Andrew McDonald '07

Unterwegs in the City: Movement and Change in Fiction and Feature Films about Millennial Berlin.

modern berlin

My mother is originally from Germany and I have traveled there many times to visit family and friends throughout my life. Despite this exposure I did not really become interested in the study of the language and culture until arriving at Bowdoin College. My interest in doing a project on the city of Berlin did not begin until after my time abroad during the fall of my junior year.

After returning from Berlin I wanted to continue to work with the energy of the city that I had been a part of for almost four months. It was obvious that the fairly recent reunification has been a major force in creating this energy. Berlin, in the last two decades, has been the site of tremendous transformation. All of this change has produced a number of different conflicting forces that have led to the formation of a variety of tensions. These forces – political, social and geographical – became the focus of my project. I examined recent literature and film about the German capital to illuminate these tensions.

In exploring these two forms of media, I found that there has been an imperative by many to conjure up a single definition for the city. This is not possible because Berlin continues to change; it is in a state of flux. My paper focuses on the authors, filmmakers, politicians and others who have attempted to describe this tension between movement and change in order to produce a complete story of the city. I selected two films – Die fetten Jahre sind vorbei and Berlin is in Germany, along with the political rhetoric of the new capital, two forms of literature – Remake Berlin, an anthology, and Bodo Morshäuser’s Liebeserklärung an eine häßliche Stadt, and a number of secondary sources to document these efforts.

My analysis of cinematic works reveals the tensions that mark the quest for describing contemporary Berlin. I have contrasted cinematic representation with the discourse of official Berlin, which has tried to document the transforming city itself. Finally, the reading of the novel and anthology concludes that it is impossible to write a single story of Berlin. One is only left with glimpses into the German metropolis. Many images are created, but they cannot be combined, and, rather, remain separate and describe the energy that is Berlin.

Researching such a contemporary topic was both challenging and exciting and without doubt a highlight of my Bowdoin College experience. With the help of Professor Tautz I was able to greatly improve my analytical skills as well as my writing and am very happy with the outcome.