Berlin, The City of Memory

By Yolanda Torrijos López

Those who attended the “30 years of Germany reunification. Berlin: History and Cinema” talk by Celia Martínez García, Doctor in History of Cinema, could witness how it is possible to know the history of a town through cinema. On this occasion, the leading character was played by the German city of Berlin.

       On September 2nd, 1945, Germany surrendered unconditionally, which meant the end of World War II. Nevertheless, it also meant tremendous material, human and emotional destruction.

       Shortly after, the whole territory was divided into four zones of occupation: Soviet, American, English and French. The capital, the city of Berlin, though technically part of the Soviet zone, was also split, with Soviets taking the eastern side of the city and The United States, England and France sharing the western side. The relationship between both parts would dramatically end up with the construction of the wall, which will be crucial for the city economic and social development. English historian Tony Judt in his work “Post-war” recalls a sentence that Germans exchanged days before the end of the war: “Enjoy the war because peace will be terrible”.

       In 1948, Italian director Roberto Rossellini, in Germania, Anno Zero, makes visible a city sunk in misery and despair. However, German citizens took that situation as a starting point to start from scratch.

       On August 18th, 1961, after years of disagreements with two currencies and two politic ideals, the wall is built, keeping families and friends separated for 28 years. That new tragedy for Berlin inhabitants will be the main topic in films as Escape from East Berlin (by Robert Slodmak, 1962), produced from Eastern Germany’s point of view and Funeral in Berlin (by Guy Hamilton, 1966), with a westerner’s viewpoint.

       Later, in the ‘70s, the differences between the two Berlins regarding Architecture and, above all, ideology will be clearer as it is reflected in Die Legende von Paul und Paula (The legend of Paul and Paula, by Heiner Carow, 1973).

       During the next decade appears a new model of German cinema which searches for its own identity, making it clear that what best defines Germany are its ruins, perfectly exhibited in Der Himmel über Berlin (Wings of desire, by Win Wenders, 1987).

       On November 11th, 1989, the wall is knocked down so it is time for eastern citizens to rebuild the country from inside. At once, the appearance of certain “order” disappears when this side is, literally, swallowed by the western side. The film Good Bye, Lenin! by Wolfgang Becker, 2003, sets out some critics to the German Democratic Republic State’s Socialism just as Capitalism established after the wall’s fall.

       The film-documentary Der Duft des Westpakets (The Scent of the Western Package, by Brit-J. Grundel and Maja Stieghorst, 2019) is one of the latest manifestations of its longing for the old Democratic Republic. On it, we are the eyewitness of a new narrative that faces this topic. This film has a specific purpose: “to build bridges”, because it transmits more positive than negative thoughts toward the past.

       I would like to finish with the same sentence with which Celia concluded her speech:” Despite all the things lived during those years in the eastern side, a lot of people were happy”.

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