They are indeed amazing movies. But there’s so much more to films embodying Berlin than these big-budget classics. Here’s an alternative list to what you could be watching to deepen your love and understanding for our beloved city. Get cozy and… “lights, camera, action!”
Shot in Berlin in Weimer-era years with almost no budget and a very modest cast of amateur actors, People on Sunday (Menschen am Sonntag) is sunlit and evokes a sense of calm, purity, and innocence, giving a rare glimpse on life in Berlin in the 1930s. A unique hybrid of documentary and fictional storytelling, this silent film is about five people – a cheery taxi driver, a charming record salesgirl, a traveling wine merchant, a very chic actress, and, finally, a model – enjoying a weekend out in the city. Produced by a group of young German filmmakers (years before they left for Hollywood and became famous), noir masters Robert Siodmak and Edgar G. Ulmer and future Oscar winners Billy Wilder and Fred Zinnemann, this once-in-a-lifetime collaboration greatly influenced generations of filmmakers around the world.
Devastated by WWII, bomb-shattered Berlin can be witnessed in this movie. Filmed in the summer of 1947, Roberto Rossellini’s Germany Year Zero is an objective and faithful portrait of the city, “an ethical initiative—a way of saying that people were important, occasioned by a war that made many of them voiceless, faceless, and nameless victims.” It’s about a motherless boy named Edmund Koehler, who struggles to help support his family and mostly left unsupervised, which gets him mixed up with bad influences. It’s a very daring movie, a brutal portrait of war and fascism consequences.
Curious about what shook Berlin and shaped its contemporary culture back in the 1980s? Christiane F. – We Children from Bahnhof Zoo (Christiane F. – Wir Kinder vom Bahnhof Zoo) is a movie for you, even though this is probably the saddest motion picture you’d ever see. Directed by Uli Edel and based on a true story, this film captures a dark side of Berlin and clearly represents a spiritual and cultural aspect of the city that exists to this day. Christiane F. is a heartbreaking and soul-shaking story about a young girl’s addiction and subsequent prostitution to enable it. With a soundtrack by Bowie, it became a cult film that shocked international audiences. Amazingly, the protagonist of this film, even though once a heavy and relapsing addict, Christiane Felscherinow, is still alive and lives in Berlin. She wrote a memoir “Christiane F - My Second Life” and started a foundation, which works to stop stigmatization against addicts.
For other type of addicts, that is music addicts and music historians, B-Movie is a must-see. Featuring notorious figures of the time like Blixa Bargeld and Nick Cave, B-Movie leaves you feeling nostalgic for a city that could only exist then – the creativity, the art and the attitudes that emerged from the pain of a divided city. Mark Reeder narrates the story, which features music from Westbam, Einstürzende Neubauten, Joy Division, Die Toten Hosen, Nena, Sex Pistols and many others.
Another pick for music lovers is Geniale Dilletanten – No Wave, directed by Christoph Dreher in 2009. It’s a documentary about the experimental music subculture, showcasing artists and bands, like Einstürzende Neubauten, Bad Seeds, Malaria! and a film director Jim Jarmusch. Geniale Dilletanten has become a synonym for a brief era of artistic upheaval in Germany and brought Berlin a fame for its alternative art scene, which to this day lives in its after-form and inspires new cross-genre experimentation.
What makes our last film on the list special is that it’s been shot in a single continuous take from about 4:30 am to 7:00 am on 27th of April 2014 in Kreuzberg and Mitte neighborhoods. The script consisted of 12 pages, with most of the dialogue being improvised. We also love the music composed by Nils Frahm. Victoria follows its title character, a young woman from Madrid, over two fateful hours after she befriends a band of petty criminals whom she meets in a dance club. For all Run Lola Run fans, this is a movie to see, as it gives you a similar blood-pumping excitement living with the characters throughout the night (and a perfect lockdown movie, if you’re missing out on some Berlin-style action).