Achtung Berlin 2018 – “Wessen Stadt?” und “Egal gibt es nicht”

     |    Thursday April 19th, 2018

Berlin is becoming more and more expensive and Germany is moving politically to the right. At this year’s Achtung Berlin Filmfestival, Andrew Horn took a close look at two documentary films dealing with these developments. In “Wessen Stadt?”, architects, urban planners and decision-makers ask themselves whether and how Berlin can remain a city for everyone. And in “Egal gibt es nicht”, Paulina, in her mid-twenties, takes on the right-wing populists of the AFD.

This evening’s entertainment was a pairing of two ca one hour documentaries, which at first glance, don’t seem all that connected. Hans Christian Post’s film, “Wessen Stadt?” (Whose City?) is a film discussing city planning in contemporary Berlin, while Florian Hofmann’s “Egal gibt es nicht” (‘I Don’t Care’ Doesn’t Count) is a film about a grass roots movement to keep the right wing Alternative für Deutschland party from earning enough votes in the German election to get seated in the Bundestag.

I think we could all agree that healthy discussion is a good thing, and if that’s true, “Wessen Stadt” is positively glowing with health. The topic is the future development of the city and if there is one thing that the people interviewed in the film – architects, architectural historians, architectural critics, and politicians in Berlin’s city building department – can agree on, is that they don’t necessarily agree with each other.

Some believe that the aesthetic of Imperial Berlin is the way to go, while others find it annoying. Someone would like to see the city follow a mid 20th Century look while someone else considers the post-War architecture of both East and West an aesthetic failure. One critic admires the East German use of large public spaces which have been regrettably cut back over the years, and another points out the large amount of green areas in the city. One person argues for an overall plan for the city, while another argues that a certain amount of chaos, such as existed after the Wall, is a necessary breeding ground for art and artists.

But bookending this discussion is the idea that the city is there for people and the need for it to both reflect and remain accessible to the broad spectrum of it’s inhabitants. It ends with an example of one pragmatic step in the right direction – a proposed plan for the revitilization of an abandoned DDR building in the middle of the city that would bring 42,000 sq meters for low income housing, community and artistic space. We’ve seen everyone talking, now the question is, who is listening?

Egal gibt es nicht” follows the story of a politically engaged young woman named Pauline, who, returning from a study abroad, is appalled by the rise of the German right wing party, AfD (Alternative für Deutschland) and decides she needs to do something about it. She gets together with a group of her friends and they all agree to put their lives on hold for a year and create a counter movement called “<5″ (less than 5), whose goal is to prevent the AfD from getting the minimum 5% vote needed to enter the Bundestag.

Seeing the movie now, after the election they are working up to, we know going in that the movement, not only failed to stop them, but that the AfD actually did alarmingly better than expected. It’s hard to get engaged in a story you already know is doomed, but what makes it work is an effecting portrait of Pauline’s own personal and political development.

We follow the ups and downs of her youthful enthusiasm as she becomes both the motor and the face of the movement, traveling the country, talking to people and organizing on a grass roots level. While winning supporters she also has to deal with constant frustration: apathetic people, the need to constantly justify herself, fear of threats from the Right, and even just plain exhaustion.

A turning point comes when she is encouraged to stop trying to argue with people who she thinks are wrong and redirect the mission to try to understand who these people are and what they think, in the hopes of establishing a common ground and delivering a positive message. The group’s outreach is portrayed as successful and energizing, but it was too little too late for the election itself. We are, however, left with the feeling that despite their failure in this campaign, Pauline and her comrades had a victory of their own.

Andrew Horn