Berlin is a bit of a film buff, as cities go. Studio Babelsberg, just a short train ride away, has been responsible for masses of German films, from the likes of Metropolis in 1927 to Grand Budapest Hotel today. The city has also starred in all manner of productions, mostly as itself but sometimes as a body double for Russia. Then there’s the Berlin International Film Festival (Berlinale). It’s held in February and pretty much everyone here goes nuts for it. In fact, it’s not unusual for people to turn up at the ticket desks at 4 a.m. with sleeping bags and flasks of tea. Berlin can get down to -20°C in winter, so they’re either super dedicated or just plain crackers.
With all that in mind, it seemed like a good idea to post a list of films linked to Berlin that will help you prepare a bit for August. I’ll keep my descriptions short, so hit IMDB etc. if you want more details. Or just watch the films!
Metropolis (Fritz Lang, 1927, rated PG in the UK): A classic silent film which pits humans against machines, and the workers against the upper classes. One of the most expensive productions of its time, and now part of UNESCO’s Memory of the World Register.
Emil und die Detektive / Emil and the Detectives (Gerhard Lamprecht, 1931, rated U in the UK): This is one of several adaptations of the book by Erich Kästner. Having only read the book myself, I’ll have to let you judge the film, but I can tell you that it is a brilliant children’s detective story with an exciting plot and funny, engaging characters.
Berlin – Ecke Schönhauser / Berlin – Schönhauser Corner (DEFA, Gerhard Klein, 1957): This black-and-white DEFA film set in East Berlin tells the story of a gang of rebellious teenagers who hang out at the corner of Danziger Strasse, Kastanienallee and Schönhauser Allee.
Der Himmel über Berlin / Wings of Desire (Wim Wenders, 1987, rated 12 in the UK): The wonderful Bruno Ganz plays Damiel, an angel who watches over the inhabitants of Berlin and dreams of becoming mortal. If you think that sounds familiar, you’d be right. Hollywood remade it in 1998 as City of Angels. It starred Nicolas Cage and Meg Ryan and wasn’t a patch on the original.
Lola Rennt / Run Lola Run (Tom Tykwer, 1998, rated 15 in the UK): Franka Potente and Moritz Bleibtreu star as Manni and Lola, a couple living in ’90s Berlin. When Manni messes up a shady deal, Lola has 20 minutes to find 10,000 marks and save his life. We get three different versions of what happens next. Each one starts the same, but ends very differently.
Good Bye, Lenin! (Wolfgang Becker, 2003, rated 15 in the UK): Daniel Brühl plays Alex in this affectionate comedy. A young man tries to hide the fall of the Berlin Wall from his critically ill mother.
Herr Lehmann (2003, Leander Haussmann, rated 12 in Germany): It’s 1989 and Frank Lehmann has been living a lethargic life in Kreuzberg for years. As he approaches his 30th birthday, a series of dramas – and a nickname he’d really rather not have – turn his world upside down. Film adaptation of the brilliant book (Berlin Blues in the English translation) by Sven Regener.
Barbara (Christian Petzold, 2012, rated 12 in the UK): Brilliant. Nina Hoss plays a doctor working in East Germany in 1980. She is sent to work in a small rural hospital as punishment for applying for an exit visa. There she meets Andre, a fellow doctor, and has to make some tough decisions that will change her life forever.
So there we go, a few films for you to try out if you like. There’s loads of others, obviously (Solo Sunny, Sonnenallee, Sommer vorm Balkon…), but I know you’re all busy people and the last thing I want to do is overwhelm you before we’ve even met.
Text & photo: Jen Metcalf