East vs West

Comparing the post-war literature & cinema of East and West Germany (1945-1990)

Martha Williams | March 2011

On May 8th 1945, the war ended for Germany with the signing of the unconditional surrender for German forces. On the June 5th, the Allies signed a treaty proclaiming their authority over German territory: the country would be governed through four occupied zones belonging to Britain, France, the Soviet Union and the United States. From this moment on, and for almost half a century to come, Germany was divided. 

In 1949, the French, British and US zones were consolidated to become the Federal Republic, while the east of Germany became the communist-controlled Democratic Republic. Berlin, although it lay in the eastern sector, was split between the powers. A further and more absolute statement of division came in 1961 when the Berlin Wall was built, completely encasing the west of the city but providing a symbol for the Easterners’ imprisonment in their own country. This was to be a prison sentence lasting for 40 years, ending on November 9th 1989 with the fall of the wall. This border symbol was ultimately breached in 1990 with the collapse of Communism leading to German reunification.

Understandably, the cultures of the two states developed in different ways, but there were, and are, parallels. In this essay I will discuss how far the literature and film of east and west differed, the causes of such differences, and the impact of the divide upon the artists and the country as a whole.


The Bundesrepublik Deutschland (Federal Republic of Germany) was undoubtedly the bigger and stronger component of the old Vaterland. Prospering under capitalism, the system its Eastern neighbours were trained to abhor, West Germans were afforded all of the benefits that living in a Western country held. For the most part there was full freedom of expression in film and literature, but life for the people of West Germany was not completely straightforward. After the war, scores of German towns stood in ruin; people had to come to terms with the loss of their loved ones and the subversion of their previous way of life. As the Allies took power, a population who, for twelve years, had had to subscribe to Nazism (and perhaps come to whole-heartedly believe in it), now had to become at one with the ‘enemy’. This volte face was compounded by the demand that they deal with the blame and guilt from the horrors committed under Hitler’s regime. But while the process of recovering from the war dragged on, the country gained power and thrived.

The German Democratic Republic (Deutsche Demokratische Republik) was so widely regarded as the weaker and poorer of the two divided German states that even its own officials recognized it. The fact that they spent much of its 40 year existence proclaiming that it was world-class in every field only served to ‘show the size of the chip on their shoulder’.1

It is generally accepted that the former GDR was inferior to its western neighbour in almost every area – all, that is, except the arts, particularly film and literature. While the country produced a considerable number of works of propaganda and insubstantial escapism that were to be expected, East Germany also generated important artistic works, which could rival those not only of its western neighbour, but of any nation, despite the barriers put before the writers and filmmakers. Its population also had to transform itself into its erstwhile wartime enemy, and also had to deal with the aftermath of the war and transform their lives accordingly. With very limited freedom of expression, perpetual indoctrination, censorship and spying, as well as a lack of freedom to travel, life in East Germany was difficult. The government knew almost everything about everyone, and it was likely that one’s friends were actually reporting your every action to the Stasi. Although there was supposedly a democracy, in truth there was only one real party, the SED (Sozialistische Einheitspartei Deutschlands), which retained power throughout the existence of the GDR.

The Literature of the East

The writers of the GDR could be divided into three categories according to their attitude to the state and their responses to censorship: firstly, there were those who more or less sustained support for the regime, such as Anna Seghers and Johannes Becker, who had been exiled under the Nazi regime, had high hopes for the first socialist state on German soil and who became establishment figures in the east. Secondly, there were those, such as Stefan Heym and Bertolt Brecht, who approved of the main aims of the regime but suffered censorship (whether imposed by the state or themselves). Brecht’s work was partly praised, partly withheld by the regime, as both his theatrical works and other available texts were censored. Lastly, there were those, such as Jurek Becker, who became so disheartened with the regime that they gave up on the east altogether and escaped to the Federal Republic.

It could be argued that the writers who stayed in the GDR and who worked under the limits dictated by the state, even if they had to practice self-censorship, had not effectively challenge the repressive state. Many would contend that no East German author criticised the regime at any fundamental level, and the stability of the regime was strengthened by the ease by which it could deport dissidents to the west – a common-language community – in a way Czechoslovakia, Poland, Hungary and the other eastern bloc countries could not.2 Consequently, fewer nonconformists remained in the country to stir up trouble and the government could carry on as normal.

