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Filmmaking in Germany – Let's go to the Kino!

Filmmaking in Germany - Let's go to the Kino!
© Pixabay

 

Part One:  Ante-Third Reich

Motion pictures were initially developed in the 1870s by the British American photographer Eadweard Muybridge, building on France’s Louis-Jacques-Mandé Daguerre’s development of the positive photographic process and on England’s William Henry Fox Talbot’s negative photographic process, in order to prove the theory of the wealthy horse breeder and then governor of California, Leland Stanford, that all four hooves of a galloping horse leave the ground simultaneously.
Following the more than 35 years in which such films developed as popular novelties and ever more sophisticated curiosities without any serious artistic or narrative content, the notion of telling stories with motion pictures arose.  Germany was a leader in that movement and in 1910 began to produce a series of tasteful, distinctive, insightful, and reflective films based on stories.

One particularly effective example is the 1913 production of Edgar Allan Poe’s The Student of Prague, produced by Deutsche Bioscop GmbH (later bought outright by Babelsberg Studio along with affiliated production companies) and filmed in Berlin.  Today, Babelsberg Studio in Potsdam-Babelsberg, on the outskirts of Berlin, is the financial and production center not only for German filmmaking, but also for a majority of international, high-budget films.  It is the focal point of German artistic and professional filmmaking development.

Films such as The Student of Prague had a profound effect on viewers who were used to still photographs that captured the true “Kodak moments” of their lives, i.e., that portrayed people, locations, and events that marked incidents in their own lives.  Viewers often transferred this reinforced belief in their own photographs to the stories told through motion pictures, as if the plots, characters, locales, etc. were real, i.e., viewers “willingly suspended their disbelief” (“freiwillige Aussetzen der Zweifel”).  This aspect of filmmaking brought acceptance and much success to the motion picture industry.  Technological developments attributed to German filmmakers include the early projector and sound-on-film and contributed greatly to German filmmaking successes.

Filmmaking in World War I

World War I gave rise to the use of filmmaking to promote propaganda which promoted the fatherland and denigrated the enemy.  This new tack brought about the establishment of Universum Film AG (“UFA GmbH”) by the German military, ostensibly to combat foreign film competition, but also to promote German national interests and to coordinate and refine propaganda on behalf of the fatherland.  Because the war affected imports of foreign films, German filmmaking quickly took over all aspects of the German film market:  documentaries, weekly news reviews, feature films, etc., mixed with and influenced by the ever more sophisticated propaganda films.

After the war, UFA trended away from propaganda towards more commercially viable projects and, in the process, many German directors, executives, and stars, e.g., Ernst Lubitsch, Erich Pommer, Emil Jannings, Pola Negri, Conrad Veidt, and Lya de Putti, became more prominent and German filmmaking competed directly with Hollywood.  Unfortunately, in 1923 a series of poor business decisions brought UFA to the brink of bankruptcy and only a massive injection of capital by new owners and a restructuring of both its business model and its marketing plans managed to save it at the last minute.  After seven years of hard work and planning, UFA seemed to have weathered the economic storm.

On the creative front during this time, imaginative and ambitious German filmmakers stressed social issues and pragmatic rather than theoretical political matters presented in a documentary style that contributed to each film’s verisimilitude.  They replaced conventional filmmaking techniques with radical camera techniques, editing, and unconventional visual presentations.  A film’s storyline was no longer the sole source of information for the viewer.  The way a filmmaker told a story was as important and as effective as the story itself and, as often as not, the filmmaker never resolved the story’s conflict, leaving it to the viewer to create his/her own resolution—or lack of one—based on the realism, the ambiguity, and the viewer’s personal experience and imagination.  In effect, the fourth wall was breached to make each viewer a participant in the story.

German Expressionism

German filmmakers first brought expressionism—the effective use of realism, imagery, and symbolism to evoke viewers’ interests and attention—to the screen, most notably The Cabinet of Dr. Caligari (Robert Wiene), Nosferatu (Murnau), and The Golem:  How He Came Into the World (Boese & Wegener) and its development had a powerful effect on international filmmaking, particularly in France and the U.S.

New Objectivity

German expressionism gave way to social themes and realism which unabashedly spotlighted very controversial themes.  It evolved into so-called new objectivity (“Neue Sachlichkeit”), a filmmaking school which focused on the average, even mundane, lives of ordinary Germans as they related to the various components of society, e.g., literature, politics, commercialism, art, education, etc.  It highlighted the average German man-in-the-street’s pragmatic, day-to-day goings-on rather than on the philosophical aspects of their lives.  It also dealt bluntly with many quite controversial topics—topics that continue to plague societies worldwide even today:  illegal drugs, prostitution, abortion, homosexuality, etc.

