Printer Friendly

Postwar tales of two cities: rubble films from Berlin and Munich.

The years immediately following World War II saw a resumption of motion picture production in Germany that inevitably was determined by the prevailing conditions of the new peace. The glory days of the Nazi propaganda machine were over and UFI, the state sponsored production organization, had been dissolved. Film production was now to be overseen by the occupying allied forces, and the ruins of the urban centers of film production, primarily Berlin and Munich, were the reality from which film productions emerged. The rubble film (Triimmerfilm) became the characteristic product of the era. The rubble film typically uses the destroyed cityscape not only as setting, but also as metaphor for the human condition, atmospheric determiner, element of emplotment, and starting point for both memory processing and projection of future visions. (1) The rubble is simultaneously the signifier of the worst of times and the visualized hinge on which the door from the past to the future swings. (2)

At the center of this investigation are two rubble films, one from Berlin and one from Munich, with particular reference to the specifics of their regional genesis. By combining three broad contexts not previously considered together, this analysis demonstrates that the Berlin of 1946 and the Munich of 1947 leave their mark on these films in significant ways. The study draws upon the background history of Berlin and Munich as the capitals of Prussia and Bavaria, aesthetic traditions of German literature and art, and the respective cultural policies of the postwar occupying powers, the Soviet Union and the United States. (3) These contexts enable a set of clear and systemic contrasts to be identified between the 1946 Berlin film The Murderers are among Us (Die Morder sind unter uns) and the 1947 Munich film Between Yesterday and Tomorrow (Zwischen gestern und morgen), as documents of the quotidian realities in the urban rubble of 1946-47 Germany and as vehicles of the cinematic strategies for remembering the recent past and projecting a future. (4)

Previous scholarship discusses these two films as products of the Trummerfilm genre and in their relationship to past and future developments in German film history. However, no attempt has been made to compare them on the basis of specific conditions obtaining in their cities of origin. (5) To the extent that they have been compared at all, The Murderers are among Us is valued more highly as a work that sets an appropriate tone for the German cinema of the postwar future. As a consequence, it has received more scholarly attention (Shandley, Kaes, Galli). Indeed, value judgments about what a German film of the immediate postwar years ought to be and do dominate the literature (e.g. Greffrath 67). Where the films are compared, they are considered as gendered products of a gendered culture emerging from a transitional cinema (Carter 98-109, Fisher [2005]), as artifacts determined by an East-West rather than a North-South divide (Horbrugger 46), or as projects that share a preoccupation with memory and its relevance in the present, but that contrast in their deployment of the flashback and its signification (Fisher [2006]).

Generations raised in the postwar era are conditioned to think of Germany in terms of East and West. The historical reality of the nation remains far more complex, however, and the North-South axis plays a more significant long term role. This division is reflected in the linguistic distinctions between Low, Central, and High German dialect regions, as well as in the general religious and philosophical differences between the protestant north and the Catholic south. The prewar history of Berlin and Munich is marked by the tensions inherent in the politics and dynastic rivalries of two major players in the German-speaking world. The Electorate of Brandenburg, later the kingdom of Prussia, under the Hohenzollem dynasty, had its capital in Berlin. In the 18th century, the city was known as a center of religious tolerance and Enlightenment thinking with Jewish, Protestant, and French Huguenot intellectuals and citizens taking an active part in philosophical, scientific, literary, and civic life. Prussia rose from among the agglomeration of small territories, duchies, principalities, and kingdoms that, until 1806, comprised the Holy Roman Empire of the German Nation to dominate the second Reich after the Franco-Prussian War and unification of Germany in 1871. The German Kaisers Wilhelm I and II belonged to this dynasty. In popular consciousness the term "Prussian" came to connote rigorous discipline, military precision, and, in spite of the storied wit and irreverence of the Berliners themselves, a serious-minded approach to living.

By contrast, Bavaria, ruled for eight centuries (until 1918) by the Wittelsbachs, has always looked south across the Alps to Austria and Italy and maintained a strong Roman Catholic tradition. Bavaria's prominent scientists, philosophers, and literary luminaries have typically come to Bavaria from elsewhere. Bavarian military alliances were often made with enemies of Prussia (such as Austria in the Seven Years War and in the Austro-Prussian War, and with Napoleon in the early phases of his campaign) and outcomes rarely favored the Bavarian army. Bavaria was also the early breeding ground for National Socialist ideology, and Munich was dubbed "Capital of the Movement" by Adolf Hitler. Berliners view National Socialism as an import from the south. Bavaria made up the bulk of the U.S. Occupation Zone following World War II. Berlin was divided into four sectors, each under the control of one of the victorious allied powers (France, Great Britain, USA, and the USSR). In the decades following World War II, with Berlin located behind the Iron Curtain and surrounded by the territory of the Soviet Occupation Zone (later the German Democratic Republic) and West Berlin physically isolated from West Germany, Munich emerged as the "secret capital of Germany," a cultural and economic hub far in advance of Bonn, the official capital of the Federal Republic. The typical visitor to Munich lauds the warmth and joie de vivre of the Bavarians, and the penchant for celebrating festivals as they come around is balanced by industriousness and thriving industrial, manufacturing, and agricultural sectors.

