 00s will say ‘you should have been in ‘the old Tresor’.

The old club on Leipziger Strasse was torn down in 2005 as part of the redevelopment of Potsdamer Platz.  The building housing the original Tresor had a checkered past.  It was previously the vault under the Wertheim department store, seized by the Nazis and subsequently destroyed during the bombing raids of World War II.

Tresor re-opened in 2007 in Heizkraftwerk Mitte, a former power station on Köpenicker Strasse, and a new shopping mall is currently being built at its previous location on Leipziger Strasse.

Through interviews with clubbers and DJs who were part of the story, photos and video footage, Sub Berlin – The Story of Tresor, a 2009 documentary by Tilman Künzel tells the tale of Tresor from its opening in 1991 to the closure of its original location in 2005.

Sub Berlin – The Story of Tresor

Sunday Documentary: The Tunnel

People At The Berlin Wall At Schwedter Strasse - Still From NBC Documentary - The Tunnel

Photo: Still from The Tunnel – NBC

Produced by Reuven Frank and narrated by Piers Anderton and first aired on 10 December 1962, the NBC documentary The Tunnel follows a group of West Berlin students determined to help people flee communist East Berlin.

Featuring footage shot inside the tunnel under the Berlin wall, the programme offers a unique insight into the remarkable efforts some were willing to go to in order to secure the freedom of others.

The tunnel stretched 120 to 140 metres below the border from Schönholzer Strasse 7 to Bernauer Strasse 78.

As the film points out the intention was to free many more East Germans but the tunnel flooded after 29 people had used it to cross from East to West.

The Tunnel

The documentary and the story it depicts also inspired the film Der Tunnel (2001) and the documentary Der Tunnel: Die Wahre Geschichte (1999).

Der Tunnel (auf Deutsch)

Der Tunnel: Die Wahre Geschichte

Unfortunately, embedding has been disabled for this video but you can find it here.

Sunday Documentary: UNLIKE U – Trainwriting in Berlin

UNLIKE U - Trainwriting in Berlin (screenshot from the film)

Photo: Still from ‘UNLIKE U – Trainwriting in Berlin’

The documentary UNLIKE U – Trainwriting in Berlin follows a group of graffiti artists spraying trains in Berlin and explores their motivations and experiences through interviews.

The film was originally banned from cinemas after complaints from Deutsche Bahn but the makers recently won an appeal against this decision.

Unfortunately, though the film is available in full on Vimeo it can’t be embedded but you can find it by following this link: UNLIKE U – Trainwriting in Berlin.