Berlin in Film: Through the Years

vor 2 Jahren
There is no denying that Berlin holds a very rich and vibrant culture, along with a poignant history that is incomparable to many of its counterpart cities in the motherland of Germany.
The city has a long-held tradition of keeping its reputation as a collectively cool and creative space. During the start of the century and into the 1920s, Berlin was already well known for being free-spirited, liberated, and it quickly became a cultural destination hotspot of artistic and sexual expression, however one saw fit.
As a whole, Germany is a space where various festivals happen and chances are given to filmmakers to debut their films to a wide international audience. One of the most famous and internationally recognized film festivals in Europe is the Berlinale. Founded in 1951, their program shows around 400 films each year. It is also the meeting point of the European Film Market which, as of now, attracts around 8,000 professionals from 400 companies in 95 countries. As of 2013, there are over 300 productions which are shot in Berlin each year- from local independent films to international blockbusters. Berlin is a city that not only allows but encourages its creatives in an international cultural metropolis.
To celebrate the charm the city has to offer for film and production, we decided to delve into the history of Berlin and the films which have chosen to fly the flag for the city.
The 1920s
The 1920s in Berlin were home to many forward-thinking creatives and artists. It was a critical time for German cinema in the city. Film artists such as Fritz Lang, Friedrich Wilhelm Murnau, and Georg Wilhelm Pabst were all visionaries who created timeless stories on the silver screen. Films such as Nosferatu: A Symphony of Horror (1922), Metropolis (1927), Die Nibelungen (1924), Die Büchse der Pandora (Pandora’s Box) (1929) still have the appeal and allure as they did when they were first screened nearly 100 years ago. An important film of this time is Berlin: Symphony of a Metropolis (1927) which is dreamy documentation of the day in the life of the city, as a symphony plays throughout the semi-documentary.
A stand out star of this decade was the soon-to-be Hollywood starlet Marlene Dietrich who starred in the Joseph von Sternheim’s 1930 film Der blaue Engel (The Blue Angel). Her Hollywood status was thus cemented, and she was a bonafide icon throughout her career. Born in Schöneberg in 1901, Dietrich’s final home is in a humble plot on a tiny cemetery prosaically called Städtischer Friedhof III.
Films of the Nazi Period
For many artists who were based in Germany during the Nazi takeover, many fled to England, France and America. For many, migrating away was the end of their career. For some, however, including Fritz Lang, they were able to find Hollywood. Many of the artists that remained in Berlin were unfortunately persecuted by the Nazis. Most films produced during the Nazi era were propaganda, and are still banned as of today. Roberto Rossellini’s post-war film Germany, Year Zero (1948) was stark documentation of a destroyed city after the war was over. The city, just recovering from the second world war, then fell victim to the Berlin wall, which saw the fall of glory days of production in the city. During this time, some films managed to go on and obtain cult status. Wim Wender’s 1987 film Der Himmel über Berlin (Wings of Desire) is as memorable as it is today as when it first came out. Who can forget the legendary scene in the library at the Staatsbibliothek in Berlin? Christiane F – We Children from Bahnhof Zoo (Christiane F –Wir Kinder From Bahnhof Zoo), is another cult classic that showed a dark side to the city, focusing on a drug-addicted prostitute. With a soundtrack by David Bowie, and the setting filmed partly in Gropiusstadt (a southern suburb designed by Bauhaus founder Walter Gropius), this film still speaks to the hearts of lost souls.
After the Wall: Then and Today
Since the wall fell over 30 years ago, Berlin has once again become the cultural hub it was once known for. Films produced and directed in the city have been able to embody the spirit of Berlin, while also creating work and opportunities for its residents. It is one of the best-documented cities of its social and cultural history.
One of the most well-known films over the past years is the 1999 Tom Twyker’s film Run Lola Run, which stars the main character (played by Franka Potente) running through the city streets, racing against time. This film was shot all in one take. Other films during this time look at the recent past of Germany including the Florian Henckel von Donnersmarc’ 2004 Oscar-nominated Das Leben der Anderen (The Lives of Others) and Leander Haußmann’s 1999 film Sonnenalle. Today, international filmmakers have caught onto the idea of using the German capital as a backdrop to their films.
Babelsberg Studios, which was re-founded in the 1990s, has gone on to produce a variety of international blockbusters, earning many awards including the Academy Award. Films including Quentin Tarantino’s Inglourious Basterds (2009), David Leitch’s Atomic Blonde (2017), and Steven Spielberg’s Bridge of Spies (2018) all pay tribute for Berlin, offering sweeping boulevards, impressive skylines and copious amounts of architecture.

The Films of Tomorrow 

Berlin continues to expand its global reach via cinema and brings film-goers internationally to the city due to its independent spirit and creative flair. Hollywood blockbuster The Matrix 4, starring Keanu Reeves, Carrie-Anne Moss, and Jada Pinkett Smith, is scheduled to be released for 2021 and is currently being filmed in the city. While 2020 may have been a year of uncertainty and a lot questions marks have surrounded what will happen in the film industry all over the world, one thing is certain, Berlinale has already been announced to begin February 11, 2021. The city will have a center stage for an audience to applaud the talents of visual mavericks and directors.

Text by Sam Kavanagh
Photos Courtesy of IMDB & 20th Century Fox 

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