The Murderers are among Us was the first film made in Germany after the cessation of hostilities. Released in October 1946, it had been granted a license by the Soviets after the authorities in the French and American occupation zones had not approved the project. (6) The film begins with a title card stating "Berlin 1945. The city has capitulated," thus location, time, and historical context are clearly established. The date and context are reinforced by references throughout the plot, but the setting is not. No Berlin landmarks appear, no Berlin dialect is heard, no reference to specifics of Berlin's urban geography or culture is made (with the possible exception of an organ-grinder late in the film). This could be any German city. But the writer-director Wolfgang Staudte decided to tell us it is the old capital of Germany. (7)

The opening minutes of The Murderers are among Us show us improvised graves among the rubbled city's ruins; a man in civilian clothes walks toward the camera. Children run around him, others play in the dirt. The image is tilted; the music track is incongruously cheerful, bar-room piano music. The times are out of joint. The music changes as the shot fades to an overloaded train arriving at a station. Again the camera is tilted; girders and debris enter the shot. Among the crowd of exiting passengers, a young woman walks toward us-clean, pretty, radiant, exceptional. This, we later learn, is Susanne Wallner, who has just been released from a concentration camp where she had been held for three years because of some unexplained activities of her father. "Das schone Deutschland," proclaimed by the poster that hangs askew on the ruined wall, makes an ironic comment when the film cuts to the towering ruins of immediate reality.

Following its opening credits, the second film also begins with a train. Between Yesterday and Tomorrow, directed by Harald Braun, premiered in 1947 (December 11) and features the rubble of Munich. The first image is of a revolving door, empty of people, turning slowly as the film's title fades in. We are informed on screen, in the print font of the other credits, that the film was made at Munich-Geiselgasteig studios under license number OMG/JC/FP/7/Braun-Geis of the Information Control Division of the American Military Government for Germany. The revolving door continues to turn, people pass through and the names of the film's stars and production team appear in capital letters diagonally across the screen. At the conclusion of the credit sequence a steam locomotive pulls into a station platform toward the camera and stops. The roof of the station consists only of girders; damaged brickwork is visible as the camera pans right to the handwritten message on the platform's chalk board announcing the arrival of the train from Basel, Switzerland, via Karlsruhe, in Munich at 7:30 p.m. Cut to the station exterior. The bomb-scarred arches of the station entrance are viewed from chest level as a bustle of people moves in all directions onto the street. A slow fade transitions to a close-up of shoes and trouser cuffs of a man in a winter coat carrying two suitcases along a brick paved street. Quiet, slow music accompanies the image as the man stops, and we see in a low-angle shot his coat, tie, scarf, and clean shaven face under a stylish hat. This is a well-dressed, tidy individual, out of place in the disorder of the ruined city. The scene cuts to a square shot of the facade of a bombed out building, whose shell is evidently in the man's gaze. The camera pans left to fill the screen with the preserved towers, dome, and facade of the landmark Theatiner Church, which, as viewers who know Munich are aware, stands adjacent to the Field Marshall's Hall (Feldherrnhalle), where Hitler had tried to rally his supporters during the failed Beer Hall Putsch of November 1923. The camera avoids the Field Marshall's Hall. Instead, the scene cuts to a view of the back of the man (whom we will later learn is the protagonist, Michael Rott) in his coat and hat, as he gazes at the twin towers of the other iconic symbol of Munich's Catholicism, the Church of Our Lady {Frauenkirche). The view of Rott from behind observing the ruined city will become a visual leitmotif in Braun's film. As he moves away, a woman and young boy push a hand cart laden with firewood along the street in front of piles of rubble, the church towers rising above the sea of broken bricks behind them. The atmosphere created by the music, the pace of camera movement, and editing is melancholy, and reinforcing the viewer's perception of the mood of the returning traveler, whose point of view we are guided to share by the cinematography.

In this case the city is clearly identified by sign boards and landmark buildings--the baroque Theatinerkirche, the gothic Church of Our Lady, the statuary of the Wittelsbach Fountain on Lenbachplatz, and the ruined Hotel Palast Regina on Maximiliansplatz, which will be the central location for the events of the film's narrative. Later, we see the tower of St. Salvator's Church and the arches of the Ludwig-Maximilians-Universitat. Here too the physical context of rubble is established in no uncertain terms. In spite of the landmarks, cultural markers of Munich are almost entirely absent: only a few syllables of Munich dialect (indeed, some hotel employees speak with clearly Swabian accents), only very occasional glimpses of traditional Bavarian dress, no local cuisine, functioning institutions (e.g. beer halls), or behavior. (8)

The two titles state programmatically the films' preoccupation with memory and continuity, and though the titles have differing grammatical structure, their meaning is congruent. The past is unequivocally aligned with the present. Between yesterday and tomorrow the murderers of the past are among us. The parallel structure of the openings of the two films is similarly unmistakable. Both utilize the motif of the individual coming home after an extended time away (Heimkehrer). The fact that both films make use of this topos does not imply intentional reference by Braun to Staudte's film. As Elena Agazzi and Erhard Schiitz's recent volume demonstrates, the returning soldier/expellee/prisoner of war/emigrant is a staple of literature and the arts in postwar Germany. Braun's and Staudte's protagonists are returning from some kind of exile to a ruined place of belonging. In fact, the two films share many cinematic elements, some very predictable, some less so. In both films we find the black market and Lucky Strike economy, undelivered letters, graphic artists as protagonists, characters in places of light or even bawdy entertainment, incidental physical objects that link narrative past to narrative present, the difficulty of people returning home to find acceptance among those who stayed, romantic love, the past as determiner of the present and future, persistence of memory, themes of optimism, humanity, and family. Both films use flashbacks, an atmospheric (even melodramatic) musical score, conspicuous elements borrowed from German cinematic history (shadows and camera angles from expressionist film of the 1920s in The Murderers are among Us; stars and humor from glamorous escapist films of the 1930s in Between Yesterday and Tomorrow, not to mention the revolving door motif from Murnau's 1924 hotel film The Last Laugh [Der letzte Mann]).

The two films also share silences. Both avoid mention of occupying forces or the agents of destruction in the two cities. We are left, to borrow a phrase from Wilfried Wilms, with "rubble without a cause." There is an air-raid sequence in Between Yesterday and Tomorrow, but whose bombers are responsible is left unspoken. (9) Of course, the contemporary audience could fill in this blank without difficulty, but the licensing authorities nevertheless forbade the naming of names. Similarly, we see almost no military vehicles on the streets of Berlin and Munich. And where we do, they bear no insignias or military symbols. The only hint of occupying forces is a sign in English that appears on the side of a Munich tram in Between Yesterday and Tomorrow warning motorists to stop and allow passengers to board and exit the streetcar.

