As I made my way across the many streets of Berlin to arrive at the Zeughaus Kino, I felt the wild congestion of people, bus, trains along with the strange, visual mix of old and new architecture which gives this city a beat of its own. Set among several stately buildings constructed in the 1700s, this cinema already gives off a scent of ancient history and is now home to the Deutsches Historisches Museum. The theater has 166 seats and feels more like a lecture hall. It lacks the ambiance and glamour of a theater but somehow fits to the Retrospecktive section.
First film of the day was MIT DER KAMERA DURCH ALT-BERLIN (A Camera Journey Though Old Berlin) from 1923 by an unknown artist. This black-and-white, silent film projected a different Berlin than the one I had just passed through. It began with the bustle at the center of town moving slowly through small streets and alcoves until we ended up in a quiet square with trees blowing in the wind looking at a beautiful window with an abundance of plants on the balcony. All in all there seemed to be very few people living in this view of Berlin. Assuming that the next film would be as picturesque and pleasant as this one, gave no clues what was in store for me.
The year 1926 in Germany is an important time period since Germany was economically struggling to regain stability. It was prior to the Great Depression as well as the time when Hilter gained control over the Nazi party. DIE UNEHRLICHEN by Gerhard Lamprecht (which has two English titles: The Illegitimate andThe Children of No Importance)is a film with a strong social criticism of the society of the times. Or is it more than that? Looking back on history for at least the last two centuries, we see the birth of orphanages (both state, church and privately owned) as well as the concept of foster parenting. When the institute runs correctly or the foster parents are really interested in the child, it opens doors for orphans and unwanted children. Die Unerhrlichen leaves no stone unturned. It systematically portrays the lives of three children played by Ralph Ludwig, Fee Wachsmith and Margot Misch who desperately want to be playful children but have been placed with an incapable money-hungry couple. The disgruntled couples are too cheap to go for a doctor so one of the little girls dies of pneumonia. The boy, for the moment, seems lucky since a young heiress has becomes his foster parent. Unfortunately, his luck turns as his real father takes him back so that he can be exploited by doing hard labor on a canal boat. In desperation he attempts suicide by drowning. The film reminds us of Dicken’s Oliver Twist filled with unsavory characters and a system that only favors the economic gain for adults. So why does it take us so long to address a serious social problem?
In an article from The Independent entitled “Germany admits to enslaving and Abusing a Generation of Children” writer Tony Paterson explains that in 2010 the German government had to officially apologize and pay compensation to some 30,000 victims who were forced to do hard labor and were exploited in foster homes over a time period covering almost three decades of the post Nazi era. He also describes the famous Magdalene Laundries where young, unclean Catholic girls were enslaved to do laundry in Ireland as well as some other cases.
England also recently in 2010 had to apologize for shipping off approximately 130,000 children between the ages of 3 -14 years old to Canada and Australia where they would find themselves being used for hard labor and servitude in 1920s -1970s. The Australians apologized in 2009. Canada, addressing its abuse of taking children from their homes and forcing them into schools, so that they would become more integrated, now recognize their mistakes and will pay compensation to those children. Trudeau last year put out his hand to change the relationship so that Canada will be strong.
The biggest children’s home was located in the former DDR Kinderheim Mararenko which opened in 1953 and was just closed in 1991. It housed between 134 and 600 children at a time. The children ranged from 0 to 18 years of age and, although most of the children said the treatment was not as terrible as other institutions, the most damage came from the parents themselves, that wanted to flee east Germany which was easier to do without a child. The article said that some 8000 children still to this day have no connection to their families. It is strange that this place has become a tourist site since it is in the Konigsheide forest near East Berlin. Ref: www.AbandonBerlin.com.
Children are the future and the education we give them today plays a very important role in the future. I left the theater with this profound film Children of no Importance in my head hoping we can hear its message. There are so many possibilities to make a difference.
Charity Programs in Hamburg
Children for Tomorrow
Stiftung steps for Children
Mentor Hamburg e.v.
Plan International Deutschland e.v.