Science fiction is becoming optimistic again

"We are not only internationalists in politics."

A film on the forgotten history of science fiction cinema in the GDR

From Rüdiger Suchsland

Eolomea, Signals - A Space Adventure or The Silent Star - who knows these films? They are particularly unusual specimens of a species that is already very rare: since Metropolis and Frau im Mond, both by Fritz Lang, science fiction films have led a shadowy existence in Germany. While there were no SF films in the Federal Republic after the war apart from the series of Raumpatrouille Orion, the genre flourished briefly in the GDR for around 15 years from the end of the 1950s.
The reasons for this are obvious: At the end of the 50s and the beginning of the 60s, Soviet space travel also celebrated its greatest triumphs: The "Sputnik shock" shook the West, the space trips of cosmic dog Laika and above all of cosmonaut Juri Gagarin, who as the first man in space went down in history. It was during this brief, brightly optimistic epoch that the science fiction of the GDR cinema also boomed.

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At the same time, like ultimately the entire space effort of that era, these films were children of the Cold War. For example, The Silent Star by Thälmann film biographer Kurt Maetzig from 1960 - this is not a utopia, on the contrary: a dystopia from which the better arises. The shadow of Hiroshima and the threat of the nuclear arms race lie like a dark shadow over this story, which goes back to a template by Stanislaw Lem.
A Japanese woman explains: “I am never allowed to conceive a child. Because it was going to be a freak, a monster. Everything was decided for me back then - with the Hiroshima bomb. "

Only in the further course does the film create the harmonious image of a solidarity community. One does not have to attribute this to Maetzig's war experience - from which, as we know, completely different dreams and ideas could also grow.
Rather, it arises rather from the mood of the epoch: It's about the design of a future world community when a Chinese, a Japanese, a German and later even an American nuclear physicist come on board before a spaceship takes off to Venus. The Soviet hero explains somewhat conservatively, but not wrongly: “The landing on Venus cannot be the business of just one nation. We are not only internationalists in politics. In a peaceful world, we don't just keep our results with ourselves. "

The silent star was not only ideologically progressive, but also in its design and its futuristic plans for the future - for the buildings the director drew on the Babelsberg tradition and the staff. The expert Ernst Kunstmann, who had already worked on Fritz Lang's Metropolis during the Weimar Republic, was responsible for the tricks.

A society defines its relationship to the future through science fiction. And if a society has no science fiction images, then one can deduce that in a certain sense it has no future either.
In the GDR in the early 1960s, the future was not far off, but actually people were already living in the middle of it. Technology euphoria, the equality of a post-war society and space fantasy converged.

The television documentary Utopia in Babelsberg - Science Fiction from the GDR - is now devoted to the forgotten topic of GDR science fiction. It comes from the Berlin film critic Knut Elstermann and was produced by RBB on the occasion of the 75th anniversary of DEFA, the East German film production company.

The film also shows this with a look at neighboring fields: Because it is at least touched on that science fiction in the GDR was not only available in the cinema. Rather, there was a broad and differentiated author scene that experienced a great boom in the early 1970s.

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By 1980 the future was used up in the GDR - similar to the cinema of the West, where with masterpieces like Alien and Blade Runner optimistic science fiction turned pessimistic and dystopian.

What this surprising, unknown history of German cinema does to today's viewer is, on the one hand, a great desire to see more science fiction from other countries at the same time - from the optimistic epoch of the later post-war period between the end of the fifties and the middle the 70s.
And then you discover in yourself the desire to believe in a better future yet again so innocently, as the films of the time and their people naturally succeeded in doing.