German Cinema “Behind the Wall”

Anke Pinkert, University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign,  

More than a decade after the fall of the Berlin Wall, films from the former GDR have finally become available in the U.S. The challenge now is to look at the history of DEFA without forcing it into a narrative that merely leads to the outcome we know since 1989. Looking at the cinema of DEFA can tell us some things that we cannot learn anywhere else – about the possibilities and limitations of both cinema and socialism, about modes of resistance and complicity, about particular German practices in regard to European film traditions, and about the interrelations of East and West German cinemas which now make up what presently confronts us as ‘The German Cinema.’ (B. Byg) The course aims to examine the DEFA films within their larger socio-historical context. One the one hand, we will analyze the everyday life, the art, and the political realities of communism by looking at East German film. On the other hand, we will examine the development of cinematic language, genres, and themes in East German film in relation to aesthetic and political debates in Germany and Europe. By the end of the course students should be able to do a close reading of cultural representations and cinematic styles in East German film and to place these films in a larger (film) historical context.


Required Texts:

Allen, Seán. "DEFA: A Retrospective." DEFA: East German Cinema 1946-92. Sean Allan and John Sandford, eds. New York: Berghahn, 1999.

A reader



Postwar Films: Zero Hour?

Tue Jan 16: Introduction 

Thu Jan 18: Short overview of DEFA, Murderers Are Among Us (1946, 84 mins., VHS), Wolfgang Staudte

Allen, Seán. “DEFA: A Retrospective.” In DEFA, 1-21.

Byg, Barton. “German Unification and the Cinema of the Former German Democratic Republic,” (reader)

“The failed Socialist Experiment” in German Cultural Studies: an Introduction / edited by Rob Burns. Oxford; New York: Oxford University Press, 1995. (reader) 

Tue Jan 23: discussion

Byg, Barton. “DEFA and the Traditions of International Cinema.” In DEFA, 22-41.

Byg, Barton. “Nazism as Femme Fatale: Recuperations of Cinematic Masculinity in Postwar Berlin.” (reader) 

Thu Jan 25: Marriage in the Shadows (1947, 89 mins., 16mm), Kurt Maetzig

Tue Jan 30: discussion

Mückenberger, Christiane. “The Anti-Fascist Past in DEFA Films.” DEFA, 58-76.

Brandy, Martin. “Discussion with Kurt Maetzig.” DEFA, 204-221.


Literature into Film: Obedient Subjects

Thu Feb 1: The Kaiser’s Lackey (1951, 105 mins., VHS), Wolfgang Staudte

Tue Feb 6: discussion

Silberman, Marc. “Semper fidelis: Staudte’s The Subject (1951),” (reader)


Youth Films: Rebells without a Cause?

Thu Feb 8: Berlin Schoenhauser Corner (1957; 81 mins., VHS), Gerhard Klein

Tue Feb 13: discussion

Claus, Horst. “Rebels with a Cause: The Development of the Berlin Filme by Gerhard Klein and Wolfgang Kohlhaase.” In DEFA, 93-116.

Kohlhaase, Wolfgang. "DEFA: A Personal View." DEFA, 117-130. 


Forbidden Films: Antiheros

Thu Feb 15: Trace of Stones (1966, 133 mins., VHS), Frank Beyer

Tue Feb 20: discussion

Mushaben, Joyce Marie. “GDR Cinema De-/Reconstructed: An Introduction to the Forbidden Films,” (reader)

Ruoff Kramer, Karen. “Representations of Work in the Forbidden DEFA Films of 1965.” DEFA, 131-145.



Popular Films: Musicals &Western

Thu Feb 22: Hot Summer (1968, 91 mins., VHS), Joachim Hasler, discussion

Tue Feb 27: Apaches (1973, 90 mins., VHS), Gottfried Kolditz, discussion


Antifascist Films & Holocaust Memory

Thu Mar 1: I Was Nineteen (1968; 115 mins., VHS), Konrad Wolf


Tue Mar 6: discussion

Coulson, Anthony S. “Paths of Discovery: The Films of Konrad Wolf.” DEFA, 164-182.

