Berlin - One of the birthplaces of cinema, Germany today possesses huge film archives crammed with 150,000 movies found on 1 million rolls of film. The film heritage is preserved by Federal Film Archives, which operates from Berlin and six other cities.
On November l, 1895, Max Skladanowsky made history by presenting the first "living pictures" in Berlin, followed a month later by France's Lumiere showing their first films in a Paris cafe.
"In fact, cinema was invented in several places around the world at almost the same time," says Karl Griep, a departmental head at the archives office in Berlin.
"We have the Skladanowsky film in our archives, along with many other historical works," says Griep, noting that his archive is one of the most comprehensive in the world, documenting more than 100 years of movie history.
Since the establishment of the Federal Film Archives in the 1950s, it has acquired a vast collection of films of all genres, catalogued and, in some cases, digitally restored.
"We seek a wide variety of films, refusing to restrict ourselves purely to top cultural and famous feature productions," Griep explains.
"This means our collection is comprehensive, and reflects the society, fashion and cultural tastes of Germany at different periods, from the silent movie era onwards, through the Weimar and Nazi periods to the present time."
Visitors from many parts of the world come to the archives every month. Some are movie-makers, others film researchers, historians or television programme planners, eager to view or loan material.
"The Japanese are strong users of our archives and frequent visitors to our access rooms," says Griep. So are film representatives from Scandinavia and other European countries, but not Russia.
"They keep the material they seized in 1945, says Griep. "They took a lot of material and sometimes my impression is that that they don't know precisely themselves what it is they have of ours anymore.
"There's a degree of confusion. The Russian cultural authorities first translated the German film material they had seized into Russian, then later re-translated it again from Russian into German, without making any reference to the previous titles.
"So, it's a guess as to just what it is they have got," claims Griep, who says about 100 'lost' titles have not been precisely identified as a result.
Griep insists his archives has no quarrels with Russian film colleagues, historians and researchers with whom they have good relations.
"It's the Russian parliament that has decreed no cultural goods should ever leave Russia again, including those items that did not belong to them originally."
The Berlin premises hosts Germany's largest nitro film storage facility, which is equipped with a staff of 80 archivists, restorers, technicians, historians, and photographic specialists. Five of the staff are engineers, experts in electronics and chemistry.
Considerable care is taken there, due to the explosive nature of nitro acid. Strict fire regulations are in force, and technical devices deployed to save all sources of heating.
Large outside earth safety mounds face sensitive parts of the facility, so that if explosions occur the blasts can be cushioned.
Egbert Koppe, the leader of the film restoration section, says a fascinating aspect of his work is dealing with new technologies developed for film production.
"Our task is finding out how best they can be used in film restoration work. Nobody has dealt with this aspect so far, so we are involved in pioneer work in a sense," he says.
When a production company called Ufa (later DEFA) gained control of the Babelsberg studios, south of Berlin, in 1921 a legendary era in film-making and film history began in Germany.
Among films made there were The Cabinet of Dr. Caligari, Nosferatu, the Fritz Lang classic Testament to Dr. Mabuse and the 1930-made Blue Angel, starring Marlene Dietrich.
The shimmering bubble burst with the Nazis' rise to power. Ufa was quickly turned into a propaganda factory by Joseph Goebbels. The studio's mission was to churn out anti-Semitic and rabble-rousing films like Hitlerjunge Quex to motivate Germans to support the war.
The Nazi period in German history and the Wochenschau films made during that time form an inevitable part of the Federal Archives.
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