The Fall of the Wall in Radio and TV Soap Operas and Comedies

Trabbi with Germanys national colours
Trabbi with Germanys national colours | Photo (detail): © spql – Fotolia

The 25th anniversary of the fall of the Berlin Wall will once again be celebrated on 9th November 2014 – not only by politicians and the German people, but also in a big way by the media. This time however German radio and TV stations will also be looking at this seminal event from quite unusual angles.

When it comes to the Wall coming down, there are certain moments that people in Germany will never forget: people embracing each other in front of the Brandenburg Gate, convoys of those little East-German cars, Trabants, crossing the inner-German border, people dancing and partying on top of the Berlin Wall. The opening up of the Berlin Wall on 9th November 1989 paved the way for the reunification of Germany. Every year when they celebrate the fall of the Wall, the media traditionally show emotional footage of this historic event.

A quarter of a century has passed since the borders between the German Democratic Republic (GDR) and the Federal Republic of Germany opened up to let people cross them without hindrance and in that time a lot of things have changed in Germany – both politically and socially. Of course, documents of contemporary history are still an important element that contributes to people collectively remembering the euphoric times of the peaceful revolution. The way people look back at these times, however, is changing – in the media, too. Ten years earlier, in 2014, commemorative programs had titles like Tales of Escape, When the Wall Came Down or Retracing the Dictatorship. Today, however, the public TV and radio stations in Germany have also developed new formats and new ways of looking at the events of that time.

Radio soap opera and six-hour-long TV documentary

One of the most exciting projects was launched by the Mitteldeutsche Rundfunk (MDR) station. This public broadcasting station mainly reports on the East German federal states of Saxony, Saxony-Anhalt and Thuringia and to celebrate the anniversary it decided to produce a soap opera for the radio. “We did not feel like churning out the story of the peaceful revolution for the hundredth time”, says  Stefan Nölke. He is an editor at MDR and is responsible for Thälmannstraße 89 – as the soap opera is called. It is mostly a love story, but it is also about remembering. What do we think of a quarter of a century later? What were the most important events of the peaceful revolution?

The soap, which is available to listeners for one year from the MDR’s media library, does not arrive at any clear and tangible results. It does, however, have an overall message – at least your own story is a true one and the focus should be more on this.

This conclusion is important, because up to now the peaceful revolution has been dealt with in a much broader context, as a major political and historical event. This has resulted in certain angles being ignored – angles that will soon be lost forever if they are not focused on today.

New perspectives

This way of looking at the events of that period has also been embraced by the Rundfunk Berlin-Brandenburg (RBB) station in the form of a long-term documentary entitled Die Ostdeutschen (The East-Germans). “The GDR has gone, but we still have the memories” is the statement made by the production people. In an attempt to preserve what has remained the documentary allows 25 really quite different people to tell their stories. A baker, for example, recalls his story about the wall coming down, as well as a debt advisor and a gallery owner. Due to all the different points of view the six-hour-long documentary provides an authentic image of the peaceful revolution, life in the GDR and life in a reunified Germany. 

This approach of inviting different people to describe their personal view of what happened is very much in vogue at this year’s anniversary. On 5th November 2014 the Das Erste station will be showing the film Bornholmer Straße – a personal view of things that almost verges on breaking with a taboo. “We dared to approach the subject of ‘25 Years after the Fall of the Wall’ from a completely unexpected perspective  and present it in a new, comedic narrative style”, says producer, Jana Brandt. The film centres on the events taking place at the Bornholmer Strasse border checkpoint – the first checkpoint to be opened. What happened, however, is seen through the eyes of a border guard who, contrary to his previous orders, is forced to open the border due to the onslaught of people trying to cross to the West.

At a sneak preview Bornholmer Strasse was enthusiastically received. As Ms Brandt said, the film had such a strong effect on people’s emotions that it did not matter anymore how the Stasi’s border control personnel (the GDR’s secret police) had been treating the people. This reaction also shows that the way this rather serious subject is dealt with is now becoming a little more laid-back. Certain points of view are expressed now that a few years ago would not have been possible in this form. “This temporal distance from the events of 1989 does not just permit us to focus on different angles, but also to adopt a radically different narrative style”, says Ms Brandt.

Both a time line and a time trip

Alongside these new ways of looking at things, people’s individual stories, this year there are also the historical moments to be seen in image and sound. In its purest form, for example, on the ZDF station – Germany’s second public broadcaster. On 2nd November 2014 the station will be showing seven hours of original footage from 1989 – without any commentary. The public radio broadcaster, Deutschlandfunk, has compiled a show called Mauersplitter (Wall Fragments) – people can listen to the most important sound bites from the autumn of 1989. The RBB station has posted the entire history of the inner-German border online in the form of an interactive time line at Berlin-Mauer.de. The MDR station has produced an app called Zeitreise which enables users to take a time trip to various places in central and eastern Germany at the time of the political turnabout.

A quarter of a century later these new developments are also an integral part of the anniversary celebrations – developments that show the comprehensive and historic effects of this socio-political turnabout. They are important as they testify to what peopla have achieved during the peaceful revolution. And that is something that cannot be repeated enough.