In the East, there was a constant change in cultural politics, as periods of relative liberalisation were followed by those of repression. Nevertheless, even in periods of liberalisation, it was accepted that ideas deemed to be a threat to the state would be censored: the SED maintained its security through censorship of texts by means of intimidation, threats and punitive measures.

Writers would use various tactics to evade censorship or have their works illegally published in the west, but despite this, ‘culture in the GDR was always determined by the conditions of production’.3

Criticism of communism, discussion of the current governments of East Germany or the Soviet Union or mention of the Stasi’s activities was not tolerated. Views seen to be sympathetic to capitalism or fascism were prohibited and one was certainly not allowed to encourage ideas that promoted resistance to the government. As the SED officials spent the majority of their time preaching that the GDR was faultless, negative portrayals of the country were stifled in order that the government would be able to maintain the pretence of a problem-less society. Criticisms about the standard of living and problems with the system fell into this category. Neither the inescapable, all-pervading presence of the Berlin Wall, nor the acknowledged but never discussedRepublikflucht (escaping the East for the West) were to be represented. So-called ‘crude’[4] topics, such as homosexuality and pornography, were disallowed, as were depictions of East Germans as delinquents, alcoholics or depressives. As far as those peoplpe monitoring literature and film were concerned, anything not considered to be a ‘proper’ form was disallowed: this included free verse poetry, internal monologue, streams of consciousness dialogue and avant-gardism.

The Stasi (Ministerium für Staatsicherheit), the ‘shield and sword of the party’, was responsible for carrying out punishments if an author or filmmaker disregarded these conditions: at the very least the offending party would be warned and the material would not be released. The author could also be put under arrest and imprisoned, SED members could be expelled or – in the most extreme circumstances – they could lose citizenship and be deported to West Germany. Western books were smuggled from the FDR into the East but would be confiscated if found by the Stasi, who carried out searches of people’s homes on a regular basis. If someone was suspected of being an enemy of the state and Western literature was found in their possession, the consequences could be serious.

In the GDR, writers and their works were integral to the country’s development. For critics of the regime, they were responsible for creating a social consciousness and, for those who supported the regime, ‘contributing to the development of a socialist community’[4a]. East German literature could not help being political: it was one of the only ways in which matters could be discussed and debated. In the west, politics in literature was not always necessary as there were many more direct and legitimate ways by which debate could be had. In the east, any controversial ideas in literature had to be hidden in an attempt to prevent the censor from working out the real meaning. While many authors tried to avoid conflict by creating works that fitted the guidelines, others took censorship as a challenge. For them, it stimulated their creativity and forced them to use satire, irony or metaphor to make their point unrecognizable to the censor. And, because the intended messages were always hidden, East German readers developed a technique of reading deeper between the lines of seemingly innocent texts, a technique which was superfluous for their western counterparts.

The people of East Germany occupied a strange and ironic position. ‘The communist takeover officially absolved them of Nazi guilt’[5] and it was as if the atrocities of the Nazis had solely been the fault of the West Germans, and the people of East Germany had had no part in it. It is impossible for someone to be pro-Nazi one day, and anti-fascist the next, but this is what the GDR government expected, when, in fact Nazi attitudes remained. But from the end of the war onwards the population was required to be Communist.

Thus the main endeavour for government-endorsed literature was to build socialism (Aufbau des Sozialismus) – but ‘it was later agreed by members of the regime as well as readers that literature did little to change the attitudes of East Germans post Nazism’[6]. Biased accounts of communist freedom-fighters fighting alone against Nazism were unconvincing and over simplistic. When the government realised that television might be a more appropriate and unignorable method for manipulating public opinion, attempts to do this with literature were demoted.

This period immediately after the end of the war had seen a freedom of style and a positive outlook for the future that was understandable after the years of brutality suffered under the Nazi regime, and the prospect of forming a new state with contrary principles to it. From 1959 writers were encouraged to gain experience of life in the factories and manual labour, whilst workers were encouraged to write. Many novels from the subsequent period were not fully convincing to Western readers, such as Crista Wolf’s ‘Der Geteilte Himmel’, with the heroine’s final preference to live in the East rather than join her lover in the West. (Wolf lost her place in the SED, however, with the publication of the pessimistic ‘Nachdenken über Crista T’ in 1967 but after the fall of the wall it was revealed that she had once been a part-time informer for the Stasi)

