Saturday, August 17, 2013

Cold War In Film: One Strong, One Weak

Last Tuesday was the 52nd anniversary of the construction of the Berlin Wall. On the morning of August 13, 1961, East Berliners woke to find soldiers had blocked off the streets, cut off rail links, and begun building a wall. The city's division followed that of Germany as millions of people in the east were isolated. Over the course of the next 27 years, between 600-700 people died (no exact number is known) trying to flee from East Germany before the Wall eventually fell in 1989.

The Berlin Wall stood as a symbol of Communism and the Cold War and also as a reminder of the potential for nuclear holocaust. In the 1960's, the Cold War became a popular movie theme. There were a few good ones, but most were mediocre.

I was a little surprised to discover that Alfred Hitchcock had made one of the weak ones, Torn Curtain. An American scientist (Paul Newman) defects to East Germany to obtain information about an anti-ballistic missile program. The movie is formulaic and full of implausibility. In the early 1960's, Hitchcock's was on a roll. His three previous movies Psycho (1960), The Birds (1963), and Marnie (1964) were inventive and suspenseful stories that pressed the limits of censorship. However, Torn Curtainis a predicable spy caper that falls flat. There are a few good scenes, but overall, the movie is a failure.

By contrast, Martin Ritt's, The Spy Who Came in from the Cold is a classic. It's about a British agent that is sent to East Germany to plant disinformation. Filmed in black and white, and starring Richard Burton (one of his few restrained performances), Claire Bloom, and Oskar Werner, The Spy Who Came in from the Cold is an unflinching look at the spy business. There are no good guys in this movie, just wretched characters engaged in a ruthless occupation. Ritt's economical use of dialogue, subdued cinematography, and somber set decoration makes for an intense drama that still holds up.

Movie Trivia: The movie's first scene at Checkpoint Charlie was filmed on a studio set in Ireland. It bears little resemblance to the street (Friedrichsstraße) where where Checkpoint Charlie actually stands.

Thursday, August 8, 2013

Memorial to Operation Valkyrie

von Stauffenberg
On July 20th, Germany observed the 69th anniversary of the most famous assassination attempt on Hitler. The plot known as Operation Valkyrie was organized and carried out by German military officers, the most well-known being Claus Schenk Graf von Stauffenberg. (The event is depicted in a somewhat realistic movie starring Tom Cruise). Today, Stauffenberg is seen as symbol of courage and freedom.    

Floral Bouquets decorate the
Memorial to German Resistance courtyard on
the anniversary of the July 20th assassination attempt
If the July 20th plot had been successful, Germany would have surrendered earlier and thousands of lives spared. As it was, Hitler's policy of total war resulted in the ultimate destruction and division of Germany. Visitors can visit the Memorial to German Resistance and see the location where Stauffenberg and other members of the assassination plot were executed.

Sunday, August 4, 2013

Public Art as Political Message

Monuments to Gorbachev, Bush, and Kohl
"United Enemies"
Thomas Schütte
Courtyard of the Berggruen Museum
Ravaged by two world wars and divided during the cold war, Berlin's public art is a 20th century lesson in political science. Here are a few examples.  

Located on Leipzigerstr., this mural adorns
the former Reich Ministry of
Aviation. Built in 1935/36, the building
is a great example of Fascist architecture.
The mural was added in 1950 and
depicts the "ideal" socialist state under the DDR. 

Reflecting the ideals
of the DDR, this
mural is located near Alexanderplatz
Statute Willy Brandt.
Located at the Headquarters of
Social Democratic Party in Berlin
"Tindaro" 1997
Igor Mitoraj
Located at the Foreign Ministry

My Apartment is a Celebrity

Street View
You never know what's outside your front door. A few days ago, I was eating lunch on the balcony and was distracted by some odd noises coming from the street. Loud noise is not uncommon in the neighborhood. If it's not rumbling street cars, loud trucks, boisterous drunks, or screeching babies, it's something. This time, the noise was a "good noise." It turns out that a film crew was shooting a scene in front of one of our apartment storefronts. 
View From Balcony

Saturday, August 3, 2013

The Nazis and the Press

The Topography of Terror Documentation Center is currently showing an exhibition entitled Zwischen den Zeilen? Zeitungspresse als NS-Machtinstrument (Between the Lines? The Press as an Instrument of Nazi Power). Using actual photographs, newspapers, posters, and magazines, the exhibition illustrates the power of the press in manipulating public perception. The Nazis recognized the power of the press and quickly made it an arm of government. By disseminating propaganda as news and censoring critical information, the Nazis became masters at promoting their own agenda.

Nazi propaganda was used to create unanimous support for the Nazi regime. It focused on aggrandizing Hitler's image, dehumanizing enemies of the Reich (namely Jews, Gypsies, Eastern Europeans), and establishing the superiority of the German race. Instead of being an independent voice, the press bolstered the Nazi regime and helped justify the purge of Jews from Germany. 

Friday, August 2, 2013

Berlin's International Beer Festival 2013

Setting-up Before
the Official Opening
Berlin's International Beer Festival is taking place this weekend (August 2nd-4th, 2013) in Friedrichshain. About 320 breweries from 86 countries will present more than 2,000 beer specialties. The festival claims to be the longest Beer Garden in the world, and it's free. Festival organizers are anticipating 800,000 visitors
Beer Stands
Line Karl-Marx-Allee

The mile-long event will be held along Karl-Marx-Allee between Strausberger Platz and Frankfurter Tor. Luckily, I live a few minutes away by foot and can sample without the need for a designated driver.  
Food is also on the Menu
Including Horse

Thursday, August 1, 2013

Smoker Evicted From His Apartment

In a victory for the right to breath fresh air, a Düsseldorf court has ordered a heavy smoker to vacate his apartment after tenant complaints that the unhealthy air emanating from his dwelling poses a serious health risk. Friedhelm Adolfs had lived in his home for 40 years, but no more.

The Düsseldorf court found that Aldofs had unreasonably harassed his neighbors with smoke. Instead of venting his apartment through the windows, he had closed the blinds and let the stench flow into the stairwell.