Tuesday, 10 November 2009

Der Himmel über Berlin



As part of the Fall of The Wall celebrations, angels stood on top of buildings lining the route of the wall from Potsdamer Platz to the Brandenburg Gate. Or rather actors dressed as angels of course.

The reference was to the superb film Der Himmel über Berlin directed by Wim Wenders, and released in the English speaking world as Wings of Desire.

The film is as much about the last days of the Berlin Wall (it was filmed in 1987) as it is about angels becoming mortals and falling in love with trapeze artists. Apart from delicious cinematography the film is notable for starring Bruno Ganz, who later went on to play Hitler in Der Untergang, Otto Sander, who played the shell-shocked U-Boat commandant in Das Boot, and - rather bizzarely - Peter 'Columbo' Falk.

Ganz and Sander play two angels, Damiel and Cassiel, who along with many other winged beings in Berlin spend eternity testifying to 'reality'. The meaning behind this is all rather too deep to get into here, but suffice to say that it leads to some wonderful stream-of-consciousness dialogue and some pretty dark humour (the last thoughts of a suicide whom Cassiel wants to save, but can't, in particular springs to mind). Damiel is the angel who falls in love with the trapeze artist (played by Solveig Dommartin), but to be able to make him see her, or indeed touch her even, he needs to become human. This leads to some more quirky comedy as Damiel tries to fit in as a mortal, which he is somewhat inept at even though he has spent thousands of years observing and documenting human nature. We also find out that he is not the first angel to become mortal, as Peter Falk (playing himself), apparently was also once an angel. No wonder he's so good at seeing through people's false alibis as Columbo.

The meandering plot is little more than a vehicle for some wonderful imagery, especially of the graffiti-covered Berlin Wall, a desolate Potsdamer Platz, and an immaculately pristine death-strip. Sometimes its experimentation with ideas, words and images doesn't quite hit true, but add in some cracking music by a young Nick Cave and The Bad Seeds and you have a well-deserved classic.

The 'angels' out on the buildings tonight were a bit too distant, and the light a bit too dark, to get a clear shot. So, I mono-chromed one of my snaps and added a bit of graininess to put together this Berlin tourism poster. Hope you like it! (click for bigger).

This gives you an idea of how high up these angels were standing!


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