Unter anderem kommen zu Wort Wolfgang Staudte, Jutta Hoffmann, Lothar Warneke - Fotos: DEFA-Neufeld, DEFA-Daßdorf, DEFA-Kuhröber
Unter anderem kommen zu Wort Wolfgang Staudte, Jutta Hoffmann, Lothar Warneke - Fotos: DEFA-Neufeld, DEFA-Daßdorf, DEFA-Kuhröber

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Extract from "The Trace of Films: Contemporary Witnesses Talk about DEFA"

A Unique Time of Awakening - The 1940s


On 17 May 1946, DEFA is founded
Kurt Maetzig, director
Oberst Sergej Tulpanow bei der Gründungsveranstaltung der DEFA am 17. Mai 1946 - Foto: Pisarek

I was really anxious to hear the speech that [Sergej] Tulpanow held there. As it was to be expected from such a humanistic officer, it turned out to be an open-minded, democratic one that showed DEFA a future direction with which I could identify completely and which exactly matched my intentions. He envisioned an anti-Fascist, democratic film art that would radically break with the past to create something new. Moreover - and this is what we added - this film art was supposed to always intervene in existing and developing social processes.

Karl Hans Bergemann, economic director
It was due to Tulpanow that, of all people, Klering was chosen by us to deliver the speech. Tulpanow knew no one else but Klering - and Klering was the contact man of the Russians. He had been to Russia himself since 1931; he was an amateur actor who had been with one of those Agitprop groups named "Kolonne Links" that had emigrated to Russia. He had a Russian passport, a Russian wife, and he had completely become a Russian. Besides, he worked for the NKWD - we didn’t know he did and, of course, he didn’t admit it in public. Still, as an NKWD collaborator, he most definitely reported everything about us.
So this was how it all began on 17 May. (...)
Erteilung der Lizenz für die DEFA am 17. Mai 1946: Oberst Sergej Tulpanow, Hans Klering, Alfred Lindemann, Willy Schiller, Karl Hans Bergmann und Kurt Maetzig - Foto: Pisarek

The license certificate, a pell, was given to Klering. What he saw when he opened it was the font sample sheet for a semi-bold "Grotesque", with letters printed in different sizes. This was all Tulpanow could give him as he had obviously not received an authorisation from his supervisor. Later on, no one talked about the license anymore. The official version said that it existed and that Klering kept it under lock and key. Still, no one ever saw it. It was all based on - how should I say - false pretences, yet it didn’t matter as the Russians had agreed to provide support. This was what was really important - not that sheet of paper.
(...)

No Easing of Tensions in Sight - The 1950s


Ernst Thälmann - Sohn seiner Klasse (1954) / Ernst Thälmann - Führer seiner Klasse (1955)
Kurt Maetzig, director
Kurt Maetzig bei den Dreharbeiten zu den \"Thälmann\"-Filmen - Foto: DEFA-Wenzel

The exaggeration of his merits, the cleansing of his character from all personal traits, flaws and mistakes, his depiction as a man who does not search but acts almost automatically and knows the right answer to each question - all of this hit the core of the film. Today, the film is a historical document in a new sense: it’s not about Thälmann but about the cultural politics of those days, a document of Stalinist cultural politics. You can learn a lot from it - predominantly negative things.

Frank Vogel, director
DEFA’s old guest house that once belonged to Siemens was at Stubenrauchstraße (...). Diagonally opposite of it was Maetzig’s little house. There was some drinking bout going on at the guest house. [Johannes] Arpe was the dialogue director and predominantly worked with [Günter] Simon. After midnight, Simon was obviously so wasted that he fell asleep deeply. Well, they altogether picked him up, carried him across the street and laid him in front of Maetzig’s door. Then they rang the bell, a first time, then a second time, at 2 a.m. Maetzig went "Hello, who’s there?" Arpe was the spokesman: wearing a bathrobe, he positioned himself before the totally befuddled Maetzig like a priest and, while pointing at Simon, said: "Thälmann is dead".

Zwei Mütter (1957)
Frank Beyer, director
Frank Beyer und Françoise Spira bei den Dreharbeiten zu \"Zwei Mütter\" - Foto: DEFA-Neufeld

I was a red-haired, freckled boy from the village and I actually wanted to become an actor, but I didn’t dare to do it.(...) Everything else was a series of incredible coincidences (...) until I made - at a very young age, measured by today’s standards - my first feature film for DEFA: Zwei Mütter. This film was my directing diploma. I shot it in 1956 at the DEFA studios. My official studies ended in 1957. Since 1952, I had studied at the FAMU film college in Prague. (...) I then went to see Wilkening [DEFA manager], who wanted to talk about new projects with me. He told me that he currently did not consider entrusting another directing job to me. (...) I was offered an assistant director contract, which I accepted under the condition that I was allowed to have a say in the choice of the director I would work with. Wilkening did not agree. Thus, I didn’t sign the contract and worked as a freelancer.

