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Hamburg is the Star
by Becky Tan

Hamburg has starred in many films. It offers the perfect film location combination of water, woods, old buildings, and municipality. Think of the 1997 James Bond Tomorrow Never Dies which features the Atlantic Hotel, the Alster and Jungfernstieg as well as a car crashing off the roof of Kaufhof. Then there is Kick it like Beckham and Soul Kitchen and that Dutch film that I never can remember which was filmed in the Speicherstadt, because it looked more like old Holland than anything in the Netherlands. This year I saw three Made-in-Hamburg films.

Die Kinder von Blankenese was totally sold out for the premiere with people, many of the actors and extras from the film, along with family and friends, sitting in the aisles. In this docudrama Raymond Lay describes 20 orphaned children as they are moved from Bergen Belsen concentration camp to the Eric Warburg house on the Elbe River in Blankenese to recover from their suffering at the end of World War II. The Jewish Warburg family had fled to the U.S. The Nazis had confiscated their mansion and turned it into a clinic. After the peace treaty, Eric Warburg returned to Hamburg as a member of the U.S. military, cleared out the last Nazi supporters from his house and supervised the arrival of the Jewish children. Based on fact, two of the “children,” Tamar and Simcka, actually grew up and got married. Now 79 and 81, respectively, they came to Hamburg for this showing. Between 1945-47, 300 children stayed in Hamburg-Blankenese for an average of four months, before moving on to Palestine. Today the house is called the Elsa Brandström Haus and is used for conferences and workshops.

On a lighter note director, writer, and cameraman Henna Peschel, an original Hamburger from Wilhelmsburg, showed his third no-budget film Pete the Heat. Pete (Timo Jacobs) is a skate board profi who suffers an injury and must rethink his career plans. He and his loser friends decide to sail to the Caribbean San Pigro, the Island of the Lazy. For this they need a boat and money. The comedy shows the wrong ways to rob a bank, cure hemorrhoids, and treat a girl friend. There are marvellous scenes of St. Pauli, the Reeperbahn, the harbour and the river. My favourite was the boys in a small boat on the way to Cuxhaven; their friend jumps from a lighthouse into the river and swims to the boat.

Fifty years ago the Beatles got their start at Hamburg’s Kaisekeller at the Reeperbahn. At that time, Stuart Sutcliffe belonged to the group and the drummer was Pete Best. The 1994 docudrama  Backbeat describes this early beginning, including the role of photographer Astrid Kirchherr and the death of Sutcliffe. The Filmfest Hamburg celebrated 50 years of the Beatles with this and four other films, including Nowhere Boy which also showed at the Toronto and Sundance festivals. But my favourite was a documentary about the Beatles concert at the old Ernst Merck Halle in Hamburg in 1966. For the first time, hundreds of young people lined the streets to buy tickets, see their idols and generally create mass hysteria. The Hamburg police with the help of amateur photographers put together a film to show how they successfully met the challenge of crowd control. This film, Ankunft der Beatles in Hamburg (Arrival of the Beatles in HH) served for many years as guidelines for new policemen and is now in the police museum. Hamburg in the ‘60s is fascinating: Dammtor train station, Planten ‘n’ Blomen, fashions, police on horseback, etc. The concert was a success, although nobody could hear a single note from the Beatles due to the hysterical screaming of the fans. The Ernst Merck Halle was torn down in the 1980s to make way for the more modern Messehalle.