The Berlin Wall was constructed in 1961, and ironically, despite restrictions on travel to and from the GDR, freedom of expression flourished’.[7] A short-lived period of cultural liberalization that began in 1963 as the SED relaxed, having stopped the outflow of East German citizens into the West and stabilised their economy (also inspiring this period of liberalization were Khrushchev’s post-Stalin reforms in the Soviet Union) came to an end in December 1965 with the eleventh session of the cultural committee of the SED, with Erich Honecker (soon to be General Secretary of the SED) championing it. Despite this, upon his ascension to power in 1971, Honecker said: “If one proceeds from the firm position of socialism there can… be no taboos”[8], an apparent outlook that inspired a new optimism, as he continued to work closely with Willy Brandt, Chancellor of the FDR, and followed his policy of Ostpolitik (reconciliation between Eastern and Western Europe as he tried to forge closer ties between the GDR and FDR).

During the course of the 1960s and 70s this optimism was occasionally counteracted by crackdowns by the government designed to quieten opposition to the state. There were moments of liberalisation, as in 1973 which saw the publication of Ulrich Plenzdorf’s ‘Die Neuen Leiden des Jungen W’, a book based on the Goethe novel and with an essence of JD Salinger’s ‘The Catcher in the Rye’.[9] Its depiction of a youth whose habits were hardly held up officially shows the period’s allowance for certain experimentation. At some points during Honecker’s regime certain forms of popular culture and music were met with a greater toleration, and this encouraged a feeling of freedom for writers.

The turning point in cultural policy happened in 1976. Singer and guitarist Wolf Biermann, who was a Communist but criticised East Germany’s Stalinist policies, had been branded a ‘class traitor’ by the SED and in 1963 was banned from publishing his music or performing in public. On the 16th of November 1976, the Politbüro stripped him of his citizenship while he was on tour in West Germany: he was accused of conducting ‘staatsfeindliche Hetze’ (activities hostile to the state).[10] This move confirmed a new, harder line from the authorities and provoked protest from many prominent writers, including Crista Wolf. A letter of protest was signed by over 100 writers and sent to Honecker, but the SED’s reaction was to suspend many of the petitioners from the party, and even to imprison some. Many other writers, such as Sarah Kirsch and Jurek Becker, moved to the West either through choice or because they were forced. Those who stayed experienced a loss of faith in the system and consequently the era of optimism in East German literature ended.

Despite the evident censorship and subjugation of free expression, as late as 1988 the official line was that there were minimal restrictions, as East Germany complied with the Soviet glasnost (the open discussion of social problems, the government’s shortcomings and general activities). If works were not accessible, it was argued, it was because of mechanical problems in production, not because of official constraints as to what was available to the public.

In reality there were considerable limits put in place by the government, although the GDR Minister for Culture, Klaus Höpke said that, in his view, there was plenty of room for experimentation by artists but, he continued, some, such as songwriter Stefan Krawczyck who had been arrested and exiled in 1988, produced works that ‘had nothing to do with culture.’[11]

Even those writers known for their criticism of the GDR are now seen by many to have been responsible for the disillusionment of the society due to their persistence in creating the illusion of an autonomous, new socialism. Those who had claimed to oppose the state are now accused of accepting bribes for writing conformist literature.

After reunification in 1990, when the Stasi files were opened, it emerged that Sascha Anderson and Rainer Schedlinski, who had been part of the

Prenzlauer Berg underground community of artists, had also been Stasi agents. In fact, the whole of the community had been swarming with informants.[12] To many, this revelation ‘seemed to undermine the validity of East German literature as oppositional art’.[13] The extent to which this is an accurate statement is debatable, as there were many authors who genuinely opposed the state, and who refused to collaborate with the Stasi. However prominent writers in East Germany occupied a privileged position: they were able to travel to the West, earn enough Western money to be able to live comfortably, and gain an international reputation. Those publishing oppositional literature were almost guaranteed publication in the West, so were somewhat dependent on West Germans: the relationship between the literary worlds of the two Germanys was essentially a symbiotic one. For all the hype and a certain myth-making, unlike other Eastern bloc countries, the intelligentsia of the GDR were not at the forefront of opposition.