Illusion and Restriction - The 1960s


Das Kleid (1961/1991)
Jochen Mückenberger, general director
Wolf Kaiser in \"Das Kleid\" - Foto: DEFA-Daßdorf

When I became director of DEFA, a very unpleasant situation occurred. I had to decide upon a film of which the rough edit had just been finished: Das Kleid. When I first saw it in November 1961, I realised that it was absolutely impossible to show this film - not because it didn’t meet the artistic demands or because the screenwriter, director or cameraman had failed, but because it didn’t at all go in line with the heated-up political situation after the building of the Wall. I don’t know if I’m mistaken, but about 40 percent of this film take place before, on or behind a wall (...) of which neither the screenwriter nor the director had had the faintest idea when the shooting started. I realised: If this film is approved, you have to look for a new job - and that’s going to be difficult in the DEFA studios.

Spur der Steine (1966)
Frank Beyer, director
Frank Beyer bei den Dreharbeiten zu \"Spur der Steine\" - Foto: Klaus D. Schwarz

Back then, I shot Spur der Steine after the novel by Neutsch. It was one of those books - together with "Der geteilte Himmel" by Christa Wolf, "Ole Biedenkopp" [by Erwin Strittmatter] and others - that reached a broad readership and triggered heated discussions. I haven’t seen the film since 1966, thus, I refer to my memories. Possibly, the film contained some polemic dramatisations and it definitely contained very bitter scenes of human failure. This caused me sleepless nights during the time I was working on it. Again and again, I asked myself the question if the film contained overstatements, i.e. scenes with unfair exaggerations.

Klaus Wischnewski, head dramatic adviser
In March, the film was still approved and praised. (...) It was supposed to be shown for eight days. [Klaus] Gysi [Minister of Education] told Frank Beyer that the premiere was actually supposed to be cancelled, but this didn’t work out. Still, he prompted Frank not to attend the premiere and to convince Manfred Krug and the crew not to go there either. Frank refused to do so.

Ich war neunzehn (1968)
Wolfgang Kohlhaase, screenwriter
Jaecki Schwarz und Konrad Wolf beiden Dreharbeiten zu \"Ich war neunzehn\" - FOto: DEFA-W. Bergmann

He [Konrad Wolf] wrote a diary during the war. He wrote it in Russian because it was the only language in which he was allowed to write in the army (...): the way of a 16-year-old through the war - until he was 19. At the Oder, things became chaotic, that’s why he stopped writing. Before shooting Ich war neunzehn, he reconstructed the events in the way he remembered them. Of course, the moral situation is authentic. The settings are authentic, same as the 49th or 48th army division he was part of is authentic, the division’s way from the north of Berlin down to Potsdam and all the events he wrote down.

Rainer Simon, director
It was wonderful to assist Konrad Wolf. The cooperation with him for Ich war neunzehn was very exciting. I certainly wasn’t a good assistant director. I was more interested in interfering or asking questions - later on, as a director, I would have hated it if an assistant had done this. However, he simply took it with aplomb. And I learned a lot - especially that you have to respect actors. It was the first time someone told me of Stalinism in the way he had experienced it: In his case, it was the time he spent in Moscow together with his father. No one had ever told me about how Stalinism worked, and no contemporary witness ever told me afterwards.

Difficulties with Everyday Life - The 1970s


Die Legende von Paul und Paula (1973)
Urich Plenzdorf, screenwriter
Heiner Carow bei Dreharbeiten zu \"Die Legende von Paul und Paula\" - Foto: DEFA-Kroiss

There was this famous gap in cultural politics when no one really knew what to expect after Ulbricht had gone and Honecker had not really arrived yet. We seized the opportunity for this story, which normally would not have been possible at DEFA. (...)
It was a nice year, a nice summer. Actually, we were in a good mood, we had hopes and illusions, more hopes, more illusions. All of them are in the film. The combination of actors, stars and director was good. It was more or less coincidence that we discovered this band "Puhdys", which built up a reputation with this film. Back then, they were still young, unknown and hungry.
Excerpt from a talk with contemporary witness Ulrich Plenzdorf
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Heiner Carow, director
On the premiere tour, I was in a small village named Zwönitz together with Angelica Domröse. Coincidentally, half of the delegation was late. Thus, the two of us sat there alone. The film was over and we had to do something. Angelica got in front of the audience and said: "Hello everybody, here I am!" This got things started. Women came to her, touched and petted her and said: "Well, honey, we can understand you."
There was a discussion during which a man said that he didn’t understand why Paula wants to have the baby, knowing that it’s dangerous for her. A woman yelled at him: "You aren’t able to understand this ‘cause you’re a man!" Women loved Paula because she expressed what was on their minds.

