Saturday, November 28, 2009

Jörn Donner: The Berlin Report 1958-2008 (a book)

Jörn Donner: Berliini-raportti 1958-2008 (original in Swedish: Rapport från Berlin). Finnish translation by Toivo J. Kivilahti. First edition WSOY 1958. Further editions by Otava 1977, 1989, and 2008.

I read Jörn Donner's acclaimed The Berlin Report for the first time, although I have always been aware of it. The reason for the timing of the reading was the 20th anniversary of the fall of the wall. The value of Donner's book keeps growing. He became a Berlin regular in the 1950s and was able to meet people like Bertolt Brecht and Willy Brandt. He saw the full significance of Berlin as a symbol of the condition of the world during the Cold War.

Myself, I have also "noch einen Koffer in Berlin", and "ich bin auch ein Berliner". The happiest day in my life was the 9th of November 1989. I think it was about 8 pm that a good friend of mine at the YLE (Finnish Broadcasting Company) newsroom called me and told me about the fall of the wall. As I called some of my best Berlin friends, they heard about it from me, and could not believe it!

This year I heard from Claudia Dillmann, director of the Deutsches Filminstitut in Frankfurt, that she flew to Berlin on the 10th of November in 1989, and the pilot took extra rounds over the city and urged the passengers to have a look as the people of Berlin tore down the wall.

The fall of the wall was not a surprise. I remember having said aloud at the Berlin Film Festival the year before that in ten years, the wall will no longer be there. Those years, I visited the Moscow film festivals twice when the glasnost and the perestroika were at full swing. The writing was on the wall - on The Wall.

When I first crossed East Germany and East Berlin in 1981 by a train bound to West Berlin, my first impression of East Germany was of suspicion and surveillance. The East German border patrol inspected the train with their Schäferhunde so that nobody could escape. I paid only a couple of short visits to East Germany. Even a child could see that it was dead already, and that it was a matter of time when a change would come.

The East Berlin people and professionals were always very sympathetic. As I began watching systematically German film classics in the Stiftung Deutsche Kinemathek (then at the Theodor-Heuss-Platz), there was no problem in accessing film prints from the other side of the wall.

The Berlin people were rude but cordial. That was still the time when they barked "alle aussteigen" and "zurückbleiben" with Prussian military harshness at the subway (U-Bahn). I learned to appreciate the "Berliner Witz", the tough and direct way to deal with hard facts with a sense of humour.

An example is the story about Max Ophuls, who left Germany in 1933. When he returned to Berlin after 17 years to market La Ronde, in Hotel Kempinski the staff at the reception was the same. When he ordered a taxi, the taxi driver was familiar, too. "Where have you been?" asked the chauffeur. Ophuls told him. "You didn't miss much", said the chauffeur. ("Da haben Sie nicht viel verpasst".)

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