Of this phenomenon Robert R. Shandley has written: "The first German films following World War II were moral events. They were serious, pedantic, and anchored in the depressing psychological and material reality of Germany's absolute defeat. They bespoke the Allies' stated wishes that German films should address the gravity of the country's mistakes over the twelve years of Nazism and should reject all forms of militarism and national pride" (24).

So where are the differences? And why do they matter for an assessment of Munich and Berlin as centers of a reemerging German film culture? One striking contrast goes back to a distinction made by German dramatist Friedrich Schiller in 1795-6. His three part essay "On Naive and Sentimental Poetry" ("Uber naive und sentimentalische Dichtung") describes the "naive" poet as a writer who is at one with nature and proceeds from the specifics of a situation or story (character, plot); out of the specifics, general truths emerge. The "sentimental" poet, on the other hand,--and this is a very special sense of "sentimental"--begins with an idea, a general principle, and seeks the narrative vehicle that will convey the idea in an aesthetic construct. Schiller counted himself in the latter ("sentimentalisch") camp and his collaborator Goethe among the former (the "naive"). The Murderers are among Us is "sentimentalisch," that is to say it appears to evolve from an abstract idea, and the characters seem to exist in order to convey these ideas to the audience. As a consequence, we are told no more than we need to know for the ideological message to come across. We do not learn the backstories for minor or even some major characters. Why was Susanne in the concentration camp? Which camp? What did she experience there? Where does Mertens, the man we saw in the opening clip, come from? Where is his home? What is his background, besides being a doctor? Staudte starts with the general idea, a lesson that he wants to share, and then creates a story to fit it. (10)

What is the story of The Murderers are among Us! In short, doctor returns from war deployment psychologically damaged by his experience of witnessing atrocity, meets wholesome German female who brings order and a moral compass to his personal psychological rubble. She prevents him from carrying out retribution on his former military officer, who had ordered a Christmas Eve massacre in 1942, instead healing Mertens by letting him be the accuser, not the executioner, and allowing justice take its course. The action takes place for the most part in a private sphere and has the feel of a tightly contained domestic plot. Shandley has likened The Murderers are among Us to an amalgam of a domestic melodrama and a Western (male protagonist with a dark history enters lawless town and finds redemption and order with the help of female companion--the shootout was forbidden by the Soviet cultural authorities, 26).

Between Yesterday and Tomorrow, on the other hand, which I view as "naive" in Schiller's sense, has a more complex plot, takes pleasure in its twists and turns, explores more of the background of its characters, and seems more organically whole. Jennifer Fay has noted something similar in the way the film--through its characters --relates to the city of Munich: "... this is not the abstracting view of an erased city from afar; it is a vision and space that is particularized, personalized, and historically grounded" (131). Less concerned with its lessons, the film lives from its characters, their lives, and the detective story plot. It is true, it revolves around a somewhat contrived MacGuffin, as Hitchcock called the object upon which a plot depends but whose inherent characteristics are more or less irrelevant. Nevertheless, it takes an interest in its human beings and shares more than minimal information about them. It has something of the film noir, and also belongs to the "hotel film" genre; as such, it takes place in a more public space, even though it is very much about private destinies. The general emerges from these specifics in Between Yesterday and Tomorrow. Unlike The Murderers are among Us, this film seems designed more to entertain than to instruct, though instruction is by no means absent from its agenda.

When the protagonist, Michael Rott, returns from Switzerland to Munich by train, he goes to the Hotel Palast Regina, where he had stayed in 1938. He is evidently not originally from Munich. The hotel is now a shell of its former self, the lobby is destroyed, but it is still functioning as a hotel.

"The front entrance is now in the back," we are told, underscoring the disrupted order of things. He makes the acquaintance of Katharina (Kat), a girlish young woman who is digging in the hotel rubble. Like Susanne Wallner in The Murderers are among Us, Kat is played by Hildegard Knef, the iconic actress of Germany's new beginning. (11)

It was in this hotel in 1938 that Rott had fallen in love with the beautiful Annette. His hopes of finding her again steadily diminish until he suddenly sees her walking to the ruined hotel. She has meanwhile married Ebeling, the hotel manager. Rott in turn gradually develops a fondness for Kat. Through flashbacks we learn that Rott had to leave Germany in 1938 because he was being pursued by the Gestapo for having insulted a government minister (by drawing a satirical sketch of him) and being suspected of complicity in a violation of the Nuremberg Laws that forbade Jews from staying in a hotel like the Regina Palast. Others also suspected him of absconding with a valuable necklace that had been entrusted to him by Nelly Dreyfuss, a Jewish filmstar whose professional life had been terminated by Nazi cultural policy. In the 1947 narrative frame, Kat helps Rott clear his name by producing the jewelry, which in turn had been entrusted to her and which she, without knowing its full history, was about to sell on the black market. By the time the truth is uncovered at the film's end, the spectator has been exposed to a tangle of intertwined lives and a range of era-specific themes. In the 1938 time frame, Nelly Dreyfuss, the persecuted Jew forced to lead a life of poverty in a mountain village, has returned to the hotel where she hopes to meet her former husband, actor Alexander Corty. (12) She wants one last day of glamour and seems to anticipate her own death, perhaps intending suicide. Her necklace is exchanged and negotiated as the instrumental nexus of the plot. It passes from Dreyfuss to Rott to Corty to Kat to the rubble, then back to Kat, who as the embodiment of the new Germany about to rise from the rubble, inherits this emblem of survival that has been conveyed from its Jewish origin to its postwar German afterlife. Mistrust, suspicion, and mystery; a Nazi functionary, shadowy Gestapo men, artists, actors, theatrical agents, hotel personnel; romantic love (in four relationships); specific locations in the hotel that acquire characteristics of personality; temporal incisions at 1938, 1944, and 1947, linked by objects, persons, places, and memory; resignation and retrospection contrasted with optimism and prospection--all of these elements populate a complex narrative that sustains interest as entertainment while simultaneously respecting its milieu. Like The Murderers are among Us, the film does not say who made the rubble, who fought and defeated Germany, what the holocaust was, where the guilt lies, or what National Socialism/ Fascism is. Visual signifiers of the Third Reich are almost entirely absent. All agents of the war and its aftermath remain anonymous.

