“Why did no one intervene?”, “Everybody had known that for a good 30 years.” These two responses from viewers give an idea of the debate prompted by the four-part “Holocaust” series broadcast on German TV in 1979. The US series is an especially impressive example of the impact of films that address historical themes. They shape how we see certain events, set debates in motion, and are themselves documents of the day. Movies are even better suited than docu-dramas or documentaries when it comes to kindling emotions and immersing viewers in a particular period.
Our temporary exhibition “Staged” shows which themes from German history have been addressed in German movies and movie theatres since 1945. How did West German films on resistance to the Nazis differ from those shot in Communist East Germany? How did Heinz-Erhardt movies such as “Mein Mann, das Wirtschaftswunder” influence how the West Germany of the 1950s is seen? And in what sort of a context have directors more recently started focussing on topics such as the flight and expulsion of the East Prussians?
The exhibition design takes its cue from the architecture of movie theatres and film studios. It covers seven different thematic areas; one movie takes pride of place in each, a film that had a major impact on public life. For example “Valkyrie” on Stauffenberg’s attempt to assassinate Hitler, “Generation War” about the Second World War, and “The Lives of Others” about the Stasi in Communist East Germany. Newspaper clippings and quotes highlight the contemporary debates about the films and the topics they address. Film props such as Maria Furtwängler’s coat from “March of Millions” or Stauffenberg’s uniform in the movie pinpoint the uneasy relationship between historical reality and its representation in the movies.