Somewhere in Berlin

English Title: Somewhere in Berlin

Original Title: Irgendwo in Berlin

Country of Origin: Germany

Studio: Deutsche Film (DEFA)

Director: Gerhard Lamprecht

Screenplay: Gerhard Lamprecht

Cinematographer: Werner Krien

Editor: Lena Neumann

Runtime: 80 minutes

Genre: Social Drama, Der Trümmerfilm

Language: German

Starring/Cast: Paul Bildt, Charles Brauer, Harry Hindemith, Fritz Rasp, Hedda Sarnow, Hans Trinkaus

Year: 1946

Volume: German


This film traces the struggles of two so-called ‘rubble-children,’ Gustav (Brauer) and Willi (Trinkaus) in post-war Berlin. Gustav’s father (Hindemith) is still missing from the war, while Willi, his friend, has neither father nor mother, and is exploited by the corrupt Birke (Bildt) to steal food. The film then further underscores the fragmented family life of rubble-children by having the boys meet a whole army of other children who have convened among the rubble, without any adult supervision, to play war. 


Into this chaotic social situation wanders Gustav’s father in a conspicuously tattered uniform, at first not recognized by his own son. When Willi observes how his friend’s father struggles with conspicuous depression and despair, he steals food from Birke to nurse him back to health. Birke is furious and throws Willi out of his house. Parentless and now alone, Willi decides, when teased by the other boys, to prove his courage by scaling a towering ruin, from which he promptly plummets. Gustav’s father visits Willi on his deathbed and promises him that they will build it all up again. The film closes with an image of father and son pounding away on the rubble to rebuild the former’s garage.


In a way similar to the first post-war feature film, Murderers Among Us (1946), this second feature after World War II (made by DEFA in the Soviet Occupational Zone) also foregrounds the reconstruction of traumatized returning soldiers amidst the social chaos of post-war Berlin. Perhaps even more than Murderers, the film emphasizes how the conflicts taken up in the film reflect widespread social problems that are typically not just ‘somewhere,’ but anywhere ‘in Berlin.’ Also similar to Murderers Among Us is the selective use of memorable location shooting to thematize the ubiquitous rubble of Germany’s post-war cities, which serve as stark symbols for the challenges, both psychological and social, that Germans would face after World War II. Finally, also as in Murderers, these shots of the rubble become conveniently abstract, even abstruse, symbols for the past and its crimes. Rather than any direct representation of the victims of the war or Holocaust, the past is represented primarily through the trauma that the returning German soldier manifests, but that neither he, nor this plot, ever very specifically articulates.


The focus of Somewhere in Berlin, however, is not so much, as in Murderers, on how the rubble-women would have to put aside their own concerns to help reconstruct Germany’s traumatized men, but instead on the social problem of rubble-children, who often had not seen their fathers for years, and who had also frequently lost their mothers in the bombings and battles in Germany’s cities. Both of these fates are central to the plotting of Somewhere: at the start of the film, Gustav brings home an adoptive, if corrupt, man to replace his missing father; while his best friend Willi is an orphan exploited by one of these era’s recurring types – the small-time criminal taking advantage of the relative lawlessness of the early post-war period.


Somewhere in Berlin does share with Murderers Among Us an aesthetic, almost film-historical strategy as well. Like Murderers, the film deliberately returns to the less politically problematic cinematic traditions of the Weimar era. Like Wolfgang Staudte, the writer/director Gerhard Lamprecht also wanted to circumvent the sort of films produced by the very successful Nazi film industry by taking up a topic and style of the pre-World War II era. But, while Murderers Among Us deploys a somewhat expressionist style with shadow, murder and intrigue, Somewhere in Berlin explicitly invoked a hugely successful children’s story and film of a later Weimar moment more akin to New Objectivity, namely, Erich Kästner’s 1929 Emil and the Detectives, which Lamprecht himself made into a film in 1931 from a script by Kästner, a young Billy Wilder and some uncredited work by Emeric Pressburger. It was not only the children at the centre of the plot which underscored this return to the 1931 film; the conceit of a wallet stolen by a character played by perennial spook Fritz Rasp also made these links – a circumventing of the Nazi era in favour of Weimar citations – very clear. The film’s strategy of coming to terms with the past by only vaguely depicting it and then returning to the Weimar era is clear at the surface of the plot and its casting.

Author of this review: Jaimey Fisher