The Literature of the West

In post-war West Germany, the motto amongst businessmen and publishers was a ‘return to normalcy’. But the writers had emerged from the war that had killed millions and any sense of normality was essentially destroyed, and for them the literary world was gone. In the arts, overt anti-fascism was not welcomed as the ruling Adenauer government had reinstated civil servants from the Nazi regime.[14]

Authors such as Alfred Andersch, Wolfgang Koeppen, Arno Schmidt and Ingeborg Bachmann were admired as the voices of a new post-war literature, but the large-scale theatre productions at the time that were funded by the occupying powers and money from the public budget meant that these authors were hardly perceptible. In fact, it seemed that a ‘return to normalcy’ meant a return to pre-war books: in 1958, the list of the most successful books comprised of more than 100 titles, only 13 of which were written after 1945.[15]

Alfred Andersch and Hans Werner Richter, former American prisoners of war, founded the periodical Der Ruf (The Call). In 1947, the US occupying forces revoked the licence to publish the journal, presumably because it promoted ideas detrimental to the Allies. In response, Andersch and Richter founded of Group 47 (Gruppe 47), an organisation concerned with reinstating the broken traditions of German literature; believing that fascist propaganda had corrupted German, they intended to ‘purify the language from the taints of Nazism’[16], advocating a sparse style of descriptive realism lacking in poetic or unnecessary language. An example of a resulting piece of literature is Wolfgang Borchert’s ‘Draussen vor der Tur’, or ‘The Man Outside’.

West German literature of the 1950s consisted mainly of works dismissed asTrivialliteratur (trivial literature), light fiction which appealed to popular taste. Perhaps this movement resulted from a desire for escapism: a distraction from the bleakness of post-war Germany. However, by the end of the decade four particularly prominent – and credible – writers had emerged: Heinrich Böll, Gunter Grass, Uwe Johnson and Martin Walser. Böll and Grass in particular were critical of life in West Germany[17], but despite this all four authors inspired international interest and at last suggested a potential for serious West German literature that was not just a shadow of its past. Grass’s Die Blechtrommel (The Tin Drum), published in 1959, is now seen as a classic, and was turned into a widely successful film twenty years after its publication. Regarded as blasphemous and pornographic, the novel was published at a time when Germany had barely begun its process of, as the philosopher Adorno said, ‘working through the past’. Confronting the past by depicting Kristallnacht, amongst other events, the novel was one of the first steps towards breaking the silence about the Nazi era in West Germany – although it took Grass until 2006 to reveal that he had been a member of the Waffen SS at the age of 17.[18] (He was 11 at the time of the 1938 pogroms)

During the 1960s, with the Frankfurt Auschwitz Trials (1963-67) paving the way for criticism of Nazism, there was a continuing confrontation in literature with the Nazi past in new forms and with new topics.[19] For example, Ralf Hockhuth’s play ‘The Representative’ challenged the role of Catholics in the Third Reich. In addition to a condemnation of the past, during the 1960s increasingly critical views of the bourgeois, affluent, materialistic present began to appear, as more and more writers began to see narrative as a medium for critique. Although Heinrich Böll’s major achievements were in short stories, his novels, such as ‘Die Vorlorene Ehre der Katherina Blum’ (1974) and ‘Fürsorgliche Belagerung’ (1979)provided an insight into the developing problems in the Federal Republic’s society.

In West Germany, literature did not play the same role, as the vehicle for criticism, as it did in the GDR; the Federal Republic had diverse outlets for discussion and debate, so literature did not need to make such strong politically critical points as much as in the East. However, although the criticism in the East was more intense, West German writers ‘did tend to play a critical role in public debate that was less evident in Britain and other countries’.[20]

The Film of the East

During the Third Reich, Germany’s film industry was monopolized by the state-owned UFA (Universum Film AG), and used to the Nazi party’s advantage. As Minister for Propaganda and Enlightenment, Joseph Goebbels was put in charge of UFA, indicating the propagandistic functions of the film company. After the war, UFA was disbanded and, in the East, replaced with the Deutsche Aktien-Gesellschaft (DEFA). Although there was a new name and the companies had opposing political views, UFA and DEFA are comparable in that they were both state-controlled monopolies used to produce the ruling party’s propaganda.