By 1947 it is possible for Braun to broach some issues that in Staudte's 1946 film were still off limits. For instance, a sketch by Michael Rott (drawn in the 1938 time frame) includes a caricature of Hitler with mustache and hair over the forehead. Also, Between Yesterday and Tomorrow has the Nazi functionary wearing a party lapel pin, but only the general eagle shape, not the swastika or other Nazi details, are shown. This omission, of course, was mostly a result of allied cultural policy, but cultural policy is dynamic: between 1945 and 1947 the notion of collective guilt recedes as the Western occupiers stress increasingly the role of individual war criminals, while at the same time in the East the blame is placed on the capitalist West as the cradle of fascisms past and to come.

Cultural policy in the occupation zones of Germany predates the cessation of World War II hostilities. Law 191 of November 24, 1944, issued in the name of the Supreme Commander of the Military Government, stated that the production, publication, distribution, sale, commercial rental, and showing of motion pictures of all kinds, as well as the activity of movie theaters, film studios, film laboratories, and distribution organizations would be banned immediately after the law was declared operative. The law, with some modifications, took effect on May 12, 1945, and was in effect in the western occupation zones when these were created on June 5, 1945 (Pleyer 19-20). At the time they took effect, the regulations were eased to permit German film professionals and technicians to make, distribute, and show films once they had been determined to be politically and ideologically unobjectionable to the occupation forces and had been granted the necessary license. Gradually, the insistence of the western allies on the collective responsibility and guilt of the German population for the atrocities and the destruction brought about by the Third Reich diminished in intensity, as the need for German cooperation in confronting the new enemy, the Soviet Union and the Eastern Bloc, became clear. Nevertheless, as late as April 1947 the U.S. Information Control Division, which oversaw the work of the Film Control Branch, issued Military Government Regulations stating: "Information Control will provide the Germans with information, which will influence (Change 3 = enable) them to understand and accept the United States program of occupation, and to establish for themselves a stable, peaceful, and acceptable government. Such information will impress upon the Germans the totality of their military defeat, the impossibility of rearmament, the responsibility of the individual German for war and atrocities, the disastrous effects of the structure and system of National Socialism on Germany and on the world, and the possibility that through work and cooperation Germany may again be accepted in the family of nations" (quoted in Pleyer 25). The editorial amendment changing "influence" to "enable" reflects a softening of attitude that is congruent with the shift from the occupiers' goal of "reeducation" toward "reorientation" noted by Bettina Greffrath (66-7). This policy position translated into explicit regulations governing the showing of German films that had been made during the Third Reich when this became permissible again. These regulations may be understood also as indicative of the mindset governing new postwar film projects. Films could not be exhibited that celebrated Nazi ideology, fascism, or racial difference, glorified war or militarism, falsified German history, glorified the Wehrmacht, promoted contempt for the Allies, their governments, or political leaders, advocated German revenge, ridiculed or criticized religious sentiment or ritual, or idealized thoughts or actions of imperialistic German political leaders. In addition, the ban extended to films whose creators were Nazi Party members, to include writers, producers, directors, production managers, actors, composers, or arrangers (Pleyer 25-6). (13)

The change of position by U.S. occupation officials was formulated when the more punitive directive JCS 1067 was replaced by JCS 1779 in July 1947. JCS 1067 had been issued to Gen. Eisenhower in May 1945 by the Joint Chiefs of Staff and ordered that the occupation "take no steps looking toward the economic rehabilitation of Germany [or] designed to maintain or strengthen the German economy." JCS 1779, by contrast, stressed that "an orderly, prosperous Europe requires the economic contributions of a stable and productive Germany." Thus the banning of German film production (Law 191 and JCS 1067), followed by the strict licensing of filmmakers and their technicians (May 12, 1945), yielded eventually in the U.S. occupation zone to American supervision and material support (JCS 1779), without the requirement of licensing after the summer of 1949 (cf. Schwab 64). (14)

The proscription of film content on the basis of ideology, images, militarism, or historical distortion, meant that the use of narrative devices such as the flashback became particularly problematic in postwar films. How could one convincingly stage a flashback to the Nazi era without invoking the iconography and imagery of that period? Between Yesterday and Tomorrow makes creative use of four flashbacks to tell its temporally complex tale. In all, fifty-eight minutes of the total running time of 103 minutes are narrated in flashback. About fifty minutes are set in 1938, as Rott tells his version of events and Ebeling, the hotel manager and Rott's romantic rival, tells his; the remaining eight minutes are set in 1944, as Kat reveals how Corty entrusted the necklace to her before his own suicide in the bombing raid (presumably April 25, Fisher [2006] 342) that brought down most of the hotel. The flashbacks overlap in complex ways reflecting distinct points of view, but also intersect through places that change their appearance and recurring objects and motifs (the necklace, people using fire escapes, the revolving door and presence of flowers, the wiping of noses). The transitions into and out of flashbacks are always clear and marked by lines of dialogue, musical cues (glissando), and visual dissolves. The exit from each flashback always matches exactly the point of entry, so that each is a perfect parenthesis of individual memory. The lines between yesterday, today, and tomorrow are clearly drawn, but they are porous and the continuities are not ignored. The past is present in the today, and vice versa (Nau). The myth of a "zero hour" (Stunde Null) is already called into question.

