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 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.
The 1960s was a decade of great social and technological advances and Berlin, as the main flashpoint between the ideologies of capitalism and socialism, saw more changes than most cities.
The loss of skilled workers to the West, as referred to in my Twentieth Century Berlin on Film – The 1950s post led the government of East Germany to take the extraordinary step of sealing its borders. Officially referred to as the Anti-Fascist Protection Rampart the Berlin Wall was built to halt an exodus that threatened to de-stabilise the fledgling state.
In 1963 the eyes of the world were on Berlin when the President of the United States of America, John F Kennedy, stood in front of the Rathaus Schöneberg and, in a show of solidarity with the people of West Berlin declared “Ich bin ein Berliner”.
“Niemand hat die Absicht eine Mauer zu errichten” – Walter Ubricht (1961)
At a press conference on 15 June 1961 in response to a question from a West German journalist, Walter Ulbricht, the leader of East Germany, uttered the now immortal words, “Niemand hat die Absicht eine Mauer zu errichten” – in English, ‘No one has any intention to erect a wall’.
The Wall – US Propaganda Film – Berlin Wall 1962
Less than two months later, in the night of 13 August 1961, East German soldiers began the process of marking out the border and rolling out barbed wire to prevent unauthorised movement between East and West Berlin.
The US propaganda film, The Wall, from 1962 includes some of the most iconic footage of the recently divided city – the scene at 6:23 where a woman runs into the barbed wire at the border makes me wince every time I watch it but is a clear indication of the desperation to leave.
A Royal Day in Berlin (1965)
Queen Elizabeth II travels to West Berlin in 1965, the first visit of a British monarch to Germany for more than half a century.
Checkpoint Charlie, Berlin “Counter-Intelligence Special Operations” (1969)
Taken from a US Army training film this footage from 1969 shows Checkpoint Charlie and other notable Berlin sights and outlines procedures for observing East Germans and other potential threats in Berlin.
Photo: Berlin in the 1950s – still from ‘East Berlin Parade 1950′
Throughout the 1950s the government of the DDR (Deutsche Demokratische Republik) continued a process of Socialisation in East Germany. Tensions were running high between the East and West and also amongst the people of the DDR. The ‘brain drain’ had started, as workers sought out the higher pay and better working conditions in the West.
East Berlin Parade 1950
The Freie Deutsche Jugend (FDJ) (Free German Youth) marching through East Berlin in 1950.
East Germany Propaganda – East Berlin 1950
There is more footage of the FDJ gathering in Berlin in 1950 with commentary (auf Deutsch) in this longer film.
DDR im Film XVII – Stalinallee (1951)
Set to the song Jugend erwach (Bau auf, bau auf), Part 17 of the series DDR – Das Original shows the construction of buildings on the Stalinallee, now Karl-Marx-Allee.
GDR Uprising (1953)
What started as a strike by construction workers in East Berlin the previous day turned into a full-scale uprising against the government of the DDR on 17 June 1953. Workers were protesting against plans to increase working hours or cut pay and the policy of prioritising heavy industry that meant a shortage of consumer goods and power.
Photo: Still from Legendary Sin Cities – Berlin – Metropolis of Vice
Metropolis of Vice, an episode from the Legendary Sin Cities documentary series focuses on the potent mix of sex and entertainment in the Weimar era Berlin of the 1920s.
“Its very name became synonymous with perversion, debauchery and creativity. Berlin in the 1920s was the sex capital of Europe.”
In response to the hyperinflation of the 1920s, driven by poverty, the sex trade in Berlin exploded as a means to put food on the table.
“Berlin was what sexual daydreams wanted to be. You could find almost anything there and maybe everything.”
In this environment, performers such as Claire Waldoff, Anita Berber and Marlene Dietrich thrived and became stars. Word of Berlin’s raucous nightlife and attitude of sexual freedom spread and drew more artists and creative people to the city.
I first posted this documentary on Facebook and Twitter 6 months ago before I began my Sunday Documentary series.
Photo: Berlin 1949 – still from ‘Mr Attlee Visits Berlin’
Continuing my Twentieth Century Berlin on Film series, footage of 1940s Berlin is dominated by the machinations and effects of the Second World War. At the beginning of the decade the city is a focal point for Nazi marches and speeches. During the war, the German capital is a prime target for the allied bombers and afterwards a flashpoint at the beginning of the Cold War.
The soldiers of the German Wehrmacht march through Berlin in 1940. The streets are lined with people and Nazi flags fly from the Brandenburger Tor (Brandenburg Gate) and may of the buildings on the parade route.
By 1943 Berlin is showing the scars of war. Heavy bombing raids have taken their toll on the city. Rescued furniture and belongings line the streets and Potsdamer Bahnhof is out of use – the scenes of devastation inside make it clear why.