Silbermann, Marc. "The Authenticity of Autobiography: Konrad Wolf’s I Was

Nineteen," (reader) 

Thu Mar 8: The Gleiwitz Case (1961, 60 mins., 16mm), Gerhard Klein, discussion

Byg, Barton. “Two Approaches to GDR History in DEFA Films,” (reader)




Tue Mar 20: Stars (1959, 92 mins., 16 mm), Konrad Wolf

Koch, Gertrud. “On the disappearance of the dead among the living: the Holocaust and the confusion of identities in the films of Konrad Wolf,” (reader) 

Thu Mar 22: Jacob the Liar (1974, 78 mins., 35 mm), Frank Beyer

Tue Mar 27: discussion of both films

Gilman, Sander. “Is Life Beautiful? Can the Shoah Be funny? Some Thoughts on Recent and Older Films,” (reader)


Cult Films: Love, Sex&Desire

Thu Mar 29: The Legend of Paul and Paula (1973, 106 mins.), Heiner Carow

Tue Apr 3: discussion

Leonhard, Sigrun O. “Testing the Borders: East German Film Between Individualism and Social Commitment,” (reader) 

Thu Apr 5: Solo Sunny (1980; 102 mins., 35 mm), Konrad Wolf

Tue Apr 10: discussion

Rinke, Andrea. “From Models to Misfits: Women in DEFA Films of the 1970's and 1980's.” DEFA, 183-203.


Underground Film: Subversion, Resistance, Retreat

Thu Apr 12: GDR Underground Films (1981-1989; 90 mins., VHS)


Tue Apr 17: discussion


Women’s Film: Female Spectators?

Thu Apr 19: Apprehension (1982; 81 mins., VHS), Lothar Warneke, script Helga Schubert

Tue Apr 24: discussion

Lischke McNab, Ute. “Interview: Women, Film, and Writing in the GDR: Helga Schubert and the DEFA” (reader)

Bahr, Gisela. “Film and Consciousness: The Depiction of Women in East German Movies” (reader)


Also on reserve for additional viewing: The Bicycle (1982; 89 mins. VHS), Evelyn Schmidt. See also: Fröhlich, Margrit. “Behind the Curtain of a State-Owned Film Industry: Women-Filmmakers at the DEFA,” (reader)


Documentary Film

Thu Apr 26: The Wall (1990; 99 mins., VHS), Jürgen Böttcher

Tue May 1: discussion and summary

Kilborn, Richard. ‘The Documentary Work of Jürgen Böttcher.” DEFA, 267-281.



Material on Reserve (Library for Modern Lang&Lit, 4th floor of Main library):



Bock, Hans-Michael. "East Germany: The DEFA Story." The Oxford History of World Cinema. Ed. Geoffery Nowell-Smith. Oxford: Oxford UP, 1996, 627-32.

Byg, Barton. "GDR Cinema: An Update." Monatshefte 85.3 (Fall 1993): 274.

- - -. "Generational Conflict and Historical Continuity in GDR Film." Framing the Past: The Historiography of German Cinema and Television. Bruce Murray and Christopher Wickham, eds. Carbondale/Edwardsville, IL: Southern Illinois UP, 1992, 197-219.

- - -. "Konrad Wolf: From Anti-Fascism to Gegenwartsfilm." Studies in GDR Culture and Society 5. Eds. Margy Gerber et al. Lanham, MD: University Press of America, 1985. 115-124.

- - -. "Study of GDR Cinema after 1989: Reflections and Prospects." GDR Bulletin 19.1 (Spring 1993) 1-4.  

Goulding, Daniel J., ed. Post New Wave Cinema in the Soviet Union and Eastern Europe. Bloomington: Indiana UP, 1989.

Liehm, Mira and Antonin J. Liehm. The Most Important Art: Soviet and Eastern Europe and Film After 1945. Berkeley, CA: University of California Press, 1977.

Linville, Susan E. Feminism, Film, Fascism: Women's Auto/biographical Film in Postwar Germany. Austin: University of Texas Press, 1998.

Murray, Bruce A., and Christopher J. Wickham, eds. Framing the Past: The Historiography of German Cinema and Television. Carbondale: Southern Illinois UP, 1992.

