- Berlin Replayed: Cinema and Urban Nostalgia in the Postwall Era by Brigitta B. Wagner
When one pictures berlin, certain images easily come to mind: the Brandenburg Gate, Potsdamer Platz, the Television Tower, and the Berlin Wall. Few cities have histories so layered and significant, or as mediated. And the growth and shifts of Berlin in recent decades parallel shifts in film and media: 1989 witnessed a monumental political sea change as the wall, a symbol and reality of a divided Germany, came down. The same year also saw a spate of films by fresh, largely independent filmmaking talent unexpectedly sweep the Sundance and Cannes film festivals, altering the industry landscape. The new millennium approached, and the old ways were abandoned. In Berlin Replayed, film historian and filmmaker Brigitta B. Wagner has provided a comprehensive look at the ever-changing city and the role mediated images play in the collective imagination of a sharply divided past, with particular attention paid to the time leading up to the Wende, or fall of the wall, and its aftermath.
Berlin Replayed thoroughly examines space and place in Berlin films in four nuanced chapters: "Remake," "Generation," "Virtuality," and "Orientation." Wagner's extensive research and deep knowledge of the subject matter offer many rewards within the case studies and footnotes, such as assessments of lesser-known commercial and experimental works, which are given equal consideration. The work benefits from Wagner's position as both creator and historian—the author is a member of the filmmaking collective WOLF Kino and has exhibited her own films internationally. This dual experience brings a nuance to the films she analyzes: Walter Ruttman's Berlin—Die Sinfonie der Großstadt (Symphony of a Great City, 1927); four Cold War films of the 1950s from both sides of the wall; Der Himmel über Berlin (Wings of Desire, Wim Wenders, 1987); and turn-of-the-millennium films Lola Rennt (Run Lola Run, Tom Tykwer, 1998) and Good Bye, Lenin! (Wolfgang Becker, 2003). Through this deliberate selection of films from multiple eras, Berlin Replayed details the shifting and often politically motivated use of Berlin in cinema. Moving into the twenty-first century, the insightful historian also addresses the means through which [End Page 73] new media and social media tools, such as spatial prediction software, geotagging, and place-based keywords, have altered users' relationships with digital landscapes.
Competing histories collide in German films, with many Germans struggling to memorialize their own experience nationally and personally. A widespread preference emerged to recall the Weimar era of a unified past rather than the Third Reich history; Wagner shows that this national preference has led to an archival overemphasis on Ruttman's day-in-the-life-of-a-city film, Die Sinfonie. In both East and West Germany, there was a cultural struggle: What to do with the country's spatial and filmic memories in light of the nation's complicated history? Wagner takes care in exploring a past that included both early, groundbreaking experiments in cinema and legacies of propaganda and state violence that must be acknowledged.
Berlin Replayed offers insights into the incomplete schism between East and West Berlin with a close study of the prewall period. In addition to the section covering the production history of Wings of Desire, the section of the book on the mediated border crossing and ideological competition between East and West in the 1950s was especially fascinating. The creative rivalry was on display in the films of Austrian filmmakers Georg Tressler and Will Tremper, who worked in West Germany, and Gerhard Klein and Wolfgang Kohlhaase, some of the primary DEFA filmmakers working in East Germany. Inspired by US films and stars such as Marlon Brando and James Dean, postwar German filmmakers attempted to integrate both Italian neorealism and youth rebellion through gang violence, frequent border crossing, and, more subtly, rebellion against the established order. Through films such as Berlin—Ecke Schönhauser (Schönhauser Corner, Gerhard Klein, 1957) and Die Halbstarken (literally meaning "half-strongs" but known as Teenage Wolfpack, Georg...