The Gegenwartsfilm, West Berlin as Hostile Other, and East Germany as Homeland: The Rebel Film Berlin—Ecke Schönhauser (Berlin SchöNhauser Corner, Gerhard Klein, 1957)
East German filmmaking at DEFA changed significantly following the death of Soviet dictator Joseph Stalin in 1953, proving that a close connection of politics and film in East Germany already existed. Technically, the Soviet Union still owned part of DEFA, and during Stalin’s rule, the SED ensured that DEFA films complied with the ideology predetermined by the “big brother” in the east.1 Many of the productions in the late 1940s and early 1950s therefore followed a style known as “Socialist Realism”—films made to foster the ideals of socialism and communism. After Stalin, the danger of ending in a political prison for disagreeing ceased in East Germany, too, and made way for a new wave of more critical films. More and more, DEFA directors paid attention to contemporary conditions of life in East Germany and observed and criticized the development of the country. They created a genre called Gegenwartsfilme (films addressing contemporary life) that expressed the shortcomings of East Germany in a nuanced way that had become possible, even desired, between 1954 and 1961 as a way to help socialism evolve. Only the few productions that either continued the prewar UFA (Universum Film AG) aesthetic (such as Die Schönste in 1957) or addressed sensitive domestic issues (for example, Konrad Wolf’s Sonnensucher [Sun Seekers] in 1958) were banned,2 and for a few years in the 1950s, DEFA released a good number of films intended to aid the integration of politics into East German society.
KeywordsPolice Officer German Nation Contemporary Life DEFA Director Critical Film
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- 3.See Horst Claus, “Rebels with a Cause: The Development of the ‘Berlin-Filme’ by Gerhard Klein and Wolfgang Kohlhaase,” in DEFA: East German Cinema, 1946 1992, ed. Seán Allan and John Sandford (New York: Berghahn, 1999), 93–116.Google Scholar
- 5.Wolfgang Kohlhaase mentions his and Klein’s own experiences of going to West Berlin for these movies. See Wolfgang Kohlhaase and Gerhard Klein, “DEFA: A Personal View,” in DEFA: East German Cinema, 1946–1992, ed. Seân Allan and John Sandford (New York: Berghahn, 1999), 117–130.Google Scholar
- 6.Matthias Judt, ed., DDR-Geschichte in Dokumenten (Berlin: Links, 1997), 545–546.Google Scholar
- 7.Ralf Schenk, ed., Das zweite Leben der Filmstadt Babelsberg: DEFA 1946–1992 (Berlin: Henschel, 1994), 127.Google Scholar
- 9.For a detailed account of these riots, see Ute Poiger, Jazz, Rock, and Rebels: Cold War Politics and American Culture in a Divided Germany (Berkeley: University of California Press, 2000).Google Scholar