DEFA: East German cinema, 1946-1992 / edited by Seán Allan and John Sandford. New York: Berghahn Books, 1999.

Handbook of Soviet and East European films and filmmakers / edited by Thomas J. Slater. New York: Greenwood Press, 1992. IUC English Reference 791.430947 H191 c.1 Non Circulating

Vincendeau, Ginette, 1948- Encyclopedia of European cinema / edited by Ginette Vincendeau. New York, NY: Facts on File, c1995.

Elsässer, Thomas. The BFI Companion to German Film, 1999.

Silberman, Marc. "Remembering History: The Filmmaker Konrad Wolf." New German Critique 49 (Winter 1990): 163-87.

Fox, Thomas C. Stated memory: East Germany and the Holocaust / Thomas C. Fox. Rochester, NY: Camden House, 1999. (contains a chapter on literature and film)



Childs, David. The GDR: Moscow's German Ally. London: George Allen & Unwin, 1983.

The Columbia history of Eastern Europe in the twentieth century / edited by Joseph Held. New York: Columbia University Press, c1992.

German cultural studies: an introduction / edited by Rob Burns. Oxford; New York: Oxford University Press, 1995.

Herf, Jeffrey. Divided Memory: the Nazi past in the two Germanys. Cambridge, Mass.: Harvard University Press, 1997.

Encyclopedia of contemporary German culture / edited by John Sandford. London New York: Routledge, 1999. IUC Mod Lang Reference 943 En19 Non Circulating

Bathrick, David. The powers of speech: the politics of culture in the GDR / David Bathrick. Lincoln: University of Nebraska Press, c1995.



Bordwell, David. Film Art: An Introduction. 6th ed. McGraw-Hill

Gianetti, Louis D. Understanding movies / Louis Giannetti. 3rd ed. Englewood Cliffs, N.J.: Prentice-Hall, c1982.

Monaco, James. How to read a film: the art, technology, language, history, and theory of film and media / James Monaco; with 36 diagrs. by David Lindroth. New York. Oxford University Press, 1977.



Kahlschlag: das 11. Plenum des ZK der SED 1965: Studien und Dokumente / herausgegeben von Günter Agde; mit einem Beitrag von Wolfgang Engler]. Berlin: Aufbau Taschenbuch Verlag, 2000.

Staritz, Dietrich. Geschichte der DDR / Dietrich Staritz. Frankfurt am Main: Suhrkamp, 1996.

DDR-Handbuch, Vol. I und II.

Habel, F.-B. und Volker Wachter. Lexikon der DDR-Stars: Schauspieler aus Film und Fernsehen. Berlin: Schwarzkopf & Schwarzkopf, 1999.

Bliersbach, Gerhard. So grün war die Heide: der deutsche Nachkriegsfilm in neuer Sicht / Gerhard Bliersbach. Weinheim: Beltz, 1985.


Also available (talk to me):

Fritzsche, Karin, und Claus Löser. Gegenbilder: Filmische Subversion in der DDR 1976-1989. Texte, Bilder, Daten. Berlin: Janus Press, 1996.

Heinze, Dieter, und Ludwig Hoffmann, Ed. Konrad Wolf im Dialog. Künste und Politik. Berlin: Dietz, Schenk, Ralf, Ed. Regie: Frank Beyer. Berlin: Edition Heinrich, 1995.

Schwarzweiss und Farbe: DEFA-Dokumentarfilme 1946-92 / Günter Jordan, Ralf Schenk (Red.) mit Beiträgen von Günter Jordan ... [et al.]; herausgegeben vom Filmmuseum Potsdam. Berlin: Filmmuseum Potsdam & Jovis, 1996.

Schenk, Ralf, Ed. Das zweite Leben der Filmstadt Babelsberg. DEFA-Spielfilme 1946-1992. Berlin: Henschel; Potsdam: Filmmuseum Potsdam, 1994.

Zwischen Bluejeans und Blauhemden: Jugendfilm in Ost und West / herausgegeben von Ingelore König, Dieter Wiedemann und Lothar Wolf. Berlin: Henschel, 1995.

Grob, Norbert, und Helma Schleif, Ed. Das Jahr 1945 und das Kino. Berlin: Stiftung Deutsche Kinemathek.

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