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Cinema without borders

August 20, 2009

The last border controls between Germany and Poland disappeared in 2007, but Germans and Poles still do not know much about each other. A nomadic film project wants to change that – in the tradition of travelling cinema.

The Kinomobilny – an old GDR trailer transformed into a cinema-popcorn-bar
An old East German trailer has been converted to provide a unique cinematic experienceImage: DW

A big old bus bumps over the cobblestones of a village road in eastern Germany, close to the Polish border. It is pulling the Kinomobilny - a blue and white trailer transformed into a cinema-popcorn-bar. The driver, 30-year-old Janosch from Berlin, is proud of the Kinomobilny.

"This is an 'Intercamp 2000,' a trailer from the GDR. Back then they had small trailers costing 8,000 East German marks, but we got the version they sold for 40,000," Janosch said. "This was the export version, made for the Western market. But they only produced 50 because nobody in the West was really interested in premium trailers from the GDR."

Janosch is one of the 20-strong cinema crew touring along the German-Polish border region this summer. Financed partly by the EU, the crew are zigzagging their way along the border in order to screen short films on both sides of the Oder and Neisse, the rivers separating Germany and Poland.

Tomek from the kulturalny kolletyw team at the University of Gdansk organized the Polish side of the tour. He hopes the Kinomobilny will bring people on both sides of the border closer together.

"Although the border is open, people stick to their own country. They do not speak a different language than their own and they do not even go to the other side. This is really strange to me. I mean, it is so easy to get to the other side of the border, but people are not really interested," said Tomek.

Cycling through terra incognita

The project's equipment travels with some of the crew by bus and trailer. As there are only four seats available, the rest of the German-Polish crew are left to make their way using pedal power. Every day they cycle up to 35 miles (56 kilometers), passing through nature reserves and sleepy villages.

None of the team members has been to the border region before. For 30-year-old Miriam from Berlin it's a chance to explore some terra incognita.

"It is so beautiful and peaceful here. The bike path runs along the Oder and Neisse rivers and the landscape is really amazing," said Miriam. "It is interesting to think that there is so much political meaning to such an idyllic area."

No rest for the cycling cinema crew

As soon as they arrive at the village of Boxberg in eastern Germany, the crew sets up their open-air cinema. This involves hanging light bulbs, putting up recliners and checking the projector for the evening's screening. Some of the crew head into the village to hand out flyers to the local inhabitants.

After sunset the first villagers show up. They seem surprised that an intercultural project like Kinomobilny has stopped in their village. Most of the villagers feel the German-Polish relationship is best left to politicians and not something to be tackled in their own backyards - even if Poland is only a stone's throw away.

The program consists of seven German and Polish short films that focus on cliches and stereotypes. But they also show a new, refreshing perspective on Polish-German relations. For example, there's a rabbit looking for the love of his life at the Berlin Wall, Polish hooligans and the perceived madness of German red tape. Each film is screened in its original language with subtitles in German or Polish.

Bringing Poles and Germans closer

Even though only 20 villagers turned up for the screening, the German-Polish cinema initiative went down very well.

"For sure this film program brings us closer to the Poles, there are a lot of people especially in eastern Germany that don't have a clue about what is happening in Poland," said one of the visitors, Judith.

"I hope a lot of people get to see these films," added Judith's boyfriend Tobias.

Thanks to the Kinomobilny team, Tobias' wish will be fulfilled. After Boxberg the travelling cinema-come-trailer has eight more stops planned all along the Polish-German border.

Author: Nadine Wojcik
Editor: Rob Turner

German-Polish open-air cinema in Zary, Poland
The open-air cinema shows films in their original languageImage: DW
The organizers cycling along the border
Every day the organizers cycle up to 35 milesImage: DW
German-Polish cinema crew in front of their Kinomobilny
The crew of "Kinomobilny" are taking their show to several towns along the borderImage: DW