Staudte's film is particularly cautious about pushing psychological buttons in his audience by means of visual imagery. Mertens experiences three mental flashbacks in The Murderers are among Us. The first is shown only in its effects on Mertens as he collapses, is hospitalized, recovers his senses, and speaks words he used at the time of his traumatization; the audience is not privy to what he is experiencing in his mind, only his physical and vocal reaction to it. The second flashback is encoded as a close-up of Mertens, trancelike, staring straight ahead toward the viewer. It is synchronized with the sound track of the massacre of innocents he is replaying in his mind. We are aware, metonymically, of only the acoustic part of the memory; Mertens presumably gets the visual recollection as well.

Only the third mental flashback is presented as a full cinematic flashback. This is a five-minute visual and acoustic recounting of several scenes leading to the 1942 Christmas Eve massacre of Polish villagers, explaining the origin of Mertens's psychosis. Here, in the closed context of unambiguously stigmatized atrocity, marked clearly as being of another time and place, uniformed Wehrmacht soldiers are shown. There is, however, no question of glorification of Nazi uniforms or iconography. This flashback is triggered as Mertens listens to Bruckner, his former commanding officer, now a factory owner, making a warmhearted Christmas speech to his workers. The scene offers a stark counterpoint as the evils of Christmas yesterday (the massacre) are papered over by the warmth and comfort of Christmas today. The exit from this flashback takes us to a different place, however. The closing transition is to words spoken by Susanne as she reads aloud Mertens's journal account of the events we have just seen replayed in the flashback. Her recognition of the significance of these events enables her to rush to prevent Mertens from shooting Bruckner, thereby healing him of his psychological illness. Flashback as memory therefore serves a more complex function here than mere expositional review. The importance of memory as a motivator for action in the present could not be more powerfully framed. (15)

Although both films place the moral of the tale bluntly in their final sequences, there are distinctions to be drawn. In The Murderers are among Us, Staudte makes use of sententious and didactic passages at strategic points throughout the dialogue. These speeches either stress the importance of optimism and a forward-looking orientation (usually originating from Susanne) or stigmatize negative utterances from Mertens and others dwelling on the past. The matter is complicated by the fact that the war criminal, Bruckner, is also associated with family values, hard work, future orientation, and optimism; indeed, Bruckner is instrumental in bringing about Mertens's recovery--not only because Mertens decides not to shoot him, but because Bruckner was the one who insisted that the reluctant Dr. Mertens perform an emergency tracheotomy on a gasping child during their walk through the rubble of Berlin. The success of this operation marks the turning point in Mertens's return journey to a productive life. The final words of the film deliver the moral of the tale. After Susanne restrains Mertens from executing Bruckner, she says to him: "We don't have the right to pass sentence." To which Mertens adds: "But we do have the duty to bring charges and demand atonement in the name of those millions murdered innocently." (16) With these words in their ears, the 1946 audience leaves the theater and enters the rubbled streets.

Instead of programmatic speeches, Between Yesterday and Tomorrow uses situations and personal predicaments to extend its message. In place of the preachy tone of The Murderers are among Us, the Munich film forces its audience to draw its own conclusions. The moral of the story has to do not with retribution and appropriate justice, but with individual honesty and integrity. It ends with a question, to which no verbal answer is given. Kat might have kept the necklace and sold it on the black market for good money that she and her small brother could certainly use. However, she turns it over and in doing so releases her new friend, Rott, from the suspicion of having stolen it for himself. Kat closes the film by speaking words that might refer to Germans and National Socialism: "You get into something and then suddenly you are up to your neck. But now I know it was wrong." Rott replies: "And why?" (17) For the specific narrative, the music implies the answer is that she is in love with him, but the implication of the open question goes much deeper for the generalized narrative, probing the foundations of ethical decision making and social responsibility for the postwar German individual. The audience participation required to complement the question with an answer serves to help the lesson stick.

What conclusions can we draw about these two films as products of their respective rubble cities, Berlin and Munich? We can align the style and ideology of the two films with the local occupying powers. While it would be a stretch to view The Murders are among Us as a product of socialist realism or as influenced by directions espoused by Soviet cinema in the vein of Eisenstein, The Murderers are among Us does reflect an interest in the problem film, a concern with the collective (neighbors in the apartment house inhabited by Susanne and Mertens form a social unit), and an explicit projection of the individual decision (Mertens's final act) as a social act acknowledging the necessary pre-eminence of the public interest and the authority of organs of public administration. (18) The legal system (which, to be sure, has been entirely invisible throughout the film) must resolve problems such as those presented by the Bruckners of the world. This ending was suggested by the Soviets to replace Staudte's original showdown in which Mertens carried out vigilante justice by executing Bruckner personally, thereby taking upon his own person the roles of prosecutor, judge, and executioner.

By contrast, Between Yesterday and Tomorrow resolves its conflict on the basis of the decisions of individuals, acting as individuals and with at best suggested implications for the collective consequences. The primacy placed by American sociopolitical thinking on individual accountability as the key determiner of social reality emerges clearly in a November 1945 U.S. Infonnation Control Division memo on German film production policy in the U.S. zone: Licensed German filmmakers should "instinctively think or respond to ideas along the lines of Allied policy in Germany, i.e., freedom and dignity of the individual, civic courage, the general demographic principle of the right and responsibility of the individual to think and act for himself in terms of the common good ..." (Fehrenbach 58). The conflict itself (Rott's predicament) is singular and has little in its particulars that can be transferred to the shared situation of Germans in 1947. Further, the style of Between Yesterday and Tomorrow aligns with that of Hollywood productions of the 1930s and 1940s and thus conforms to the cinematic sensibilities of the American occupation. One should recall that many productions from the UFA studios during the Third Reich had followed a similar style and that memory is therefore activated for the German audience through this aesthetic stylistic link. Beyond that, the use in the film of many familiar actors from the German cinema of the Nazi years also underscored continuity. (19)

By contrast, the Soviet occupation was interested in a more fundamental break with the past and an application of memory through cinema that would cement a New (socialist) Germany while at the same time stigmatizing the capitalist (and therefore pre-fascist) West. Seen from this perspective, any shred of ambiguity adhering to the capitalist factory owner Bruckner is reduced to complete insignificance. Bruckner, the former willing agent of the fascist agenda, transitions seamlessly into a capitalist economy that derives profit from the fall-out of war. He is a living exemplar of the Soviet ideological position that links capitalism causally with fascism.

