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Marlene Dietrich: Style Icon and Freedom Fighter

Powerful stories from Berlin

Marlene Dietrich telefoniert mit ihrer Tochter
© Erich Salomon, Public domain, via Wikimedia Commons

Berlin is pulsating, even now. And even though many things are happening rather behind closed doors for the moment, there is hardly any other city where values such as freedom and independence are always held up high. We all know the controversies that arise from this, but we also love the fireworks of creativity,  the possibilities of putting ideas into practice and creating new open spaces again and again. Berlin pulsates, now just as it did hundreds of years ago. We have taken a look at the past 600 years of history for you and discovered many cheerful and powerful stories that are unmistakable for Berlin, for Berliners and for people who love our city. With courage and humour Berlin has already made it through many a crisis. Let yourself be inspired and strengthened. Dive into Berlin! 

Style icon, freedom fighter and a real Berliner

Men clustered to her like moths around a flame, and as blue angel she not only seduced Professor Unrat in a smoky voice, but also sang her way into the hearts of all those who fought for freedom during the Nazi regime. We are talking about Marlene Dietrich: style icon, freedom fighter and a real Berlin woman . Despite all her success, and her efforts to present herself publicly Dietrich has always remained herself inside. In the picture above, she is talking on the phone with her little daughter.

Marlene was born in Schöneberg shortly after Christmas 1901. At that time Germany was ruled by an emperor, the policemen wore spiked caps (Pickelhauben), the better ladies of society showed of hats like wagon wheels. And among them was Marlene, the little Schöneberg brat with the ski jump nose. Who would have thought that she would one day become the most photographed woman in the world? 

Dietrich becomes world famous as an actress

Marlene Dietrich in Israel
© Marlene_Dietrich_in_Israel_1960.jpg: Sara and Eli Rossderivative work: TonyPolar, Public domain, via Wikimedia Commons

And not only that: Dietrich becomes world famous as an actress; the last Hollywood star. She is the epitome of a style icon, making over 50 films in more than 20 years. She made her breakthrough as Lola in Josef Sternberg's "Der blaue Engel" based on Heinrich Mann's novel "Professor Unrat". Under Sternberg she becomes an unapproachable goddess in the film Olympus - later, in "Destry rides again", a quick-witted salon-singer with strong fists and a smoky voice. 

Fighter against the Nazis

Although German propaganda minister Joseph Goebbels offered her high fees and a free choice of script and staff in 1936, she preferred to work in the USA with directors like Hitchcock, Lubitsch, Welles and Wilder. Despite her enormous fame, or perhaps because of it, she became a fighter against the Nazis.

Already in 1939 she went to Paris. From there she supported refugees and emigrating artists. A short time later she becomes an American and gives up her German citizenship. When the USA entered the war against Germany in 1941, she immediately joined the soldiers as a troop coach and travelled with the GI's in Africa and Europe. During the Battle of the Bulge she barely escapes capture. She is on the front line when the Americans cross the German border and liberate southern Germany. In 1947, Dietrich is awarded the "Medal of Freedom", the highest order of the USA for civilians. In 1950 the French government bestows on her the title of "Knight of the Legion of Honour".

A clear view for good and evil

Other stars of German cinema were firmly embedded in Nazi propaganda in the years up to 1945, such as Gustaf Gründgens, Hans Albers, Heinz Rühmann, Zarah Leander or Johannes Heesters. While they remained popular with German audiences after 1945 and were well employed in film, Marlene Dietrich was branded a "traitor to her fatherland" in Germany.

In fact, despite her US citizenship and escape into exile, she remains a genuine Berlin woman with a heart and a snout and - even more importantly - a person who, despite the most adverse circumstances, is not unfaithful to her clear view of good and evil. Marlene Dietrich dies in Paris in 1992.

Marlene Dietrich: Berlin remembers

Tafel am Geburtshaus von Marlene Dietrich
© wikimedia, Foto: Lienhard Schulz (CCBY-SA3-0)

In around 90 years Marlene Dietrich experiences the German Empire, the Weimar Republic, two German states and reunification. In the end, she wishes to have her grave next to that of her mother in Berlin-Schöneberg in the III. municipal cemetery in Stubenrauchstraße. On the way to the cemetery, thousands of Berliners line the streets in 1992. They throw flowers from the balconies along the way onto the coffin or carry suitcases to the grave ("I still have a suitcase in Berlin"). Marlene, as the Berliners now affectionately call her, is home again.

The central square on the site of the newly built Potsdamer Platz was named after her in the 1990s. The dedication reads: "Berlin world star of film and chanson. Committed to Freedom and Democracy, to Berlin and Germany". Posthumously in 2001 the state of Berlin officially apologised for the hostilities against her and in 2002 she became an honorary citizen of the city.

Please also visit:

  • Marlene Dietrich found her last resting place at the municipal cemetery in the Stubenrauchstraße, here she is buried in the abbot's office 34-363.
  • The memorial plaque can be found at Marlene's birthplace in Schöneberg, Leberstraße 65.
  • Marlene-Dietrich-Platz is located near Potsdamer Platz.
  • A mural or mural of Marlene Dietrich can be seen at the building at Leberstraße 17, Schöneberg.
  • Deutsche Kinemathek (German Cinematheque): The collection shows thousands of photographs, correspondence and original costumes as well as pieces from the private wardrobe of the style icon.
  • In the online guide "The false trails of Marlene Dietrich", Silke Ronneburg, director of the Marlene Dietrich Collection Berlin, currently gives you an insight into Marlene Dietrich's efforts to present her image in public.
  • From 17 to 19 September, Wintergarten Varieté and Ute Lemper invite you to a "Rendezvous with Marlene"