Grenzkinos: How Hollywood ruled over Berlin

Posted: February 12, 2013 by jennroig in Chronicles, English, Miscellaneous
Tags: , , , , ,

Crossing borders… just for a film

berliner_grenzkinos_intro_1Grenzkinos… A German native speaker would translate such word as cinemas placed in the borders. However, probably only a few, especially among the younger generations, would know about its historical meaning and significance.

Grenzkino was the name given by the Berliners from both sides of the divided city to the cinemas that eastern Berliners preferred to visit even though they had to cross the border to the western side. Back in the postwar years, Grenzkinos were built to receive those who sneak into enemy’s land to visit the dark rooms and watch a film.

Paula Syniawa, Anna Jurzik, Phillip Lang and Andy Reader from the University of Postdam in Germany and Elizabeth Prommer from the University of Vienna in Austria made of those memories the main subject for a historical research. They joined efforts aiming to find the old film-lovers to record their stories. They dig the dusty archives of newspapers in order to check the Grenzkinos programs and reviews. Why eastern Berliners preferred Grenzkinos instead of the movies screened in their own part of the city? What was so special about the film program there that they could not find it in the eastern side? Was the Stasi retaliating somehow to the rebels?

grenzThey limited the time range to the period from 1945 to 1961. The discovery was surprising. Eastern Berliners declared no political reasons for them crossing the borders; instead, they did it just for the placer of watching the films. Indeed, there were few other options for the people in a city almost destroyed by the war. But once the dark rooms were illuminated again, they rushed on the way back home. This is a peculiar finding considering a general tendency within film reception studies stating that people often refer more to the social, inter personal and human experiences around the visit to the cinema than the consumption of the film itself.

But there are more practical reasons. Grenzkinos had special deals for the eastern Berliners. The price of tickets excluded any tax and viewers could even pay it without exchanging the currency. Going to the cinema in West Berlin resulted that way very cheap. Of course, the governing powers of the allies promoted the privileged treatment. Eastern Berliners were targeted as principal audience of the Grenzkinos because through the usual previous newscast there they were receiving some information censored in the eastern side. The strongest argument for such a statement is that quickly after the ties between the two Germanies were totally broken those theaters closed, going to bankruptcy without audiences.

It was also intriguing for the researchers the absence of records about the Grenzkinos’ visitants among the Stasi’s archives. Hypothesis ran fast at the beginning, perhaps the reports were hidden away from the researchers reach, or maybe they were destroyed before. However, the old eastern Berliners placed a more mundane argument; they never felt any threat, thus it is possible that the Stasi was busy in more urgent matters.

Instead, the east side responded the provocation trying to produce lighter content films. Some of them, comedies and Western imitations, were screened in a sort of eastern Grenzkinos. But the general outcome was a huge failure. Neither western nor eastern Berliners went to watch those films.

Today the Grenzkinos might have been replaced by other businesses or simply disappeared from the local geography. Maybe the ghosts of those who used to spend hours in those buildings still wander around. In any case, even if that answer was not among the scientific goals of the paper, they are committed to preserve somehow the memory of those places, and the publication of the investigation about the paper provisionally entitled “Movie taste and motives of cinema attendance in the parted Berlin (1945-61)” is planned for a near future.

One last thing… the old Hollywood classics were the films which came first in the remembrance of those days. The dances by Rogers and Astaire, the elegance of Gene Kelly and Cyd Charisse, the glamour, the beauty of a world without war and limitations were the principal attractiveness of those movies.


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