Berlin – May 12, 1945
This colour footage from 1945 shows the utter devastation of Berlin. Many buildings are now just shells and huge piles of rubble line the streets – the chain gangs of Trümmerfrauen (rubble women) work hard to clean up the city.
Mr Attlee Visits Berlin – 1949
British Prime Minister Clement Attlee visited Berlin in 1949 to see first hand how West Berliners were coping with the effects of the Berlin Blockade. This short film from the archive collection of the Alexandra Palace Television Society follows that visit.
Berlin in the 1930s was witness to Hitler’s rise to power as Chancellor of Germany and subsequently many shockingly destructive and despicable acts like the book burning of 1933 and the Kristallnacht in 1938. Continuing my Twentieth Century Berlin on Film series here are a few short videos that show Berlin in the 1930s.
Summer Holidays in Berlin (1930)
Despite the political changes and the economic difficulties in the country it is important to remember that it wasn’t all doom and gloom in Berlin. In this clip, Berliners head out to enjoy the sunshine at the Wannsee.
Goebbels denounces the authors of ‘un-German’ books as soldiers and students throw thousands of volumes onto a large bonfire. Today a simple monument of empty shelves commemorates the events of 10 May 1933.
Alt-Berlin: Berlin – Wie es war
Alt-Berlin: Berlin – Wie es war (Old Berlin:Berlin – How it was) follows a horse and cart tour around the city with lots of information about the buildings and statues and life in Berlin in German.
Jesse Owens – 1936 Olympics
Given Hitler’s conviction of the superiority of the Aryan Race it is ironic that Jesse Owens was the star of the 1936 Olympics in Berlin.
Berlin Reichshauptstadt 1936
A Nazi propaganda film, Berlin Reichshauptstadt 1936 showcases Berlin and it’s many landmark buildings in colour – some no longer stand like the Stadtschloss and others like the Berliner Dom and Reichstag have undergone changes.
Photo: Berlin in 1929 – still from ‘People on Sunday’
The twentieth century was not kind to Berlin – war, economic depression, Nazism, division and re-unification all left their mark.
Twentieth Century Berlin on Film is a series of posts that, through YouTube videos, will show the changes the city has undergone.
We begin with the heady days of Berlin in the 1920s – in the Weimar era, the city had a reputation for decadence, hedonism and sexual freedom. Despite, or perhaps as a result of, the effects of hyperinflation and political upheaval in the aftermath of the Great War, Berliners were determined to have a good time.
1920s – Berlin in der 20er Jahre (Berlin the 1920s)
A collection of clips showing everyday life in the German capital throughout the 1920s.
Tour Around Berlin in 1929
Taken from the Billy Wilder film People on Sunday (Menschen am Sonntag), which you can find in full on Mogli Oak.
Berlin – Die Sinfonie der Großstadt (1927) (Berlin – Symphony of a Great City)
If you have a little more time I would recommend watching Die Sinfonie der Großstadt, a full-length silent film by director Walther Ruttmann. Filmed over the course of a year in Berlin, the footage has been assembled in five acts representing a typical day in the city.
Part 4 of the fascinating and extensive Cold War documentary series by the Cold War International History Project, Berlin 1948 – 1949, deals with the response of the Western Allies to the Soviet Blockade of Berlin – the Berlin Airlift (Die Luftbrücke).
Surrounded as it was by East Germany, West Berlin was dependent on a corridor through the East with a single Autobahn and one railway line for its supplies. Following a breakdown in the democratic process between the four conquering powers in June 1948, the Soviets exploited this weakness, blocking the road and rail routes in an attempt to force Britain, America and France out of Berlin.
Much to Stalin’s surprise, the Western Allies sustained the population of West Berlin by flying in the necessary supplies of food and coal.
At the height of the operation planes landed every 45 seconds at Tempelhof Airport and in the 11 months of the airlift more than 2.3 million tonnes of goods and fuel were flown in by almost 278,000 flights.
In May 1949, recognising the success of the Berlin Airlift, the Soviet blockade was lifted but of course the Cold War would escalate and continue for many years.
Danny Robins’s programme for BBC Radio 6 Music’s Easter Weekend celebration ofDavid Bowie is called Bowie and Beyond: A Music Fan’s Guide to Berlin but he goes all the way back to the Weimar era in his quest to understand why Berlin has made such a significant contribution to music.
This is about more than music though. In this one hour radio documentary Robins also looks at the social and economic factors that shaped the city’s history.
Travelling to Berlin, through interviews with artists and producers, he tries to find out if Berlin attracts a certain kind of musician or if the city affects the music that those who are drawn to it create.
The usual suspects get airtime – David Bowie, Iggy Pop, Depeche Mode and U2 – but there is also an attempt to see beyond these artists to the contribution of seminal German bands like Die Toten Hosen and new artists such as Prinz Pi and Berlin-based Canadian, Peaches.