The Industrial Worlds at DEFA Feature Films

The representation of GDR industry in DEFA Feature Films

By DEFA-Foundation


Verliebt und Vorbestraft (1963) by DEFA-Fotograf: Peter DietrichDEFA-Foundation

Feature Films

Under the GDR, socialist societies were strictly working-class societies where productivity and physical labor held immense significance. The concept of a productive work society was enshrined in the metaphor of the development of the German Industrial Revolution (from 1870 to the end of the First World War), grounded in the success of industrial capital. The adaptation of this metaphor by socialism in the GDR was based on the idea of building and consolidating a new society through industrial production. The figure of the worker served the State—and also the filmmakers—as a symbol of socialist ideology and a metaphor for its construction, while also representing the self-image of the worker as the "builder of the future." In this sense, the Socialist Unity Party commissioned GDR artists to create art under the banner of socialism: in other words, to shape their art to the Party. If artists failed to meet this demand, their art—including

Silvesterpunsch (1960) by DEFA-Fotografin: Waltraut PathenheimerDEFA-Foundation

From the mid-1950s onwards, the German Democratic Republic portrayed itself as a modern socialist industrial state: DEFA films reported on large heavy-industry plants, new technologies, and high-quality manufactured goods. Controls were in place to ensure that industry and the workers' society were shown in a good light and that the subject matter was not presented negatively. The purpose of motion pictures was not merely to entertain but also to convey party ideology and the ideals of the working class. Feature films were supposed to present industrial progress, good working conditions, and new technologies in an entertaining manner. The most popular locations were in the state of Saxony-Anhalt, including Bitterfeld, Schkopau, Bernburg, and Gerbstedt in Mansfelder Land.

Spielfilme by DEFA-Fotografin: Waltraut PathenheimerDEFA-Foundation


The iconography of the DEFA industrial feature films of the 1950s found its aesthetic models in the Soviet Stalinist epics of Mikheil Chiaureli. His monumental films depict industrial progress by means of various motifs that were later to be found in various DEFA feature films, the difference being that the anti-Semitic tones of Chiaureli remained completely alien to DEFA. One example of this is Kurt Maetzig's Thälmann epics ERNST THÄLMANN – SOHN SEINER KLASSE (1954) and the second part ERNST THÄLMANN – FÜHRER SEINER KLASSE (1955). In the 1960s, the film BESCHREIBUNG EINES SOMMERS (1963) by Ralf Kirsten introduced the image of an independent, autonomous man, an image that was later continued in the film SPUR DER STEINE (1966) by Frank Beyer. In these films, the industrial, 'dirty' scenes of the construction sites are contrasted with attractive scenes of nature, hinting at the idealization of reality within the film. A new type of hero emerged in BANKETT FÜR ACHILLES (1975) by Roland Gräf one that distances themself from the heroism of the working class individual and, unlike the Thälmann films, is not historicized or politicized. The image of the hero is an everyday figure with which the viewer can identify: fragile, hard-working, fierce, and informal.

Familie Lehmann und Staatssekretär (1959) by DEFA-Fotografin: Karin BlasigDEFA-Foundation


Director: Günter Reisch, 93 Min., color, feature film, German Democratic Republic (GDR), DEFA studio for feature films, 1959

Chemiekombinat (1959) by DEFA-Fotografin: Karin BlasigDEFA-Foundation

Wilhelm Lehmann, foreman of a chemical plant, is celebrating his 65th birthday. His family is preparing for a big celebration. Like every year, his sons are in charge of making the punch, or 'Maibowle', but several family members cancel for different reasons. Meanwhile, preparations are being made at the chemical plant for Wilhelm to receive an award for his work; he is being awarded the "Banner of Labor" for his work. When his family members hear this news on the television, they rush to make it to the ceremony and prepare the Maibowle as quickly as possible. Wilhelm's birthday and his award are eventually celebrated with the Maibowle.

Fernsehbeitrag (1959) by DEFA-Fotografin: Karin BlasigDEFA-Foundation

The screenplay of the film MAIBOWLE was written as a commitment to the SED's 5th Party Congress and was made as a film to advertise the GDR's chemistry program. The premiere took place on the 10th anniversary of the GDR (7 October 1959). Despite being under strict controls, the filmmakers found a way to incorporate criticism through satire. This is clear in the way the film portrays a television team, a postman, an unconventional secretary of state and the wife of an employee of the state apparatus. The caricature-like figures were later criticized. One year later the Lehmann family returned to the big screen in the film "Silvesterpunsch" (New Year's Eve Punch, 1960), which Günter Reisch also directed. In this sequel, workers of the chemical plant must prepare for an ice-skating show, which will take place as part of a New Year's Eve celebration.

