Gerhard Klein was born in Berlin on May 1, 1920 and grew up in Berlin’s Kreuzberg district. He had his first screen appearance as a child extra in Slatan Dudow’s Weimar-era classic, Kuhle Wampe oder Wem gehört die Welt? (1932). At age twenty, he became a soldier in the Wehrmacht, and he was captured and sent to an English POW camp.
Klein was self-educated and started working as a cartoonist and documentary filmmaker after WWII. In 1946, he began working for DEFA as a documentary film director and scriptwriter, where his work included writing the script for Joop Huisken’s short documentary Stahl (1950). He joined the DEFA Studio for Feature Films in 1952, where he was instrumental in establishing the production of children’s films. There, he was able to achieve his dream of making films expressing the poetry of daily life and his fascination with his beloved Berlin. His friend and long-time collaborator, scriptwriter Wolfgang Kohlhaase, paid Klein the highest compliment: “He could show you how a courtyard smells.”
Working with Kohlhaase, Klein produced a series of four films known as the Berlin Films. But although Klein was awarded national honors, his films were often challenged by dogmatic film officials. They found, for example, that the Italian neo-realist influence evident in the box-office hit Berlin – Ecke Schönhauser was an aesthetically inappropriate model for a socialist state; and the fourth Berlin film, Berlin um die Ecke, was banned by East German officials in 1966, not to be released until 1987. Officials also faulted his earlier film, Der Fall Gleiwitz, which portrays a central moment of Nazi infamy, because they said its powerful style converged too closely with Nazi aesthetics.
Gerhard Klein died in 1970 while working on the crime story, Leichensache Zernik, set in post-WWII Berlin. The film was completed by Klein’s assistant and student, the DEFA director Helmut Nitzschke.
|1972||Leichensache Zernik (Murder Case Zernik)|
|1967||Geschichten jener Nacht: Der große und der kleine Willi (Stories of that Night: Two Wills)|
|1966/90||Berlin um die Ecke (Berlin around the Corner)|
|1963||Sonntagsfahrer (Sunday Drivers)|
|1961||Der Fall Gleiwitz (The Gleiwitz Case)|
|1959||Die offene Hand (An Itchy Palm, short, part of the Stacheltier satire series)|
|1959||Seltsame Jagd (Strange Hunt, short, part of the Stacheltier satire series)|
|1958||Die Geschichte vom armen Hassan (The Story of Poor Hassan)|
|1957||Berlin – Ecke Schönhauser (Berlin – Schönhauser Corner)|
|1956||Eine Berliner Romanze (A Berlin Romance)|
|1954||Alarm im Zirkus (Alarm at the Circus)|
|1950||Baustelle X (Construction Site X, doc.)|
|1949||Kali (Potash, doc, short)|