German filmmakers then began to chronicle man’s struggle with nature, after which German filmmakers introduced animation, and then spectacular historical films which stirred patriotic feelings, finally ending up with so-called chamber dramas which provided an intimate examination of the bleak, desolate lives and petty dramas of ordinary people.  This somewhat mediocre artistic vein petered out as the Weimar Republic began its inglorious downhill slide in the few years before the Great Depression and war gripped Europe.  Part Two will discuss the years commencing with Hitler’s rise, through the war, and the fall of Nazism.

Filmmaking in Germany - Let's go to the Kino!
german media

Bud Spencer – The Incarnation of the "Haudrauf-Film"

Bud Spencer - The Incarnation of the "Haudrauf-Film"
von Elekes Andor (Eigenes Werk) CC BY-SA 4.0 , via Wikimedia Commons

In the year of 2016, many beloved celebrities have gone, for example, the singer Prince or Lemmy from Motörhead. But another man died who was something like an icon for many people, not only in Germany. Bud Spencer died on June 27th. But his movies, his bon mots and all in all his life’s work will remain unforgotten. Let’s take a look back on his efforts and try to understand why he was such a beloved person for many Germans.

The beginning of his Career

Bud Spencer was born in 1929 as Carlo Pedersoli in Naples, Italy. Unlike his later appearance, he soon became very successful in sports, especially in swimming. He was a tall and athletic young man who gained many successes in the water. In 1949, the 20-years old Carlo won the national swimming championship, later he even became part of the Italian Olympic team and succeeded in the games of 1952 in Helsinki, 1956 in Melbourne and 1960 in Rome. But not only swimming was his big talent, but also in water polo (or in German, Wasserball). One of his greatest efforts in this game was winning the Italian championship with his team S.S. Lazio Rome and also winning a gold medal in the Mediterranean Games of 1955. 

Bud Spencer and Terrace Hill

At the same time, Carlo Pedersoli started his acting career, first in some shallow Italian movies, later also in western movies that have been very popular in the 1960s and 1970s. In this time, he also met the unknown actor Mario Girotti aka Terrance Hill. To make their names sound more international and also more western, Girotti changed his name and so did Pedersoli: He chose the name “Bud Spencer.” Both met again on another movie set and soon became a duo, many movies followed like “They called me trinity” or “I’m for the Hippopotamus.” All the movies had in common that both Spencer and Hill never got tired of beating up their enemies, most of the time in an extreme and sometimes even silly way. They both soon became the incarnation of the so-called “Haudrauf-Film.”

These movies are still all-time-classics and many people, also the youngsters, have seen them and can quote at least one sentence. Their extreme way of beating up people by making it look slapstick-like also influenced the German language today: The verb “Budspencern” means to beat up a group of people in a superior and somehow comical way. 

Although Bud Spencer started many other projects in his later life like becoming a politician, it is the movies that made him well-known around the world and especially in Europe. Many young people even admire him in the way of a cult that made him somehow iconic. As the city of Schwäbisch Gmünd asked the citizens for a name for a new to build a tunnel, of course, the suggestion “Bud-Spencer-Tunnel” won the polling. Thus, the city council refused to name the tunnel after Pedersoli but gave their public swimming pool his name: it is now known as the Bud-Spencer-Bad. Also, a hill near the city is now called Terrance Hill. But with all this honoring, Bud Spencer remained a modest man until his death. That’s one reason why so many people still admire him so much.

Bud Spencer - The Incarnation of the "Haudrauf-Film"
Culture german media

Löwenzahn – A German National Treasure

Löwenzahn - A German National Treasure
© Pixabay

Ask any German under 40 about Löwenzahn and chances are they’ll start humming a jolly tune. That tune is the well-known theme to German public channel ZDF’s longest-running kids’ TV show, Löwenzahn.

The show started in 1981 and accompanied generations of Germans as they discovered the world. Its presenter, “Erklär-Bär” (explainer character) Peter Lustig was a TV grandad to millions of people, becoming one of the country’s national treasures.

In February 2016, Germany said goodbye to Lustig as the show’s creator passed away following many years of illness. But his legacy continues in the show, still running in its 35th year.

What Happens on The Show?

Löwenzahn takes place in the Schrebergärten (allotments) of a fictional of city called Bärstadt. In every episode, Peter Lustig greeted the audience from his home in the Bauwagen, a disused builder’s trailer which he had converted into his home.