Film in East Germany was given a head-start compared with the West, as the Bebelsberg Studios previously used by UFA lay in Potsdam, within the Soviet zone of occupation, saving the government money and effort of constructing an industry from scratch. The first feature film produced in Germany after the war was Wolfgang Staudte’s ‘The Murderers Are Amongst Us’, which was shot in the stark landscape of post-war Berlin and released in 1946, three years before the separate states were founded. Helke Misselwitz’s documentary, ‘After Winter Comes Spring’ (1988) ‘gave voice to the overwhelming atmosphere of stagnation and the hope for change in the dying years of the GDR’.[21] These two films show the spectrum of works produced by DEFA: from the anti-fascist and humanist ambitions marking the ideological beginnings of a new, better Germany seen in the former; to the ‘weariness and resignation’ of people living under the fossilised regime’[22] of the latter.

Up until 1949, there was no East or West filmmaking – just German. As late as 1962, there was an asymmetrical relationship between the two industries that ‘ended with the construction of the Berlin Wall and the Oberhausen Manifesto’[23] (a proposal signed by twenty-six West German directors that marked the beginning of New German Cinema). Some DEFA filmmakers wrongly believed that the imaginary and real boundaries created by the Wall would construct more favourable conditions for artistic expression. In the GDR, the Aufbau des Sozialismus had been completed and it was now time for the consolidation of socialism (Ankunft im Sozialismus) and film was subject to the political demands of the Hauptverwaltung Film within the Ministry of Culture. Sometimes filmmakers received luxuries but mostly they were put under overriding constraints. Immediately after the construction of the Wall, there was a period of a slight reduction in restraints for filmmakers as well as authors (as discussed earlier in the essay) mainly due to the economy of the GDR having been stabilised by the fact that the Berlin Wall had ended the haemorrhaging of citizens to the West. The period of relaxation ended and constraints tightened again as concern grew about films critical of the government (also spurred on by the building of the Wall) – however the Party claimed the crackdown was because of the films’ potentially negative effects on youth. Consequently in 1965, after The 11th Congress of the SED’s cultural committee, twelve films were withdrawn, mainly featuring ‘bored, sceptical or disillusioned GDR citizens’[24]. For example, Herrmann Zschoche’s 1965 film ‘Karla’, which was written by Ulrich Plenzdorf, depicted a young teacher going against the ‘routine opportunism of her hypocritical and small-minded surroundings’[25] and was condemned as nihilistic and hostile by officials and, along with almost all of the DEFA productions of that year, was banned. Only in 1990 was it screened in cinemas.

In 1989, DEFA employed about 2500 people. During its time, the company produced hundreds of documentaries and 700 feature films, over 130 of which were for children[26]– showing the importance the state ascribed to the new generation that was to carry the banner of socialism in the future. Many more films were aimed at youths; adults in the GDR wanted to control rather than understand young people.

DEFA films were defined by a mixture of ‘cultural ambition, political compliance, social critique and aesthetic convention’[27], and this created an essential part of German socialist style. The filmmakers had to try to balance several needs: portraying their own personal beliefs; the SED’s demands for the expansion of socialist ideals and the creation of an East German identity; and the audience’s requirements for entertainment: thus they had to develop a style that conveyed this mixed, often contradictory, position. Film had to meet the demands of art, education, information and entertainment.

Künstlerliche Arbeitsgruppen in East Germany approved of filmmaking as a collaborative experience, explaining why DEFA films frequently lacked a distinct artistic signature. The GDR’s own special identity (of being part of the Eastern Bloc but also one half of the former German state) allowed the films to retain a certain ‘Germanness’ by being able to resist some of the reform initiatives in other Eastern Bloc countries.

For audiences, watching films in the GDR, as with reading novels, meant reading between the lines for things the censors might have overlooked. So while a Western audience watching ‘In the Dust of the Stars’ might not notice anything untoward, an East German audience ‘would be aware of its ambiguous ending, which does not conform to the rules of socialist heroism’[28]. In ‘I was 19’, a female character is afraid of being raped by USSR soldiers, an audacious violation of a taboo subject. The 1968 musical ‘Hot Summer’ was phenomenally successful, partly because of the fiction of a spontaneous group holiday (unheard of in the GDR, with its regulated system of distribution of holiday accommodation), which provided a relief from the gloomy actuality of life outside the cinema. In the summer that the film was released, socialist armies crushed the phase of liberalization in Czechoslovakia.

