Movies and Film: Roads Not Taken: Film in East Germany

Roads Not Taken: Film in East Germany

The division of Germany into East and West during the Cold War led inexorably to the establishment of two entirely separate national film industries that had little more than celluloid in common. While West Germany made significant strides after the Young German Cinema movement got off the ground, East Germany remained for the most part a cinematic backwater until reunification. The Deutsche Film AG, East Germany's answer to UFA, became the only film-producing entity in the entire country (there were no independent studios to speak of), and it maintained a total monopoly on production for decades.

As with any rule, of course, there are a few exceptions to this one. If you can get your hands on some of the films made in East Berlin before the split in 1949, try to look at the work of Wolfgang Staudte, whose The Murderers Are Among Us (Die Mrder sind unter uns, 1946) is an anti-Nazi and neoexpressionist classic. (Staudte had starred six years earlier in Jud Sss, however, one of the most virulently anti-Semitic films ever made, so you might want to take the politics of Murderers with a healthy grain of salt.) Another important moment in East German cinema came between the building of the Berlin Wall in 1961 and the government's notorious crackdown in 1965 (see, for example, Frank Beyer's biting comedy Carbide and Sorrel [Karbid und Sauerampfer, 1963]). And East Germany's most famous director, Konrad Wolf, made some wonderful films, including Stars (Sterne, 1958), which won a jury prize at Cannes, and I Was 19 (Ich War 19, 1968).

Excerpted from The Complete Idiot's Guide to Movies and Film © 2001 by Mark Winokur and Bruce Holsinger. All rights reserved including the right of reproduction in whole or in part in any form. Used by arrangement with Alpha Books, a member of Penguin Group (USA) Inc.

To order the e-book book direct from the publisher, visit the Penguin USA website. You can also purchase this book at