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Industrial film in divided Germany

Glowing hot steel, smoking chimneys and flashing switchboards; long production lines with freshly painted car doors; happy workers and entrepreneurs proudly reporting on their corporation's successes. Such images have become iconic; they have shaped industrial film in Germany. The shots tell of economic upswing, rising consumption, more beautiful products, modernization, automation and an increased quality of life and work thanks to technical innovation - a language of progress in East and West.

Veranstaltungen in Berlin: Fortschritt als Versprechen
© Getty Images, Foto: Fabio Pagani / EyeEm

Progress as a promise. Under this motto, the retrospective brings together industrial films from West and East Germany that were created for companies and businesses in the mining, iron, steel and automotive industries, as well as the chemical and optical industries. It was created in collaboration with film and contemporary historians Ralf Forster, Jeanpaul Goergen, Günter Riederer and Florian Wüst and accompanies the exhibition Fortschritt als Versprechen. Industrial Photography in Divided Germany, which will be on view at the German Historical Museum from February 10 to May 29, 2023, as part of EMOP - European Month of Photography.

After World War II, industrial film captured the economic reconstruction under different ideological auspices in both parts of Germany. As a commissioned film production, it followed entrepreneurial guidelines in the Federal Republic, while state and company interests had to be taken into account in the GDR. Despite these different production contexts, the films here and there promise one thing above all: progress, a better life and work, a happy future. In the young Federal Republic, this means first and foremost prosperity, mobility and a steadily growing economic power; in East Germany, it means above all the proclamation of economic programs and the founding of large socialist enterprises that also keep the social and personal advancement of their workers in mind.

With the increasing mechanization of the working world and a developing awareness of the ecological consequences of environmentally harmful technologies, the ideas of quality, progress and modernity propagated by the industrial films also change from the 1960s onwards. They take account of a changing image of corporations and companies that redefine progress and, for example in the West, integrate ethical aspects into the guiding principles of their automated, robot-controlled working worlds.
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