“We Are the Natives of Trizonia”: Inventing West German Cinema, 1945-49

Programme curated by Olaf Möller

On November 11th 1948, Karl Berbuer performed for the first time in public a song that would soon grab the German imagination: Wir sind die Eingeborenen von Trizonesien (‘We are the natives of Trizonia’). Normally, Cologne carnival ditties remain a rigorously regional thing. But this one was special: It’s nothing short of a national anthem, a declaration of independence by an occupied people sensing that freedom and new statehood are near. Sure, it is all delivered in a funny tone and full of jest, but if one analyses the lyrics closely it’s fascinating to see how much in terms of hopes and fears Berbuer stuffed into just a few lines: how he’s busy calming fears of German violence while stressing the locals’ generally jolly good nature.
By the autumn of 1948 it had also become clear that occupied Germany consisted of two parts: on the one hand the Soviet-occupied zone (which would become the German Democratic Republic), on the other the US-, British- and French-occupied zones which at some point joined administrative forces by forming the Trizone (out of which the Federal Republic of Germany developed).
Over the decades, a lot of misleading stuff has been written about film production in first the Trizone then Adenauer-era FRG, mainly because it all got lumped together; and if a closer look at the latter shows that FRG cinema between 1949 and 1963 consists of at least three distinctly different periods, then it should be very clear that 1945-49 must again be a context apart. Generally film history also focuses its presentation of immediate postwar cinema on a small corpus of realist works referred to as Trümmerfilme (‘Rubble Films’). In hindsight, another perspective suggested by a remark in a 1956 issue of the magazine “Das Schönste” seems more productive: there, these years were called the avant-garde days of (West) German cinema. And it is true: between 1945 and 1949 an astonishing amount of formally unusual, even daring, films were produced. Some of these belong to the Trümmerfilme-corpus and are at least well-known in Germany (In jenen Tagen, Helmut Käutner, 1947; Film ohne Titel, Rudolf Jugert, 1948; Berliner Ballade, Robert Adolf Stemmle, 1948). Others have been widely ignored, such as the fairy-tale meta-movie Der große Mandarin (Karl Heinz Stroux, 1949), the found footage-collage-cabaret-cocktail Herrliche Zeiten (Erik Ode, 1949-50), or two essays in documentary-driven narratives, Lang is der Veg (Marek Goldstein and Herbert Bruno Fredersdorf, 1948) and Asylrecht (Rudolf Werner Kipp, 1949). There’s much more, but this should give a first impression of the cinema one can discover – a modern cinema, brainy, sensual and free-spirited.

Olaf Möller