Since the Wall fell in 1989 the German capital has been trying to overcome its catastrophic past, to restore the urban fabric destroyed in the 20th century, to build as if life depended on it and cast off the shadows of yesterday’s darkness.
The film BERIN BABYLON shows images of a city in transition, the fascination of rapid change, the beauty of unadulterated landscapes, the horrors of destruction, the spell cast by the void. Prominent architects, developers, politicians and urban planners are seen at work. No interviews, no statements. The music provides the commentary.
The film’s soundtrack comes from the famous Berlin band EINSTÜRZENDE NEUBAUTEN. In the film their music can be heard alternating with classical pieces of music. “Modernity and history collide in BERLIN BABYLON. And that should also be reflected in the music”, explains director Hubertus Siegert.
„The movie BERLIN BABYLON is a unique document of a very special era that took place in Berlin.“
Meinhard von Gerkan, Architect
“But a storm is blowing in from Paradise; it has got caught in his wings with such a violence that the angel can no longer close them. The storm irresistibly propels him into the future to which his back is turned, while the pile of debris before him grows skyward. This storm is what we call progress.“
Walter Benjamin, Angel of History, On the Concept of History
GENESIS OF THE MOVIE
Director Hubertus Siegert was in the right place and at the right time: “The film shows the city after the walls came tumbling down. It portrays the agents of radical reconstruction in authentic scenes, edited into a documentary vision.”
The case was unique in the 20th century. The heart of a metropolis had wide swaths of unbuilt space, which, all at once, became expensive development sites.
Siegert: “Three angles intrigued me and drew me to the film. First, the fascination of this abrupt transition from one state of urban construction to another. Both the old cityscape and the new skyline were imbued with the atmosphere of fast motion. The old, virtually unscathed, in many places decadent, frightfully open and empty. The new, torn by countless construction sites, which reminded me of the silos of utopian promises as long as the buildings were going up. The film attempts to decelerate this breakneck epoch. Second, the Babylonian character of the entire Berlin experiment struck me. Civilization seems to be stereotyped since the Babylonian venture. Property owners, developers, contractors and construction workers are always poised to fill any vacancies they perceive in the urban core with structures of unbridled dimensions. The agoraphobic fear of emptiness elevates the rational business acumen of the Berlin real estate sector to new heights of frenzy. Third, the old, new Berlin documents German history astoundingly, layer upon layer, a delicate ambience it creates, which also includes the inglorious periods like the Third Reich and Communist East Germany, an ambience which is considered to be worthless and is therefore easy prey for the urban planning watchdogs. We have to hurry if we want to glimpse the unpainted face of the city before it is lifted and made up.”
REACTIONS TO THE MOVIE
“In BERLON BABYLON, which was beautifully photographed on film by Ralf K. Dobrick and Thomas Plenert, Mr. Siegert and his crew send cameras out to glide all over the city; the flow of aerial shots gives a vulture’s-eye view of the then-dying environs and includes the period from 1996 until 2000. By showing projects completed during the last five years, Mr. Siegert allows Berlin Babylon to fulfil the promise that art and architecture can have; like the people who are rebuilding Berlin, he seems to believe in the future. New York is also in desperate need of healing architectural strategies. And there is much to be learnt from this movie.”
New York Times
“Resonant and heartbreaking in its melancholy portrait of a ruined city trying to resurrect itself.”
“Due to its subtle cynicism and its documentary value, Berlin Babylon will gain in value. Future generations will be amazed at the audacity with which mediocre spirits from this city were able to stamp their seals.”
Scriptwriter, director, producer: Hubertus Siegert
Camera: Ralf K. Dobrick, Thomas Plenert
Steadycam: Tilman Büttner
Editors: Peter Przygodda, Anne Schnee
The Voice of the Angel of History: Angela Winkler
Original music: Einstürzende Neubauten, produced by E.N. and Boris Wilsdorf
Musical consultant: Thomas Krinzinger
Assistand Director: Ede Müller
Spacecam Operator: Anton Klima
Assistant producer: Nora Wischnat
Sound Design: Alexander Saal, Daniel Dietenberger
Sound mixer: Martin Schinz
➼ Film-Website BERLIN BABYLON