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Site: A Level German
Course: A Level German
Book: Articles
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Date: Saturday, 15 December 2018, 7:14 PM

Table of contents

1 Nordwand-Stölzl


On a mission to find films that would appeal to younger viewers, prefererably with no swearing, sex or violence, Nordwand or North Face directed by Philipp Stölzl seemed like a no-brainer and so it turned out.  However bad the climbing film, if it's realistically filmed with plenty of vertical views and dangerous moments it is going to be gripping. And there's always that poignant moment when the climbers find the frozen bodies of their predecessors-this film doesn't disappoint on that score.

Toni Kurz and Andi Hinterstoisser, the main protagonists, two enthusiastic young climbers from Munich are among those for whom the north face of the Eiger is a tantalising challenge.  Luise, the love interest, Luise, who knows the two men from childhood encourages the two to tackle the killer mountain at the behest of her newspaper boss.

The enterprising duo resign from the army and bike off to Switzerland, settling themselves in a tent at the foot of the mountain.   Herein lies the challenge, as onlookers are gathering to see which team of climbers will succeed in conquering the mountain in the same year as the Olympic games are due to be held in Berlin (1936).


Toni and Andi prepare for their climb by establishing a new route and setting up a base camp with their bivouac material before setting off to  make the actual ascent.   Unfortunately, an Austrian, Nazi backed, team joins up with them and when one of these is badly injured in a stone fall, everything descends into chaos.  At the same time Luise and her boss who have come to record the triumph of one of the teams have acquainted themselves with the funicular railway which goes up the inside of the mountain to emerge in the middle of the north face (with viewing gallery with 1000 metre vertical drop).  This will play apart in an attempted rescue later on.

The, now four, climbers endeavour to get back down, not easy when trying to transport someone who is now incapable of movement.   At this point, for some reason, I thought that Andi and Toni would still be managing to go back up and conquer the mountain but it was not to be and despite an attempted rescue where the intrepid Luise excels herself, things go from bad to worse and the film replicates an actual photo of Toni hanging from his rope after expiring from cold and exhaustion.

The ironic thing is that two years later the North Face is conquered using the route established by Toni and Andi.  Nevertheless, we see Luise make good and the film is framed through her friendship with the climbers and the photo record which she inherited from her friend.


From the language point of view there is plenty to exploit in this film.   There are lots of possibilities for students to give their reactions-suppositions, fears etc Relationships are important within the film as are landscapes and weather so quite a lot of language work could be based around the film. 

I guess an interesting perspective might be to watch the film and then look at planning a holiday there, finding out how to get there, hotel details and excursion up the funicular etc.   It would give an added frisson to the learning experience

For those wishing to provide a context for Controlled Assessment this would be a worthy film to use.

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2 Die Brücke-Bernhard Wicki

Die Brücke-Bernhard Wicki

I picked up Die Brücke in Stuttgart when on a break from Canstatter Volksfest and the film was a relevation.   The anti-war film to end all anti-war films.  The small Bavarian town is waiting expectantly for the war front to arrive on its door step with the more enterprising/cowardly hopping onto trains to make good their escape. 

Shot in black and white we get a real feel for the relative normality of daily life for a group of young Abitur students who ironically are working on English translation with a teacher who is clearly looking forward to the imminent outbreak of peace.

Parents are trying to encourage these young bloods to take refuge in the countryside with relationships just in case they get called up at the last moment-which of course is exactly what happens.  Call up papers are waiting for the young men when they arrive home and before we know it they are cleaning their weapons in their ill fitting uniforms, enthusiastic about defending their homeland.


The officer deploying the boy recruits think they are doing them a favour by dropping them off at the small, local bridge.   He goes back into town on an errand and meets an unfortunate end after being challenged by an over enthusiastic Nazi defender.   The boys, left to their own devices, spend the night on the bridge witnessing lorry loads of retreating German soldiers who entreat them to go home and not to attempt to become heroes.  

A strafing American fighter plane reduces by one their number as they stand on the bridge waiting for something to happen.  Before they have time to grieve they hear the terrifying grinding, screech of tank tracks for over a minute.   Taking shelter in their foxhole with an array of powerful weapons including a machine gun and a Panzerfaust, the young men proceed to demonstrate that unlike their elders they are prepared to be heroes to defend their Heimat.

The brutal, in military terms successful, defence of the bridge is of course futile.  The horror of the battle scene almost resembles newsreel  in its crisp black and white format.     A group of boys with their lives in front of them, with no need to get involved are cut down purposely.  

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3 Heimat 1 Reitz

Heimat enthralled me back in the 80's when it first came out with its fly on the wall feel for the first three quarters of the twentieth century through the lives of three families in the area between the rivers Mosel and Rhine.  Memories do play tricks on one however.  I was sure that I'd seen it all-on viewing the whole 15 hours in a DVD box set I realize now that I only saw bits of it, probably on borrowed video tapes.   Watching the episodes over the last week was an ethereal experience with the only constants, Maria, the family home and the Hunsrück landscape with its waving corn and stark beauty, sometimes in colour and sometimes in black and white.

I'm not suggesting that teachers would show the whole of the series to a class but certainly parts of it would be useful I'm sure particularly at A level to look at the family, festivals and a raft of other themes.    For those studying Der Vorleser, the illicit relationship between Hermann and Klärchen would be an interesting comparison with Michael and Hanna if a bit long at more than two hours.

My main recommendation would be that viewing the entire series would be useful for anyone wishing to gain an insight into the strengths, weaknesses and idiosyncrasies of German character, diverse as they are.  What is like to move into a system governed by the Nazis from the inside?   How do different people react to this? The sight of the grandmother castigating her SS grandson Wilfried constantly throughout the war for his unwillingness to fight is truly amusing and, one hopes, not revisionist in any way.   The fact that Wilfried is capable of true brutality however casts a darker atmosphere over the war time episodes as does his reference to the Holocaust.

The more I look back on the series, the more the improvement in communications and gradual move towards globalisation and Americanisation seems a key theme.   From halting efforts by Paul to put together a radio and be the first to connect a backward village to the outside world, through the propaganda phone call made to the Russian front the series of films smoothly demonstrates a century of "progress".    The same pertains for the roads which change from mud tracks to small, tarmacked country roads, alongside the motorway built  through the area from Koblenz to Trier.

Certain things jar about the series but these are relatively minor.  People seem to age at very differing rates and the skills required to make people look older were relatively ineffective back in the 80's.  Maybe it would have been too much to have Marita Breuer with a  prosthetic face for months on end in any case!   People disappear from the scene with little explanation, although arguably that is like life.  Reitz dwells on certain scenes for a considerable amount of time in quasi-documentary fashion-this is a strength and weakness depending on how interested you are in say watching a catholic Christmas service being reenacted.  

It is quite amusing to see the way Reitz mimics reality by leaving in naturalistic happenings such as a fly hovering over the protagonists or the teacher who reprimands Hermann breaking wind as he leans against some railings.   Surely that would have been an outtake that Reitz thought would seem natural to include.

The sad and amazing thing is that the Hunsrück is now becoming one of the most deprived and forgotten areas of Germany.  Far from welcoming coach parties in the style of "Heart Beat" country in North Yorkshire, it is in steep decline with house prices very low.  

There are now sequels and prequels to the original Heimat adding up to over 50 hours of television so if you become addicted to the series you have plenty to go at.