The fifteen months between the release of the two films is also important. The problems of 1945 and 1946 concerning the relation of Germany to its war criminals were still immediate at the time of The Murderers are among Us. Only two weeks before the premiere, twenty-two major war criminals were convicted at the Nuremberg Trials. A week after the premiere, the resulting twelve executions were carried out (Rentschler 421). The topic of war crimes was as hot as it could be. By 1947 others issues have emerged; the fate of Jews can be broached; agents of the Third Reich (Hitler, Gestapo) can be portrayed in non-simplistic ways; and the consequences of individual decision-making can be weighed. Shandley remarks, referring to the Nelly Dreyfuss plotline, that "[n]arrating the persecution of a Jew in the Third Reich as an opportunity for all of the other characters is a significantly honest feat in defeated Germany" (69). He is referring to the conversion of Jewish property (the necklace) to currency from which Germans benefit. (20)

In terms of their reception, the following notes on the two films are of interest. "Over six million people saw [The Murderers are among t/s]; it would go on to be screened in twenty-three countries, which was unusual as most rubble films did not travel abroad, and when they did, they did not travel well" (Rentschler 421). The film was seen as a crucial step in the rehabilitation of both Germany and its cinematic culture. The same cannot be said of Between Yesterday and Tomorrow. Though seen by 2.8 million viewers and being touted by the distributor as one of the most successful postwar German films (Drossier), critics at the time despised it. Fay cites a review in Berlin's Tagliche Rundschau that retitled the film Between the Day before Yesterday and Some Other Time and decried the portrayal of so many Nazi opponents in the Hotel Palast Regina in 1938: "... the average viewer, confirming his good opinion of himself, will abandon his high consciousness in the movie theater and think, 'we were all against it'" (127-8). She summarizes: "Caught between the rubble fatigued public and the political mandate of historical accountability, Braun's film may have satisfied the vagaries of U.S. military censorship, but it disappointed its opposing Gennan constituencies" (129). (21)

The narrative positions of the two films are captured by still images that have become demonstrably representative of the two works. The Murderers are among Us views its characters from the outside and treats them as agents of abstract ideas. The iconic still shows Susanne and Mertens separated by frames in the window. The panes are shattered. Susanne is shown as whole, within a single window frame; Mertens's face is fragmented. They are objects of our observation. The single cinematic flashback sequence in the film is initiated by Mertens's momentary mental flashback but closed by Susanne's reading of the incidents described in his journal. The memory in the flashback is thus not encoded solely as a single instance of individual memory, but rather is generalized as historical record, mediated unchallenged by the two of them.

Between Yesterday and Tomorrow urges internal inhabitation and identification with the characters. The cinematography includes many subjective-camera and over-the-shoulder shots, inviting us to enter the perspective of the characters. In a shot reminiscent of a Caspar David Friedrich painting, we look with Rott onto the rubblescape. (22) Friedrich's "Wanderer above a Sea of Mist" moves us to contemplate, with the male subject, the impenetrable fog that reveals only fragments of the underlying reality of the landscape.

Meanwhile, "Woman at a Window" reprises the viewer-ffombehind perspective, but with the subject, like Rott, in an interior space looking out, through a door in a window (rather than a door in a wall), onto an exterior indicated only by trees and the mast of a passing water craft. Again, as with Rott, we are invited to enter the observer's subjectivity to experience the sight rationally and emotionally. "Woman at a Window" is subverted, rather than quoted, by Staudte when he presents his audience with the point of view outside the window, looking in at the observing subjects (Susanne and Mertens), urging contemplation of the two of them as objects. Friedrich's quintessentially Romantic viewer position is thus embraced by Braun and rejected by Staudte. In keeping with Braun's Friedrich-like optic, the flashbacks in Between Yesterday and Tomorrow are all presented as personal recollections of specific characters, Rott, Ebeling (the hotel manager) and Kat.

Simultaneous scrutiny of The Murderers are among Us and Between Yesterday and Tomorrow within multiple contexts allows us to align these films with the cities of their genesis. First, the history of the two cities as capitals of culturally distinct German-speaking regions forms a general backdrop to the analysis. As a young nation by European standards, Germany had been a collection of regions until only seventy-five years earlier; a historically dominant center of governmental, literary, artistic, intellectual, cultural, and publishing life, such as a London or Paris, was lacking. Second, the more romantic disposition of Munich, reflected (in Schiller's tenns) in the "naive" characteristics of Between Yesterday and Tomorrow, contrasts with the more calculated "sentimental" approach taken in the Prussian capital to making The Murderers are among Us. Finally, when the realities of the postwar occupation of Germany are factored in, Soviet and American cultural policies can also be seen as congruent with the ideology of the two cinematic productions. Close attention to flashbacks and traditions of German painting reinforce the validity of the analysis. These overlapping contexts, bring into focus essential contrasts between the two films as products of two distinct cities under very different occupying forces and historical moments.

Works Cited

Die Morder sind unter uns (The Murderers are among Us). Dir. Wolfgang Staudte. DEFA 1946. DVD: Icestorm, German with English subtitles, 1999. 81 mins.

Zwischen gestern und morgen (Between Yesterday and Tomorrow). Dir. Harald Braun. 1947. DVD: Edition Filmmuseum Munich, German with English subtitles, 2011. 103 mins. (Includes booklet.) Agazzi, Elena and Erhard Schutz, eds. Heimkehr: Eine zentrale Kategorie der Nachkriegszeit. Geschichte, Literatur und Medien. Berlin: Duncker & Humblot, 2010.