Peter Lustig (that is the actor’s real name) was a casual character dressed in dungarees. He represented the archetype of an alternative dropout, sharply contrasted with his neat and conservative neighbour Hermann Paschulke. In most episodes, Peter and his neighbour started off with a little chat (or occasional neighbourly spat).

These chats inspired many of Peter’s curious questions about the world.He found himself wondering “Warum ist das so?” (Why is it like that?). He presented film clips and went out into the world to explore. The episode topics included answers to many children’s questions like “Wie kommen die Löcher in den Käse?” (How do the holes get into the cheese?) or “Was ist eigentlich Blech? Was passiert, wenn es rostet?” (What is tin? What happens when it gets rusty?).

Alternative Attitudes and Environmentalism in Löwenzahn

Peter’s show promoted excitement about nature and environment for several generations of Germans.

Löwenzahn and its understated, chilled out presenter were a product of Germany’s green consciousness. Peter didn’t wear suits or live in an expensive home. He wasn’t a professor, and his appearance celebrated authenticity and challenged the status quo.

The Bauwagen was a showcase of self-sufficiency and DIY skills, showing how everyday “junk” can be upcycled and reused. In this way, engineer Peter Lustig showed generations of German children how to make something out of nothing.

Throughout the show’s run, nature and environment were important core topics. Progress was acknowledged, yet regarded with a little skepticism along with Peter’s trademark curiosity. And for decades the programme’s most famous catchphrase was a variant of “.. und jetzt machen wir den Fernseher…aus.” (And now we switch the TV… off)

Löwenzahn Continues

Löwenzahn stood out because it was not shrill or oversaturated like many other kids’ TV shows. Peter Lustig himself designed his character to promote a grown-up’s curiosity about the world. He valued learning at any age and invited his viewers into a world of tüfteln, forschen, entdecken (tinker, research, discover).

In 2007, Peter Lustig received the Bundesverdienstkreuz am Bande, Germany’s highest Order of Merit. His legacy is evident not only in the love and praise he received but also in the show’s ongoing success.

Today, Löwenzahn continues with a new character: Fritz Fuchs, played by comedian Guido Hammesfahr, took over the show and the Bauwagen in October 2006. The original cast has grown to feature more diverse characters and create a faster-paced version of Löwenzahn. Hammesfahr and Lustig know how much times have changed. Lustig joked that he’s happy not to compete with PlayStation in this interview with the Bild newspaper.

The show also maintains its theme of encouraging young viewers to get away from the TV for a bit and step out into the world. You can find out more about the current topics on Löwenzahn’s official website.

Löwenzahn - A German National Treasure
german media

Im Gegenteil – “Slow Dating” Rises in Berlin

Online dating in Berlin
© pixabay

Im Gegenteil, Berlin’s slow-dating website, looks like a consumer glossy magazine website at first, comparable to Marie Claire or Esquire in the United States – and then you realize the “products” are people.
These are not celebrities either. They are singles, generally in their 30s, looking to find a partner. These singles can be gay or straight – but the end result is very hip.

 

Made with passion, time and love

The two founders, Jule Müller and Anni Kralisch-Pehlke, liken Im Gegenteil to a single’s magazine than a dating platform. Dating websites nowadays are quick and might not provide a glimpse into someone’s actual life – the profiles are more like checkboxes or filters, great for snap decisions but not so great for developing intimacy and connections. Im Gegenteil, on the other hand, takes about a day to construct each profile and takes photos of the applicant – not just any photos, but artful ones in the applicant’s own home or surroundings. That way, Kralisch-Pehlke says, “[if] you want to write to someone on our site, you have something to work with.”

“Only for Berlin´s hipsters?” “NO!”

The applicants are mainly in Berlin, but other areas have been added also, enabling people from Zürich and Köln to be featured on the website as well. And thanks to the Im Gegenteil team of bloggers and photographers, there are articles beneath the profiles – lending credence to the self-description of it as a singles’ magazine rather than a dating platform.
Unfortunately, this very hip and photogenic emphasis has led to some deriding Im Gegenteil for catering to Berlin’s hipsters – or hipsters in general. As someone who has lived in Brooklyn in New York, I can safely say that Im Gegenteil would not be out of place there either. But where is the line between helping the applicants look good and being derided for being the province of the exclusive?
Müller and Kralisch-Pehlke plan on expanding Im Gegenteil throughout Europe and possibly beyond, so maybe we will see it in places like London or New York. Time will only tell.

If your German is up to speed or you want to practice, you can look at Im Gegenteil here: http://imgegenteil.de/
Currently, it is only offered in the German language, though hopefully in time will be localized to other languages alongside the expansion plans.

Online dating in Berlin