Filmplakat (1959) by Paul RosiéDEFA-Foundation

An artistic approach to film posters was the top priority in the 1950s.

Providing information was less important, and the advertising element came more from a graphic description than cinematic.

Erich Franz as Wilhelm Lehmann and Ekkehard Schall as Günther Lehmann

Heinz Draehn as Franz Lehmann

Albert Hetterle as Gustav Lehmann and Erika Dunkelmann as Marion Lehmann

Karla Runkehl as Rosa and Stefan Lisewski as Paul Lehmann

Horst Kube as Albert, chair of the agricultural cooperative "Frisch voran".

Chemiekombinat (1959) by DEFA-Fotografin: Karin BlasigDEFA-Foundation

The film's music is by Helmut Nier and was played by the DEFA Symphony Orchestra ("Sinfonieorchester") and the Dresden Dance Orchestra ("Dresdner Tanzsinfoniker"). The scenery was designed by Paul Lehmann.

Suse Lehmann (1959) by DEFA-Fotografin: Karin BlasigDEFA-Foundation

Suse Lehmann (Christel Bodenstein) at the acting examination in the film MAIBOWLE (1959)

Die Fahne von Kriwoj Rog (1967) by DEFA-Fotografen: Jürgen Hoeftmann & Waltraut PathenheimerDEFA-Foundation


Director: Kurt Maetzig, 108 Min., black and white, feature film, German Democratic Republic (GDR), DEFA studio for feature films, 1967  

Erwin Geschonneck (1967) by DEFA-Fotografen: Jürgen Hoeftmann & Waltraut PathenheimerDEFA-Foundation

The proletarians of all countries belong together.

On 21 April 1929 in the small miners' town of Gerbstedt in the Mansfeld area, hewer Otto Brosowski, official of the Communist Party of Germany (KPD), takes a banner into his care, after the banner—a gift of solidarity from the miners of Krivoy Rog—is presented in a ceremony. The flag is held up by the workers during demonstrations, and symbolizes cohesion. When the Nazis seize power, they recognize the symbolic power of the banner and want to take it from the miners. The miners, along with their families and allies, refuse to give up the banner despite persecution, torture and imprisonment. During the Second World War, the small town is first occupied by the Americans. When the Red Army troops march in in July 1945, the Gerbstedt miners proudly carry the banner towards Krivoy Rog and the Red Army.
The film DIE FAHNE VON KRIWOJ ROG is influenced by a documentary style and gives viewers an accurate picture of the working families in a central German industrial area at that time. The propagandist style also cannot be missed—this is illustrated above all by the solidarity and loyalty to the comrades from Krivoy Rog and the Red Army. The film portrays a hero reminiscent of the Thälmann films by Kurt Maetzig, where the heroism of the individual in the working class is always present.
The film was shot mainly in Saxony-Anhalt, including Gerbstedt, Hettstedt and Eisleben.

Fimplakat (1967) by Horst WesslerDEFA-Foundation

This film poster focuses on the miners and the industry.

The Gerbstedter miners

Die Fahne von Kriwoj Rog (1967) by Horst WesslerDEFA-Foundation

Another version of the poster focuses on the artistic interplay between nature and industry.

Die Fahne von Kriwoj Rog (1967) by UnbekanntDEFA-Foundation

In contrast to the other two film posters, the banner is the focus here.

Helmut Schellhardt und Manfred Krug (1967) by DEFA-Fotografen: Jürgen Hoeftmann & Waltraut PathenheimerDEFA-Foundation

Helmut Schellhardt as Otto Brosowski Junior and Manfred Krug as Jule Hammer

Dreharbeiten (1967) by DEFA-Fotografen: Jürgen Hoeftmann & Waltraut PathenheimerDEFA-Foundation

Filming DIE FAHNE VON KRIWOJ ROG (1967) at the market place in Gerbstedt, Saxony-Anhalt.

Widerstand (1967) by DEFA-Fotografen: Jürgen Hoeftmann & Waltraut PathenheimerDEFA-Foundation

When the Nazis seize power in the film, they recognize the symbolic power of the banner and want to take it from the miners. The miners, along with their families and allies, do not relinquish the banner despite persecution, torture and imprisonment.