Birgel, Franz. Review of Robert R. Shandley, Rubble Films. In Film Quarterly, 56 (2003). Pp. 61-63.

Brandlmeier, Thomas. "Von Hitler zu Adenauer. Deutsche Trummerfilme." In Zwischen Gestern und Morgen. Westdeutscher Nachkriegsfilm 1946-1962. Hilmar Hoffmann and Walter Schobert, eds. Frankfurt a.M.: Deutsches Filmmuseum, 1989. Pp. 33-59.

Carter, Erica. "Sweeping up the Past: Gender and History in the PostWar 'Rubble Film'." In Heroines without Heroes: Reconstructing Female and National Identities in European Cinema 1945-51. Ulrike Sieglohr, ed. London: Cassell, 2000. Pp. 91-110.

Drossier, Stefan. "Film Production in Post-War Munich." Booklet accompanying DVD release of Between Yesterday and Tomorrow.

Fay, Jennifer. "Rubble Noir." In German Postwar Films: Life and Love in the Ruins. Winfried Wilms and William Rasch, eds. New York: Palgrave MacMillan, 2008. Pp. 125-140.

Fehrenbach, Heide. Cinema in Democratizing Germany: Reconstructing National Identity after Hitler. Chapel Hill: U of North Carolina P, 1995.

Fisher, Jaimey. "Wandering in/to the Rubble Film: Filmic Flanerie and the Exploded Panorama." The German Quarterly 78.4 (2005): 461-480.

Fisher, Jaimey. "Bombing Memories in Braun's Zwischen gestern und morgen (1947): Flashbacks to the Recent Past in the German Rubble Film." In Bombs Away! Representing the Air War over Europe and Japan. Winfried Wilms and William Rasch, eds. Amsterdam: Rodopi, 2006. Pp. 329-343.

Galli, Matteo. "1946 Anmerkungen zu einigen frtihen HeimkehrerFilmen." In Heimkehr: Einezentrale Kategorie der Nachkriegszeit. Geschichte, Literatur und Medien. Elena Agazzi and Erhard Schutz, eds. Berlin: Duncker& Humblot, 2010. Pp. 199-210.

Greffrath, Bettina. Gesellschaftsbilder der Nachkriegszeit. Deutsche Spielfilme 1945-49. Pfaffenweiler: Centaurus, 1995.

Horbrirgger, Anja. Aufbruch zur Kontinuitdt / Kontinuitdt im Aufbruch. Geschlechterkonstruktion im west- und ostdeutschen Nachkriegsfilm von 1945 bis 1952. Marburg: Schirren, 2007.

Kabatek, Wolfgang. "Das Gestern im Heute: Inversion und Zukunftsversprechen. Zur Asthetisierung von Ruinen in Film undFotografienach 1945." In Heimkehr: Einezentrale Kategorie der Nachkriegszeit. Geschichte, Literatur und Medien. Elena Agazzi and Erhard Schutz, eds. Berlin: Duncker & Humblot, 2010. Pp.211-228.

Kaes, Anton. From Hitler to Heimat: The Return of History as Film. Cambridge, MA: Harvard UP, 1989.

Kreimeier, Klaus. "Die Okonomie der Gefuhle. Aspekte des westdeutschen Nachkriegsfilms." In Zwischen Gestern und Morgen. Westdeutscher Nachkriegsfilm 1946-1962. Hilmar Hoffmann and Walter Schobert, eds. Frankfurt a.M.: Deutsches Filmmuseum, 1989. Pp. 8-27.

Munch, Markus. Drehort Berlin. Wo beruhmte Filme entstanden. Berlin: BeBra, 2007.

Nau, Peter. "Zwischen gestern und morgen." In Filmkritik Nr. 226 (October 1975). Reprinted in booklet accompanying DVD release of Between Yesterday and Tomorrow.

Pleyer, Peter. Deutscher Nachkriegsfilm 1946 bis 1964. Munster: Fahle, 1965.

Prinz, Friedrich. "Munchner Kultur--Kultur in Munchen 1945/49. Nature morte oder Musica Viva?" In Trummerzeit in Munchen. Kultur undGesellschaft einer deutschen Groflstadt im Aufbruch 1945-1949. Friedrich Prinz, ed. Munchen: C.H. Beck, 1984. Pp. 9-19.

Rentschler, Eric. "The Place of Rubble in the Trummerfilm." In Ruins of Modernity. Julia Hell and Andreas Schonle, eds. Durham and London: Duke UP, 2010. Pp. 418-438.

Schwab, Claus-Dieter. "Kultur zwischen Kontrolle und Kleiner Freiheit--amerikanische Kulturpolitik in Munchen am Beispiel der Information Control Division." In Trummerzeit in Munchen. Kultur und Gesellschaft einer deutschen Groflstadt im Aufbruch 1945-1949. Friedrich Prinz, ed. Munchen: C.H. Beck, 1984. Pp. 60-68.

Shandley, Robert R. Rubble Films: German Cinema in the Shadow of the Third Reich. Philadelphia: Temple UP, 2001.

Zeilmann, Achim. Drehort Munchen. Wo beruhmte Filme entstanden. Berlin: BeBra, 2008.


(1) Eric Rentschler puts it this way: "The mission of the Trummerfilme lay in clearing away the rubble, restoring human agency, and creating the conditions for a future community" (431).

(2) The rubble film has frequently been compared to Italian NeoRealism. However, Robert R. Shandley draws important distinctions. He notes that Neo-Realism had its origins in an oppositional stance to Mussolini and did not emerge, as did the rubble film, only after World War II. The rubble films used professional actors, not lay performers; and the German cityscapes were sometimes created (in part) in studios (48-51, cf. Birgel 61).

