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Culture

Making Love to Berlin

Director Thomas Schadt’s camera settles on a kaleidoscope of images in his film “Berlin, Symphony of a Great City”, which has opened to large crowds of movie-goers in Germany.

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Not just the wall and TV tower... this is Berlin too!

A single day in the life of a bustling metropolis captured on camera in a visual symphony.

That’s Thomas Schadt’s version of the legendary 1927 silent classic "Berlin, Symphony of a Great City" in a nutshell.

If pictures could speak, Schadt’s remake tells volumes about the Berlin of 1927: the people, the place, the everyday details of life on the streets.

Berlin Die Sinfonie der Grosstadt Filmszene

Berlin Die Sinfonie der Grosstadt Filmszene

Just like the original director Walter Ruttmann, Schadt chose to shoot the film in 35 millimetre back-and-white reel.

The camera lingers on unusual images, going far beyond the usual postcard clichés of Berlin. The emphasis lay on giving Berlin a human face, or more precisely, human faces. People are at the centre of the film.

And this is where Schadt’s remake differs from Ruttmann’s documentary.

Ruttmann captured Berlin from dawn to dusk - from the time the city awakens, to the crescendo of bustling activity that builds up during the day to the time that the city goes back to sleep. He combined pictures of the city and its inhabitants into a dizzying quick-cut montage, depicting the brilliance and pace of Berlin in 1927.

"I think that people in my film are depicted differently than in Ruttmann’s. Ruttmann filmed people in very quick and very rigorous montages. For my taste, this made them too anonymous, and that was one thing I wanted to change. I wanted to present people with an individual, or you could say, human face", says director Thomas Schadt.

Kameramann Thomas Keller und Thomas Schadt

Kameramann Thomas Keller und Thomas Schadt bei den Dreharbeiten für "Berlin. Sinfonie der Großsstadt" in Berlin

Departing from the conventional

Schadt and his assistant spent a year combing the city for unconventional images.

And they came up with plenty.

In a series of long, static shots, Schadt’s camera focuses on the darker side of the city as Schadt investigates conflicts and reveals the cracks in the urban facade of Berlin.

People working in a BMW factory, the bustle of activity at a flea market, homeless people getting a free meal at a soup kitchen, a Jewish cemetery, the rich and famous dining at gourmet restaurants and preening before the camera...

There are also glimpses of Berlin’s more recent history such as the graffiti-splattered remains of the Berlin wall, known as the East Side Gallery and the glinting glass facades of the restored Potsdamer Platz..

Schadt is not oblivious to Berlin’s notoriously tumultuous deeper history either.

"I don’t think you can look at this city without also looking at what has happened in the last 75 years. Berlin is the result of history, its own history and the history of Germany."

Logically, the camera swoops down on the Olympic stadium, built for the 1936 Summer Games – a typical example of bombastic Nazi architecture.

Music has a special place

The score is all-important since the film itself has no narration.

Essentially a symphony, the score was played by the Southwest German Radio Symphony Orchestra.

Composers Helmut Oehring and Iris Schiphorst wrote the score while the film was still being shot and relied heavily on digital technology.

"We worked with a lot of computer technology. It enabled us to develop sound and image parallel to one another and to create an interaction. It allowed us, for example, to exchange sketches, raw material and preliminary ideas and results. We were constantly being inspired by each other’s work", says Thomas Schadt.