Tag Archives: Documentary

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.

Twentieth Century Berlin on Film – The 1960s

Berlin in the 1960s - an escape attempt (screenshot from The Wall)

Photo: Still from ‘The Wall’

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.

Berlin in Bildern – Hauptstadt der DDR (1968)

This clip from Das war die DDR shows Berlin in 1968 and includes footage of the Rotes Rathaus, the Soviet Memorial in Treptower Park and most notably the Fernsehturm still under construction.

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.

Twentieth Century Berlin on Film – The 1950s

Berlin in the 1950s - East Berlin Parade 1950

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.

Sunday Documentary: Legendary Sin Cities – Berlin: Metropolis of Vice

Berlin - Metropolis of Vice (screenshot from the Legendary Sin Cities documentary)

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.

Legendary Sin Cities – Berlin: Metropolis of Vice

Twentieth Century Berlin on Film – The 1940s

Berlin 1949 (screenshot from Mr Attlee Visits Berlin)

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.

Berlin 1940

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.

Berlin 1943

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.

Twentieth Century Berlin on Film – The 1930s

Berlin in the 1930s (Man drinking beer - screenshot from Berlin Reichshauptstadt 1936)

Photo: Still from ‘Berlin Reichshauptstadt 1936′

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.

Büchverbrennung (Book Burning) 1933

This clip from a documentary by the Deutsches Historisches Museum (German History Museum) shows the book burning at the Opernplatz (now Bebelplatz) in Berlin.

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.