It is a balmy spring evening in 1993 in Berlin, reunification is not yet long ago. For both sides of the formerly divided Germany, there is still much to learn from each other and new things to discover. Films, books and works of art often fell victim to censorship in the GDR, ended up in the closet and now await rediscovery.
A film celebrates its birthday
A very special film screening begins this evening at the Friedrichshain open-air cinema: the DEFA film "The Legend of Paul and Paula" is showing, celebrating its 20th anniversary.
It is an important event especially for two people in the audience: sitting next to each other in the audience are the main actors Angelica Domröse and Winfried Glatzeder and, together with more than a thousand spectators, they are watching their now twenty-year-old hit flick. For a long time the film had disappeared into oblivion, but now it celebrates its comeback and becomes a cult film for a second time.
Cinema in GDR times: DEFA
Immediately after the Second World War, the Soviet military administration advocates a rapid start to East German film production. Thus the Deutsche Film AG (DEFA for short) was founded on the territory of the Soviet occupation zone as early as 1946. In the following years, numerous film productions are made, always in the area of tension between censorship, propaganda and the desire for artistic freedom and dealing with the real problems of everyday socialist life. Films such as "Das Kaninchen bin ich", "Berlin um die Ecke" and "Denk bloß nicht ich heule" are examples of critical contemporary films.
The Legend of Paul and Paula: A Success Story
The times of somewhat greater artistic freedom are followed by a phase of censorship when Honecker settles accounts with contemporary films at the 11th Plenum in 1965. Almost all DEFA films from 1965 are banned.
The gruelling ups and downs of cultural policy decisions for DEFA artists are particularly evident in the biggest film success of the 1970s in the GDR: "The Legend of Paul and Paula".
Heiner Carow's film based on the novel by Ulrich Plenzdorf is actually a harmless love story - but it is also an expression of longing for private happiness, unconventional freedom and self-determination. However, the poetic mood of the film, the mixture of reality and dream, makes it a work of art that still captivates viewers today.
Erich Honecker personally helps the film into the cinema on 29 March 1973 - over the objections of the party members. The enthusiastic audience reacts with minutes of applause. Three million GDR citizens alone watch the romance in its first year. The Puhdys' film songs "Geh zu ihr" and "Wenn ein Mensch lebt" also become hits.
End of the success
The abrupt end of the Paul and Paula cult comes in the manner of the SED regime: when the celebrated leading actress Angelica Domröse signs a letter of protest against Wolf Biermann's expatriation in 1976, the film is immediately and forever banned from the GDR's television programme.
Domröse's steep career stagnates and ends. Frustrated, she goes to the West in 1980, Winfried Glatzeder alias "Paul" moves there in 1982.
In 1989, film censorship falls with the Berlin Wall and the end of DEFA is heralded. Many of the banned films are now premiered for the first time or celebrate their rediscovery before new audiences. And so did The Legend of Paul and Paula.
On the trail of Paula and Paula
- Since 1998, the "Paul- und Paula-Ufer", a stretch of lakeside path on Rummelsburger See in Berlin, has commemorated the film and the famous ride on the painted Spree barge.
- Another filming location was the Plattenbau at Singerstraße 51 in Friedrichshain.
- The premiere took place in the Kosmos cinema on Karl-Marx-Allee, which today houses an event centre.