Scen.: Günter Neumann. F.: Georg Krause. M.: Walter Wischniewsky. Scgf.: Gabriel Pellon. Mus.: Werner Eisbrenner, Günter Neumann. Int.: Gert Fröbe (Otto Normalverbraucher), Aribert Wäscher (Anton Zeithammer), Tatjana Sais (Ida Holle), Ute Sielisch (Eva Wandel), O.E. Hasse (il reazionario), Werner Oelschläger (il saccente), Hans Deppe (Emil Lemke). Prod.: Heinz Rühmann, Alf Teichs per Comedia-Film GmbH. DCP. D.: 89’. Bn.
Berliner Ballade belongs to the group of German films from the immediate postwar period often referred to as Trümmerfilme or ‘Rubble Films’. Based on a screenplay by Günter Neumann, and directed by Robert A. Stemmle, the film was shot in 1948 on location in Berlin. It tells the story of the returning soldier Otto Normalverbraucher (Otto ‘everyman’ or ‘average consumer’), played by the young Gert Fröbe, and his daily struggle to survive in the devastated city, dealing with the pressing problems everyone was facing in the direct postwar era.
The movie’s real main character, however, is the city of Berlin itself, a place which – although not being much more than a huge pile of rubble – had already become the plaything of the great powers, who, as the movie suggests in a powerful scene, risk setting the world on fire. Thus, Berliner Ballade tries to turn a critical and satiric eye on the general sociopolitical conditions and events in Germany in the aftermath of World War II.
Originating from Günter Neumann’s own, at the time famous, Berlin cabaret programme Schwarzer Jahrmarkt (derived from ‘Schwarzmarkt’ or black market: literally ‘black funfair’), Berliner Ballade uses parody and satire to entertain its audience as well as provoke reflection. Even more important for establishing its humorous and ironic distance is the unusual perspective the film draws the spectator into: we are, as we learn from an authoritative narrator at the film’s opening, looking back at the Berlin of 1948 from the Berlin of 2048 (“the Berlin you know, the Berlin you see daily from your helicopters”), which as the film illustrates in impressive futuristic images, is a vast and vital metropolis.
Berliner Ballade was a success especially outside of Germany (it won the International Prize for Best Cinematography at the Venice International Film Festival in 1949) but later fell more or less to oblivion. Thanks to the Günter-Neumann-Stiftung, which acquired the rights to the film in 2017, this interesting cinematic testimony of its time is now available to be rediscovered in a new, digitally restored version.