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On the death of Wolfgang Kohlhaase: The human recognizer


If you want to learn something about the Germans, you have to see his films: In »Solo Sunny« or »Summer in front of the balcony«, Wolfgang Kohlhaase watched the mouths and lives of the residents of the GDR and the Federal Republic more closely than anyone else.

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Film artist Wolfgang Kohlhaase: His cinema always focused on specific people

Photo: Michael Handelmann / IMAGO

German cinema knows no stars.

There are well-known names among actors and actresses, yes.

In the case of directors, there are significantly fewer.

The remaining trades work almost exclusively anonymously.

But Wolfgang Kohlhaase, a surprising number of people knew him.

Even though he was a screenwriter.

He would certainly have found the term star strange anyway, but one can say that a film for which Kohlhaase had written the screenplay was a Kohlhaase film.

And only then a Konrad Wolf film or one by Andreas Dresen.

A prize, Wolfgang Kohlhaase once said, is the pleasant news that one has been noticed.

He has won many awards in his long career, counted in films, spanning from 1953 to 2017;

the National Prize of the GDR is among them, the Helmut-Käutner-Prize, the Honorary Golden Bear and the Federal Cross of Merit.

So Kohlhaase has often been noticed, even though his films were more quiet than loud, more melancholic than funny and more copied from life than kidnapped from everyday life.

Kohlhaase's cinema always focused on specific people and, through them, the society in which they moved.

This also and above all applied to the films he made in the GDR.

His second screenplay for "Alarm im Zirkus" from 1954 brought the first major success.

It's actually a children's film, and its depiction of the conditions in West Berlin is designed to be propagandistic.

But also full of human warmth and Berlin atmosphere.

You could sense Italian neorealism there, traces of films like »Bicycle Thieves«, which Kohlhaase had seen after the war and which made a deep impression on him.

Kohlhaase then continued to work with the director Gerhard Klein, and the team became famous for youth films, the socialist counterpart to the hooligan films of the West.

In »Berlin – Ecke Schönhauser«, all is not well in socialism, young people rebel against conformity, and one exclaims: »If I stand on the corner, I am a half-strong, if I dance the boogie, I am American and if I do that If you wear a shirt over your pants, it's politically incorrect."

It was amazing what could be said in the Defa film, although Kohlhaase later insisted that he took the GDR's utopia potential seriously and was not fundamentally at odds with the state.

Nevertheless, he had plenty of arguments with politicians.

His last youth film »Berlin around the corner«, in which he showed the frustrated workforce of a metal company suffering from a lack of materials and having to work with outdated machines, was banned in 1965 during the eleventh plenary session of the Central Committee of the SED, along with eleven other films.

But Kohlhaase did not lose heart and continued to insist on watching people in the mouth and at life.

Films with the director Konrad Wolf followed, the war film »I Was Nineteen«, the artist meditation »The Naked Man on the Sports Field« and finally, of course, his biggest and most influential film in the GDR, »Solo Sunny«.

Especially in his radically personal story about a singer who keeps her head above water by slogging through the villages and beer festivals of the province and dreams of her own great song, Kohlhaase, who acted alongside Wolf as co-director, was at odds with official politics, who didn't ban the film, but branded it as an uninteresting outsider drama.

"Solo Sunny" hit the viewers of the GDR to the core like few other films, perhaps because they felt recognized and seen in Sunny's failure and resurgence.

Perhaps that is Kohlhaase's greatest achievement.

And suddenly in this film the GDR, which often seemed so featureless to outsiders, became tangible and wide open in the dreams and defeats of its inhabitants.

"No breakfast," Sunny says in a famous Kohlhaase line of dialogue to a young man whom she gets out of bed in the morning.

And when he complains, she adds impassively: "It's okay without discussion." Renate Krößner was awarded the Silver Bear at the 1980 Berlinale for her fearless performance, and "Solo Sunny" received the film critics' prize.

25 years later, after the fall of the wall and the end of the GDR, Wolfgang Kohlhaase wrote a screenplay that again told about a young woman and her dreams.

"Summer in front of the balcony" was the name of the film that became Kohlhaase's greatest all-German success.

The fact that he was once again able to use seemingly the simplest means to get to the essence of a time, to the perhaps unifying feeling of a society, distinguishes him as a great judge of human nature, completely independent of the political situation in which he worked.

In this, Kohlhaase was aided by his love for his hometown of Berlin, which gave him no cause for local patriotism, but instead the opportunity to observe people as closely as he felt his line of work required.

"I grew up in this city," he once said about Berlin.

"It was never among the most beautiful cities in the world, but what does that say about how it is lived?"

How things are lived has always interested Wolfgang Kohlhaase the most, and few German film artists have come closer to life in the two German states and their shared capital than he has.

If you want to learn something about the people who live here, you have to watch his films.

you will stay

But Wolfgang Kohlhaase has left.

He died on October 5 at the age of 91.

Source: spiegel

All life articles on 2022-10-05

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