A GDR Classic: The Legend Of Paul And Paula

A GDR Classic: The Legend Of Paul And Paula

Static Mass Rating: 5/5
Deutsche Film (DEFA) 

Release date: March 14th, 1973 (East Germany), March 14th, 1973 (West Germany)
Running time: 105 minutes

Year of production: 1972
Country of origin: East Germany
Original language: German

Director: Heiner Carow
Writers: Heiner Carow, Anne Pfeuffer, Ulrich Plenzdorf
Music by: Peter Gotthardt

Cast: Angelica Domröse, Winfried Glatzeder, Heidemarie Wenzel, Fred Delmare, Rolf Ludwig

It was 9pm, December 11th, 1999 and just 24 hours previously I’d stepped off a plane in Schönefeld Airport, Berlin. It was the start of my love affair with a city that has since then never waned. That night I was off to Hackesche Höfe to see a German film I’d never heard of and without English subtitles.

Little did I know this was one of the best known East German films to have ever been made! Based on the novel of the same name by Ulrich Plenzdorf, Die Legende von Paul und Paula is a tragic comedy and for its modern take on love and marriage in the GDR it was almost surpassed.

The Legend Of Paul And Paula

It’s the story two people, Paul (Winfried Glatzeder) and Paula (Angelica Domröse), both from different backgrounds who meet and realise they are meant for each other, but complications are determined to keep them apart. Paul is married, has a good job and lives in a modern high rise block in Friedrichshain while Paula works at a grocery store in Prenzlauer Berg and lives in the run-down building across from his with her two children.

Although he’s fed up with his unfaithful wife who brings men back to their apartment and her insufferable family, Paul is reluctant to give it all up for Paula who desperately pursues him. When a tragic accident makes him realise that his happiness with Paula is more important than anything else it’s probably too late. Dealing with her loss, Paula now finally has a chance to be with the man she truly loves but rejects him in favour of someone more dependable but actually quite dull.

The Legend Of Paul And Paula

Even though the movie that played before me was entirely in German and without any subtitles, there was something about it which went beyond words. It didn’t require a lot of knowledge about East Germany or what life was like there before the Wall came down because somehow I got it. I knew the story only too well and what it was like to be young and in love with love, after all, what else would bring a boy like me to Berlin but love or at least some over-romanticised idea of it.

The Legend Of Paul And Paula

From its opening scene which plays out to “Wenn ein Mensch lebt” by East German band The Puhdys, Paul and Paula’s story felt like it could be mine and it left me determined that even if this doesn’t work, well at least I was gonna give it my best shot.

DEFA, founded in 1946, would release another of my favourite East German films, Coming Out (1989) also directed by Heiner Carow. Even though Coming Out has been released in the UK both theatrically and on video and DVD, The Legend Of Paul And Paula still isn’t, along with another film I saw when I was there, Sonnenallee (1999) but also worthy of a release here I think.

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