Original release: March 14th, 1973
Running time: 105 minutes
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 with a modern take on love and marriage in the GDR.
It’s the story of Paul (Winfried Glatzeder) and Paula (Angelica Domröse), both from different backgrounds who meet and realise they’re meant to be together, but complications continuously 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 who are always meddling, Paul is reluctant to give it all up for Paula who desperately pursues him. By the time a tragic accident makes him realise his happiness with Paula is more important than anything else it’s too late. Although dealing with her loss, Paula now finally has a chance to be with the man she truly loves but she rejects him in favour of someone more dependable but actually quite dull.
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 – somehow I got it. I knew the story only too well and what it was like to be young and in love with love.
The contrast between Paul and Paula’s life is visibly clear and while they say opposites attract, this pair of star-crossed lovers face an impossible situation either with or without each other. Both Angelica Domröse and Winfried Glatzeder gave strong performances that kept me captivated throughout, even though I didn’t understand much of what they were saying the first time I saw the film.
From its opening scene which plays out to Wenn ein Mensch lebt by East German band The Puhdys, Paul and Paula’s story felt genuine and like a real slice of what life was like in east Berlin 25 years before I stepped foot there. It was also my first introduction to Heiner Carow, who directed the final film released in the GDR era, Coming Out (1989), which, like The Legend Of Paul And Paula, I’ve seen many time since that December in Berlin.
The founder of Static Mass Emporium and one of its Editors in Chief is a composer and music producer with a philosophy degree. Static Mass is where he lives his passion for film and writing about it. A fan of film classics, documentaries and World Cinema, Patrick prefers films with an impeccable way of storytelling that reflect on the human condition.
You can find his music on Soundcloud .