At the start, DEFA films functioned as a ‘stabilising force in managing political dissent and as a corroding influence on social harmony’[29]; they could reaffirm the bond between the masses and party leadership, and realign public fantasies into the interests of the state. In many cases they operated as a substitute for the public debate that was not available. Although there were more constraints put on film than in literature, there were fewer than in television, so there was a very small degree freedom.

Film in the West

While in East Germany there was – both in cinema and literature – the development of a strong interrogation of recent German history, particularly the Third Reich, in the Federal Republic film was not noted for this, for a large part due to the reinstatement of civil servants who had served under the Nazis. The film industry in West Germany was not state controlled as it was in the East, but the government did exert an influence: the Film Evaluation Board gave ratings to films, which had tax implications for film distribution. In addition, the state distributed Filmbürgschaften, which were loans to the film industry[30], allowing them to influence which films were produced.

In West Germany, the state broke up the UFA film industry while in the East DEFA was founded, which meant that the East’s film industry was stronger than the one in the FDR. Many Western filmmakers had built careers in the Nazi regime but because the FDR’s film industry was weak, it could not compete with America or other European countries. Accordingly, they developed a strategy of making inexpensive genre films to appeal to a specifically German audience. The most famous and popular of these wereHeimatfilme – romantic comedies set in the idyllic and picturesque surroundings of Germany and Austria. These films led to the development of provincial cinema and the commercial success of West German films[31] until the late 1950s, at which point competition from television set in.

Wolfgang Staedte, the filmmaker who directed Germany’s first post-war feature, ‘The Murderers Among Us’, was actually from West Berlin but collaborated with DEFA. However, after the release of his 1951 film ‘Der Unterstan’ (‘The Subject’), which depicted the rise of fascist authoritarianism in West Germany, the FDR government prohibited him from working with DEFA again. He refused and so was barred from filmmaking in West Germany until 1955. Ironically, after 1955, the Cold War made collaborations with the GDR almost impossible.

By 1962, West German film production had declined to 63 feature films per annum[32], ranking the country fifth in the world. Most of these films were of poor quality and had no possibility of competing with the export market dominated by the USA. That same year, during the German Festival for Short Films, the Oberhausen Manifesto was written and signed by twenty-six young German directors, declaring the old German cinema dead: ‘Papas Kino ist tod’. This marked the beginning of ‘New German Cinema’.

The directors sought expression using a new film language, and stressed the value of short films that educated rather than entertained. Subsequently they made short, unstructured films on very low budgets, many of which were very political, reflecting their belief that German film should be concerned with contemporary problems in Germany: ‘the materialism of the post-war society, the morality of the bourgeoisie, the alienation of youth and the moral disaster of the Nazi legacy’[33]. Some of the directors made autobiographical films in the belief that one’s personal problem was also the world’s problem. They showed disdain towards notions of ‘artistry’ and ‘entertainment’, believing film should serve as a medium for the diffusion of ‘ideas and philosophies which challenged the established order’.[34] Too anti-authoritarian for its time, this early movement was rejected by the majority of filmgoers, and was financial disastrous.

However, this early attempt at ‘meaningful’ film did eventually develop into a strong industry that achieved international praise by the late 1960s (and into the 1970s). The directors at the forefront of the Neu Welle or New Wave were Rainer Werner Fassbinder, Wim Wenders, Werner Herzog and Volker Schlöndorff. They were known to study the works of Francis Ford Coppola, Hal Ashby, Martin Scorsese, Steven Spielberg and Peter Bogdanovich, themselves representatives of a new cinema in America, who showed personal film could be both entertaining and commercially successful. It is interesting that, considering America’s past in Germany, many of the German New Wave directors were strongly influenced by classic American films of the 1930s and 1940s. As Wim Wenders said, “All my films have as their underlying current the Americanization of Germany. I see my own films as American”.[35]

But as the international popularity of these films increased, cinema attendance in West Germany continued to decline. The films of New German Cinema challenged tradition and were often critical of the bourgeois society in which the moviegoers lived, and probably believed in. They were also derisive in their dealing with German history. But Wim Wenders said in 1977 that: “You have to remember that for years Germany had no film tradition. Now it’s beginning to come back.” Many, such as Werner Herzog, refused to acknowledge the achievements of German filmmakers from 1933 to 1945. The death of Fassbinder in 1982 is ‘often considered the end of New German Cinema’.[36] Because each filmmaker had their own styles that were specific to their own films, it is difficult to define the style of New German Cinema.

What next?