(3) The Babelsberg and Johannistal studios (both near Berlin) came under Soviet control; the Tempelhof (Berlin) and Geiselgasteig (Munich) studios were controlled by the U.S. occupation forces (Fehrenbach 63).

(4) The Murderers are among Us was released in the U.S.A. with subtitles in 1948. Between Yesterday and Tomorrow was not released in the U.S.A.; however, it became available on DVD with English subtitles in a restored version in 2011.

(5) Achim Zeilmann makes a passing reference to Between Yesterday and Tomorrow as "so to speak, Munich's alternative to the famous Berlin rubble film The Murderers are among Us" ("quasi das Munchner Gegenmodell zum beruhmten Berliner Trummerfilm Die Morder sind unter uns") but does not enter into a comparative discussion (33).

(6) In his review of Shandley's Rubble Films, Franz Birgel states: "When Staudte approached Peter van Eyck, then the American head of the Film Section of the Information Service Control Branch, with his project for Murderers are among Us, he was informed that no films would be made in Germany for the next five years ... except by the U.S ... (62).

(7) Munich identifies the unnamed railway station in The Murderers are among Us as Berlin's Stettiner Bahnhof (38).

(8) Prinz laments in his introductory essay in Trummerzeit in Munchen the generally missing portrayal of Munich's "diversity and polycentric quality" ("Pluralitat und Polyzentrik") in postwar representations of the city (12).

(9) The centrality of the air-raid for the translation of memory in Between Yesterday and Tomorrow is discussed by Fisher (2006).

(10) Thomas Brandlmeier's description of the genesis of the film lends credence to this interpretation: "Even before the end of the war, Staudte had already developed the basic idea for his film from the obvious question: what will become of the Nazi murderers after the collapse?" ("Staudte hatte die Grundidee seines Films bereits vor Kriegsende aus der naheliegenden Fragestellung entwickelt, was wohl aus den Nazimordem nach dem Zusammenbruch wird") (39).

(11) "As in The Murderers are among Us, the character played by Flildegard Knef is represented as the bearer of historical problems, that go unaddressed. The fact that Knef plays this role [Kat] is appropriate in that, over the first five years of filmmaking in Germany after the war, she comes to embody the problem of postwar Germany in a way that Nelly Dreyfuss represents the Judenfrage of the wartime German Reich." (Shandley 198, footnote 29).

(12) The Jewishness of the character Nelly Dreyfuss is underscored by her name, which recalls the notorious anti-semitic Dreyfus affair in 19th century France. In the context of German cinema this association is magnified by the existence of the 1930 film Dreyfus, directed by Richard Oswald, starring Fritz Kortner, Fleinrich George, Albert Bassermann, and Grete Mosheim.

(13) Greffrath notes in a similar way the criteria used by British and American evaluators for the selection of foreign films being considered for exhibition in German theaters at this time (69). See also Fehrenbach (54-56).

(14) Underlying these various directives, which are ostensibly motivated by military necessity, ideological and democratic initiatives, and public policy, are the interests of the film industries of the occupying countries, which are anxious to maximize the opportunities of a new market for their own products (Horbrugger 49).

(15) Fisher's interpretation (2006) of the use of the flashback in Between Yesterday and Tomorrow includes discussion of the use of flashback in The Murderers are among Us. His insightful interpretation focuses on the subtle differentiations in the function of the flashback as it relates to memory and the relation to the past.

(16) "Wir haben nicht das Recht zu richten!" "Aber wir haben die Pflicht, Anklage zu erheben, Suhne zu fordern im Auftrag von Millionen unschuldig hingemordeter Menschen!"

(17) "Man kommt in sowas, rein, und plotzlich ist man mitten drin. Aber jetzt weifl ich, dass es falsch war." "Und warum?"

(18) Horbrugger recognizes that film is certainly a political tool in the Soviet zone and that reeducation and propaganda are goals; however, the structures in place in 1946 are still relatively liberal. The Murderers are among Us began shooting on May 6, but DEFA was not organized until May 17, and even then it was a company with limited liability (GmbH, an essentially capitalist category). According to Horbrugger's analysis, the shift in ideological emphasis from "antifascism" to "socialist realism" does not come until 1947/48 (49-50).

(19) "Braun's decision to make a star-studded hotel film certainly does result in a product that looks a lot like the standard entertainment fare of the UFA system. Apart from Hildegard Knef (Kat), all of the stars are identifiable from that system. And the camera work, costumes, editing, and mise en scene evoke Ufa (and, for that matter, Hollywood) cinematic styles." (Shandley 69).

(20) This is a topic taken up in 2010 by Michael Verhoeven's documentary film Human Failure (Menschliches Versagen), in which he exposes recently discovered auction and tax records showing how the everyday property of Jews was used to enrich or benefit the lives of other Germans.

(21) See also condemnations by Pleyer (1965), Heinz Kersten, Tagesspiegel May 25, 1975 (Nau), and Christa Bandmann and Joe Hembus, 1980 (Drossier).

(22) Caspar David Friedrich, "Wanderer above the Sea of Mist," oil on canvas, ca. 1818, Kunsthalle, Hamburg; "Woman at a Window," oil on canvas, 1822, Old National Gallery, Berlin.
COPYRIGHT 2014 Allegheny College
No portion of this article can be reproduced without the express written permission from the copyright holder.
Copyright 2014 Gale, Cengage Learning. All rights reserved.

Article Details
Printer friendly Cite/link Email Feedback
Author:Wickham, Christopher
Publication:Film Criticism
Geographic Code:4EUGE
Date:Mar 22, 2014
Previous Article:A finish worthy of the start: the poetics of age and masculinity in Clint Eastwood's Gran Torino.
Next Article:Sibling Stories: The 64th Berlin Film Festival.

Terms of use | Privacy policy | Copyright © 2022 Farlex, Inc. | Feedback | For webmasters |