Der Augenzeuge 1967/45 zur Premiere von "Die Fahne von Kriwoj Rog" (1967) by DEFA-Studio für DokumentarfilmeDEFA-Foundation

Erwin Geschonneck als Karl Achilles (1975) by DEFA-Fotograf: Klaus GoldmannDEFA-Foundation


Director: Roland Gräf, 88 min. color, feature film, German Democratic Republic (GDR), DEFA studio for feature films, 1975

Feier des Meisters Karl Achilles (1975) by DEFA-Fotograf: Klaus GoldmannDEFA-Foundation

The film takes place on a single day: the last working day for foreman Karl Achilles at the Bitterfeld chemical plant. Achilles is 65 years old and is about to be replaced by a young engineer, university graduate Bahre. Achilles doesn't want to leave his job, as he is still strong and active, but can no longer cope with the demands of his position. The divisional manager organizes a celebratory banquet for the honorable farewell of the foreman, along with speeches praising him, bonuses and even an amateur film. In addition, his family is organizing a private party. Achilles, however, feeling overwhelmed, leaves the celebration and goes to a special place in the hope of finding his sense of working life again - his flower bed on the industrial waste heap.

BANKETT FÜR ACHILLES s not necessarily a film about aging. Instead, it is more about the relationship of the individual to work and a meaningful existence. Work represents the meaning of life for Achilles. Losing it or having to give it up brings him closer to a feeling of uselessness that he did not know before. Achilles' ethical and moral qualities, as well as his productive restlessness, mean that he cannot resign himself to the situation, but instead tries for a new beginning. Director Roland Gräf and screenwriter Martin Stephan found a symbol for the hero's ability to overcome his resignation. We see Achilles next to his destroyed flower bed on the industrial waste heap trying to grow a cornflower, while a helicopter tosses bales of straw onto the bare heaps to get them ready for vegetation. This is depicted in a long shot, which makes the stark landscape palpable. It is a symbol of the hero Achilles' hopeful attitude, who remains active thanks to his creative energy and finds a new meaningful existence away from the chemical plant.

Filmplakat (1975) by Dieter HeidenreichDEFA-Foundation

This film poster, designed by Dieter Heidenreich, shows only the lead actor Erwin Geschonneck.

Ute Lubosch als Beate (1975) by DEFA-Fotograf: Klaus GoldmannDEFA-Foundation

Regisseur Roland Gräf und Kammeramann Jürgen Lenz (vorne) (1975) by DEFA-Fotograf: Klaus GoldmannDEFA-Foundation

Director Roland Gräf and cameraman Jürgen Lenz shooting on location.

"I found the main character, the aging worker Karl Achilles and what happens to him, especially touching right from the start. In the same way, I was also impressed by the precise way in which life in this industrial landscape was described, a landscape in which, despite all the progress made, people's living conditions are even harder than elsewhere. For me, focusing on this moment in life was also a matter of political responsibility and a time we must give thought to as a society".Roland Gräf

Bankett für Achilles (1975) by DEFA-Fotograf: Klaus GoldmannDEFA-Foundation

Credits: Story

Gestaltung: Lucy Pizaña
Texte: Lucy Pizaña
Bildauswahl: Lucy Pizaña
Technik: Lucy Pizaña
Redaktion: Stefanie Eckert, Juliane Haase und Philip Zengel
© DEFA-Stiftung

Gefördert vom Land Sachsen-Anhalt

In Kooperation mit dem MA-Studiengang Filmkulturerbe der Filmuniversität Babelsberg KONRAD WOLF

Für weitere Informationen besuchen Sie unsere Webseite

*Ausstellung im Rahmen eines Digitalisierungsprojektes

Finke, Klaus: Politik und Mythos. Kader, Arbeiter und Aktivisten im DEFA-Film, Bibliotheks- und Informationssystem, Oldenburg 2002.

Filmmuseum Potsdam (Hrsg.): Das zweite Leben der Filmstadt Babelsberg. DEFA-Spielfilme 1946-92, Henschel Verlag, Berlin 1994.

Gehler, Fred: Bankett für Achilles –ein DEFA-Film. Gespräch mit dem Regisseur Roland Gräf, Sonntag (Berlin), 23.11.1975

Helmbold, Detlef: Mehr Kunst als Werbung.Das DDR-Filmplakat 1945-1990,DEFA-Stiftung (Hrsg.), Bertz+Fischer Verlag, Berlin 2018.

Jordan, Günter: Film in der DDR. Daten - Fakten - Strukturen, Filmmuseum Potsdam, Potsdam 2013.

Audiovisuelle Materialien aus dem Archiv der DEFA-Stiftung und des Filmmuseums Potsdam.

Credits: All media
The story featured may in some cases have been created by an independent third party and may not always represent the views of the institutions, listed below, who have supplied the content.
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