Years ago my aunt sent me a DVD that was a timely recording of the Berlin Wall as it stood in roughly late 1989 / early 1990, still snaking through alleys, forests, streets, and beaches, but punctured at various points to enable free passage or citizens between two halves of a country that had been kept apart for almost 30 years.
The filmmakers of Mauerflug / Flight Over the Berlin Wall (2005) had rented a Soviet-era helicopter and filmed the wall’s entire length, documenting the insanity of walling up a self-built country that could still hear things and see images from the west but never visit.
There’s a point where the copter flies low over a part of Berlin, and people piled onto a building’s disintegrating rooftop wave at the camera crew, presumably elated the restrictions imposed during their lifetime were being dismantled, and like the wall, would disappear and enable two halves of a country to rejoin and obliterate their grim separation.
Petra Epperlein and Michael Tucker’s Karl Marx City (2016) tells one of many stories in which the sudden death of a family member forces a deep search of facts to not only explain a suicide, but suspicions of father, mother, brother, or sister aiding a state’s secret service department which spied on virtually every citizen.
Epperlein’s mother initially describes the GDR as being not as bad as people make it out to be – you had to be pragmatic to survive, hence find ways to cope and live a small, unobtrusive life that didn’t draw attention and allowed one to build a family and a safe home where one could step away from the madness and just live – but little by little, darker facts emerge, many corroborated by extracts from surviving files, images, and sounds of the massive surveillance program maintained by the GDR’s spy agency, the much-reviled STASI.
Karl Marx City is screening this month at the Hot Docs Ted Rogers Theatre, and is worth catching on the big screen for the stark B&W cinematography that helps tell a chapter of history which remains painfully active for many former East Germans.
Mark R. Hasan, Editor
Category: EDITOR'S BLOG