It is the intention of this essay to recognise that the two Germany’s were both influenced – often in competing directions, but sometimes mirroring each other – by the experience of the Second World War, the break up of the country and the physical and psychological impacts of these events.

However, it is remarkable that under a period of repression in East Germany, art flourished and took on a social meaning; while film and literature in the West often had a certain artifice to its creation of rebellious art. However, it is ironic too, that the free West often imposed restrictions on its artists, writers and filmmakers – censoring much of their output – but with a less gratuitous, authoritarian rationale.

The heroic efforts of many dissidents in the East to maintain their artistic integrity in their film and literature during an extreme post-war period of state-sponsored repression, should be praised and recognised more widely than is currently the case. The impulse of those suffering repression is, it would seem, to fight for liberal free expression. However, it will be interesting to see what new forms of literature and film emerge in the rebalancing of the New World order as Germany reasserts itself on the world stage.


1. East German Cinema – Heinz Leo Kretzenbacher (2009)

2. Interpretations of the Two Germanies, 1945-1990 – Studies in European History – Mary Fulbrook and Roy Porter (2000)

3. Interpretations of the Two Germanies, 1945-1990 – Studies in European History – Mary Fulbrook and Roy Porter (2000)

4. Germany, 1918-2000: The Divided Nation – Mary Fulbrook (2002)

4a. To Tell the Truth? The East German Literary Debate – Monica Munn

5. Stasiland – Anna Funder (2003)

6. History of Germany, 1918-2000: The Divided Nation – Mary Fulbrook (2002)

7.To Tell the Truth? The East German Literary Debate – Monica Munn

8. History of Germany, 1918-2000: The Divided Nation – Mary Fulbrook (2002)

9. www.litencyc.com

10. www.biographybase.com

11. History of Germany, 1918-2000: The Divided Nation – Mary Fulbrook (2002)

12. To Tell the Truth? The East German Literary Debate – Monica Munn

13. To Tell the Truth? The East German Literary Debate – Monica Munn

14. Memory and Commerce, Gender and Restoration: Wolfgang Staudte’s Roses for the State Prosecutor (1959) and West German Film in the 1950s – Richard McCormick (2001)

15. The Miracle Years: A Cultural History of West Germany, 1949-1968 – Hannah Schissler (2001)

16.Legacies and Ambiguities: Postwar Fiction and Culture in West Germany and Japan – Ernestine Schlant (1991)

17.Interpretations of the Two Germanies, 1945-1990 – Studies in European History – Mary Fulbrook and Roy Porter (2000)

18. Peeling the Onion – Günter Grass (2006)

19. Interpretations of the Two Germanies, 1945-1990 – Studies in European History – Mary Fulbrook and Roy Porter (2000)

20. History of Germany, 1918-2000: The Divided Nation – Mary Fulbrook (2002)

21. East German Cinema – Heinz Leo Kretzenbacher (2009)

22. East German Cinema – Heinz Leo Kretzenbacher (2009)

23. German National Cinema – Sabine Hake

24. The German Cinema Book – Horst Claus

25. www.defafilmlibrary.com

26. DEFA: East German Cinema, 1946-1992 – Sean Allan and John Sandford (1999)

27. DEFA: East German Cinema, 1946-1992 – Sean Allan and John Sandford (1999)

28. East German Cinema – Heinz Leo Kretzenbacher (2009)

29. The Miracle Years: A Cultural History of West Germany, 1949-1968 – Hannah Schissler (2001)

30. Memory and Commerce, Gender and Restoration: Wolfgang Staudte’s Roses for the State Prosecutor (1959) and West German Film in the 1950s – Richard McCormick (2001)

31. Memory and Commerce, Gender and Restoration: Wolfgang Staudte’s Roses for the State Prosecutor (1959) and West German Film in the 1950s – Richard McCormick (2001)

32. German National Cinema – Sabine Hake (2004)

33. The New German Cinema – Caryl Flinn (2004)

34. www.michaelfussell.tripod.com/new.html

35. www.michaelfussell.tripod.com/new.html

36. New German Cinema: Images of a Generation – Julia Knight (2004)


Author: austinwilliams

Austin Williams is the director of the Future Cities Project and author of a number of books on the environment and on China. The latest are "China's Urban Revolution" (Bloomsbury) and "New Chinese Architecture: Twenty Women Building the Future" (Thames and Hudson).

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