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History of German Cinema

Marlene Dietrich: Film diva
Countless books have been written about the legendary German film star, Marlene Dietrich who was born and brought up in Berlin and went on to become a legend in her own lifetime. Even today she still enjoys an enthusiastic following.Her breakthrough was the film Der blaue Engel (1930) in which she sang the famous song “Ich bin von Kopf bis Fuß auf Liebe eingestellt”.In 1930 she emigrated to Hollywood, stating that she would never return to her home city. It was only after her death that her body was brought back to Berlin where she is now buried. She loved Germany, but hated the Nazis which explains why she often performed for the American Army during the Second World War – something many Germans held against her.
A large part of the Berlin Film Museum is dedicated to Marlene Dietrich where many of the diva’s costumes and accessories are on permanent display. Her somewhat controversial lifestyle attracted almost as much interest as her films: She loved wearing men’s clothes and had affairs with both men and women.

Leni Riefenstahl and the Nazis
Leni Riefenstahl is without doubt one of the most controversial film makers in the history of German cinema. She started her career as a dancer and actress and later achieved fame as one of the favourite directors of Adolf Hitler and the Nazi party. Her most famous film is Triumph of the Will (1935), a documentary propaganda film in which she used ground-breaking techniques to film the National Socialist Party congress in Nuremberg. Her film Olympia (1938) about the 1936 Berlin Olympics is a controversial masterpiece. The film uses highly unusual camera movements and angles which had not been seen before.
The collection at the Berlin Film Museum contains a model of the Olympic Stadium in Berlin, pointing out the various positions where Leni Riefenstahl filmed from. Today the stadium is a football ground with public access.

Rainer Werner Fassbinder and the New German Cinema
Whilst in Italy (Neorealism) and France (Nouvelle Vague) cinema started to flourish not long after the end of the Second World War, it was not until the 1960/1970s that there was a similar revival in Germany which came to be known as New German Cinema. This period in contemporary German history is characterised by a political and social reaction to the established order, finding expression in organisations such as the Rote Armee Fraktion (RAF) which was not afraid to use violence to achieve its aims. This social reality stands at the core of films made by independent film makers such as Volker Schlöndorff, Werner Herzog, Wim Wenders and Rainer Werner Fassbinder (died 1982 aged 37), who enjoyed the reputation of being the enfant terrible of post war German cinema.
Fassbinder’s confrontational films - of which Die Ehe der Maria Braun (1970) is generally considered to be his finest – show a German society struggling with its identity, still trying to come to terms with the war. Wim Wenders’ famous film Himmel über Berlin (1987) shows us a city divided by fears and worries, a city dreaming of a better future.


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