BERLIN—SCHÖNHAUSER CORNER (Gerhard Klein, 1957)

The finest film of the 1950s about disaffected youth is Gerhard Klein’s Berlin—Ecke Schönhauser, written by Klein and Wolfgang Kohlhaase. The setting is East Berlin a few years prior to the construction of the Berlin Wall; most of the adolescents here are jobless, aimless. Klein’s film is unsentimental; it is therefore unlike the monstrously sentimental film by Nicholas Ray Rebel Without a Cause (1955), whose teens are mostly rich, whining, self-pitying. Klein’s kids have real problems, including absent fathers who were killed in the war and financial duress. The film is an eclectic mix of Italian neorealism, Hollywood noir and French poetic realism. This last element suffuses in particular the poignant romance of Dieter, a construction worker, and Angela, who constantly talks back to her harried mother as a way of speaking up and declaring, “I exist.” Indeed, all the youngsters, even the criminally inclined Karl-Heinz, capture our sympathetic attention. The visual texture of this black-and-white film includes deep silken shadows.
     Explosions, minor and serious, mark the milieu: a streetlight that one of the boys pops; the live bomb—symbolic of the war’s ongoing presence and influence—that a bulldozer raises from rubble; a gunshot.
     The film is most realistic in depicting the external life of the city, including the particular street corner where kids congregate; the scenes at a police station are not so convincing. The dance that the kids attend, where Karl-Heinz steals a girl’s identification card, accounts for a pulsating passage. The music is not quite rock; like the unearthed bomb, it also is a remnant of the recent past—a sign that nothing in East Germany is quite up-to-date, but also an index of how strenuously these young people are reaching toward what is after all an indistinct signpost.

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