The Late GDR - The 1980s and 1990s


Jadup und Boel (1980 / 1988)
Rainer Simon, director
Rainer Simon und Rolenad Dressel bei den Dreharbeiten zu \"Jadup und Boel\" - DEFA-Ebert

Two weeks after the shooting had begun, we were all called to the director’s office. The head of the screenplay editing department presented us with an analysis after which we thought: "That’s it, the film is dead." Nevertheless, the film was made. When I read through the Stasi files ten years later, I found out that Mäde (General Director of DEFA) had written a protocol of this meeting for the Stasi: "We are fully aware of the fact that it might be impossible to show the film. Still, we think it is the lesser evil to let Simon work and let him believe that he might be able to show it."

Der Bruch (1989)
Wolfgang Kohlhaase, screenwriter
Rolf Hoppe in \"Der Bruch\" - Foto: DEFA-Pathenheimer

Der Bruch was my last film for DEFA, a story that I had been carrying with me for a long time - since the mid-1950s. I tried to find the old files on that burglary that had become famous back then. The files were lost and untraceable as one part of the lawsuit had taken place in East Germany, the other in West Germany. Finally, I found them and realised that I had remembered the case correctly. Back then, I already had the idea that the whole thing was more of a comedy - with unskilled policemen and skilled burglars.

Coming out (1989)
Heiner Carow, director
Heiner Carow bei den Dreharbeiten zu \"Coming out\" - Foto: DEFA-Fritsche

Then-DEFA director [Hans Dieter Mäde] said that as long as he was the director of this studio he would not allow such a film to be made. Nevertheless, Wolfram Witt and I wrote the script without having a contract. Also, we got ourselves expertises from a psychiatrist, a jurist and a sociologist. We put these expertises into the script and handed it in.
The jurist had written about the role that the KPD played regarding the question of the abolition of paragraph 175. He also mentioned that Thälman supported the abolition of the paragraph in the Reichstag and that there was great solidarity between homosexuals and communists in the concentration camps. However, Mäde tried to procrastinate the making of the film. I managed to promote the script via the Academy of Arts until it got through to Kurt Hager. Due to the expertises, he couldn’t dismiss the film.

Horst Hartwig, head of production
The premiere was at the "International" on 9 November 1989. (...) People from the ZDF broadcast "Aspekte" came to us for an interview. We went on stage, took a bow and drove off.
During the drive we realised that there were quite a lot of happy people in the streets ... and when we arrived at the bar there were people with champagne glasses, shouting: "The Wall is open!" We thought they were drunk. This was the day it happened. It was incredible: one of our production managers crossed the border at Bornholmer Straße and brought a "Bild-Zeitung" with him - just to show us that it really worked. I remember Dagmar Menzel sitting in a corner, weeping without restraint.

Der Tangospieler (1991)
Roland Gräf, cameraman, director
Michael Gwisdek und Roland Gräf bei den Dreharbeiten zu \"Der Tangospieler\" - Foto: DEFA-Köfer

I wrote the script while being confronted with an insane picture: While I was writing, masses of people left the GDR. I felt that impulse: You have to make this film, you have to uncover things and make people stay. But I couldn’t write as fast as they were leaving. The events got ahead of me.

Verfehlung (1992)
Angelica Domröse, actress

I came to the studio and I could feel the emptiness of the rooms. My caravan stood between the green and building number 3. The toilets had not been cleaned and you couldn’t use the dressing rooms anymore. Everything was dead empty. Somewhere in the Nordkreuz, they were shooting Drei Damen vom Grill. During a break, the entire staff - from the cameraman to the first gaffer to the make-up people - stood together and talked about the fact that soon they would be unemployed, knowing that Verfehlungen would be their last film. It was a hard time for me. I couldn’t sleep anymore. We used to go to shooting locations I had not been to in a while - i.e., Berlin-Mitte, Prenzlauer Berg, Alexanderplatz ... This costed me a lot of energy. (...)
(...) he [director Heiner Carow] told me: "Verfehlung is the last Carow film." He didn’t fool himself: "Now, there’s gonna be Carow series." (...) I really miss him.