There are some wonderful offerings at the German Film Festival screening at Brisbane’s Palace Cinemas this month, and two documentaries are standouts.


Merkel, directed by award-winning London-based German film-maker Eva Weber (Searching for Sugar Man), is a beautifully made and insightful documentary about one of Europe’s most surprising and influential leaders. 

Weber opens the film with Donald Trump in 2015, to chants of ‘build that wall’, railing against German Chancellor, Angela Merkel’s decision to allow Syrian refugees into Germany.

“Now, Merkel. What did she do? She’s destroyed. I mean, she’s in the process of destroying Germany. And we are building a wall on the southern border which is absolutely necessary.”

In an interview on ABC’s Late Night Live with Philip Adams, Weber says comparing Merkel with Trump was a powerful way to start the film.

“…and it’s so obvious, her strength, the way she thinks about things carefully. She’s a scientist. She goes on facts. She doesn’t do things impulsively. And for me, anyway, that opening of the film where Donald Trump is saying to build walls, and Angela Merkel is saying tear down walls of narrow mindedness and ignorance…, it really sums up a lot of what the film is about.”

Angela Merkel was born in 1954 in Hamburg, West Germany, but her father, a Baptist Pastor, moved the family to East Germany when she was just one year old. 

As a schoolgirl, Merkel’s ambition was to study languages and become a teacher, but she opted to study physics at the University of Leipzig, completing her doctoral thesis on the reactions of hydrocarbons in 1986.

“I chose to pursue a career in physics because there, the truth isn’t so easily bent.”

The documentary explores how Merkel’s East German heritage shaped her politics. It draws on historical interviews with Merkel and engages with Barak Obama, Hilary Clinton, Tony Blair, and other leaders who recount their experiences and relationships with Merkel. 

In a defining moment relevant to Ukraine’s experiences today, Merkel recounted an exchange between her and Putin in 2007. Putin tells Merkel that the collapse of the Soviet Union had been “the worst event of the 20th century.” Merkel responds that for her, as someone who grew up in communist East Germany, the fall of the Berlin Wall meant she could live her life in freedom.

Merkel expanded on this in a commencement address at Harvard University in 2019.

 “The Berlin Wall limited my opportunities. It quite literally stood in my way. However, there was one thing which this Wall couldn’t do during all of those years: it couldn’t impose limits on my inner thoughts. My personality, my imagination, my dreams and desires – prohibitions or coercion couldn’t limit any of that.”

Blair describes Merkel as entirely non-ideological in her political approach, nor was she a populist. Merkel referred to opening German borders to refugees in 2015, for which she was severely criticised, as a ‘decision of conscience’. Over one million people applied for asylum in Germany in 2015 and 2016, and the documentary sees it as the defining moment in Merkel’s chancellorship. Her decision was criticised for fomenting anti-immigrant opinion in Germany and put her leadership at risk.

“If we now have to start apologising for showing a friendly face in response to an emergency situation, then that’s not my country,” Merkel said at a news conference in 2015.

Merkel and Barack Obama had a close relationship during his presidency. They worked together to address the refugee crisis and climate change. However, when Obama farewelled Merkel in 2018, following the election of Trump, he was surprised to see tears in her eyes as his car drove away. He reflected to staff that the tears were not for him but because, at that moment in international politics, and with Trump poised to be sworn in, “She was all alone.” 

For her own farewell in 2021, the German leader was invited to choose three songs to be played by a military band and surprised many with her choice of the 1974 East German hit by punk icon Nina Hagen. The song, “Du Hast den Farbfilm Vergessen,” or “You Forgot the Colour Film,” recounts the singer’s frustration with her boyfriend, Michi, who had taken the black-and-white film for the camera on holiday in Hiddensee.

The song, often considered a criticism of the bleakness of the German Democratic Republic, has the plaintive refrain, “No one will believe how beautiful it was here.”

 Angela Merkel rarely referenced her heritage in East Germany during her 16 years as leader. So much so, that the German newspaper Tagesspiegel proclaimed after the concert, “Merkel outs herself in the end as an East German“.

Merkel – Brisbane Screenings

Palace James St

Thursday 4 May 1:10 PM

Monday 8 May 5:50 PM

Palace Barracks

Sunday 14 May 11:00 AM

Wednesday 17 May 2:00 PM

Thursday 18 May 1:15 PM

Wednesday 24 May 11:20 AM

2022 • 94 min • Germany, UK, Denmark • Documentary

Director: Eva Weber

Cast: Angela Merkel, Tony Blair, Barack Obama, Hillary Clinton

Language: German with English subtitles, English

B-Movie: Lust & Sound In West Berlin 1979-1989 

B-Movie: Lust & Sound In West Berlin 1979-1989 fits nicely with the Merkel film, though it never references her – this is a film about musicians, not politicians.

The 2015 documentary explores Neue Deutsche Welle (New German Wave), a genre of German-language pop music that emerged in the late 1970s and early 1980s.

It follows Mark Reeder, then a young, disillusioned Manchurian, escaping Thatcher’s Britain to find his musical destiny in West Berlin. The new West Germany music scene attracted Western musicians looking for inspiration. Bowie and Iggy Pop lived there for a time, and Reeder gives Australia’s Nick Cave space to live in his squat. He also organises a not-too-successful concert for the British band Joy Division.

Neue Deutsche Welle is said to be a reaction to the punk and new wave movements of the time, characterised by a mix of electronic and traditional instruments, often with a heavy emphasis on synthesisers. The music sometimes sounds discordant, angry and bleak, reflecting the disillusionment of young West Berliners with the rigid imposts of post-war agreements that divided the city into three sectors with the Americans in the south, the French in the north and the British in the west. It was, as Reeder often says, an island.

Exploring this underground music scene in West Berlin during the Cold War, the film features interviews with the musicians, archival footage, and music from the era, giving it a gritty, authentic feel.

While many of the musicians featured seemed at the time to have little concern for, or curiosity about, their contemporaries in East Germany, music eventually created a sense of accord between the two sides of the Berlin Wall as calls intensified for a unified Germany. 

The film ends with the pulling down of the wall, heralding a new musical order – techno.

2015 • 92 min • Germany • Documentary

Director: Jörg A. Hoppe, Heiko Lange, Klaus Maeck

Cast: Mark Reeder, Gudrun Gut, Westbam, Blixa Bargeld, Nick Cave, Nena, Einstürzende Neubauten

Language: English and German with English subtitles

B-Movie: Lust & Sound In West Berlin 1979-1989 – Screens at Palace Barrack on Thursday 18 May, 7:00 pm

The German Film Festival runs in Brisbane from 3 May to 24 May – for all details see this link

Cover image supplied