Films from the Weimarer Republic
Content Description and Historical Classification of the Holdings
The Weimar Republic era was a period marked by change and new beginnings, not just in the German Reich. The Reich had struggled with the consequences of the war before going through a phase of relative stabilization during the so-called „Golden Twenties”. Nonetheless, it too was hit hard by the repercussions of the Great Depression. Simultaneously, the medium of film was also confronted with a time of great development and change after World War I.
The war had largely cut off German Kaiser Reich from foreign films. When the war was over these conditions proved to be ideal for national film production and distribution companies to conquer the market. At the forefront was Universum Film AG (UFA), which had been formed during the war. Now it was ready to expand.
It took only a few years for film to catch on as a mass medium across the country. Toward the late 1920s, most of the bigger cities boasted large modern movie theatres, such as the Capitol, the Zoopalast or the Phoebuspalast.
More films were produced in the Weimar Republic in the 1920s and 1930s than the total of all other European productions. This made Germany the second biggest film producing country in the world, following only the USA. The full feature length film became more and more established and even then it became manifest in a variety of genres. In 1927 Metropolis became the first feature-length science fiction film in history. Avant-garde and experimental films (such as The Cabinet of Dr. Caligari) increasingly seized the screen.
There was also a new shorter format—the weekly newsreel. During the war it had mostly been used as a propaganda tool. But the end of the war and the new political circumstances called for a restructuring of the coverage and its contents. Current reports were now on equal footing with entertainment. The coverage no longer focused solely on political topics but also included German cultural and economic issues.
The weekly newsreels tended to consist of different subject matters with different emphases, ranging from politics to military, culture, sports, business, technology and fashion.
Even though they were screened on a weekly basis, alongside the main film in the cinema, they were not always up to date. Depending on their popularity, some newsreels or individual topics were kept in the rotation for several months, even though new segments were constantly being produced. Over time an international standard for the reports evolved in cooperation with foreign production companies. Generally, individual reports were one or two minutes in length, while the entire newsreel lasted for a total of about ten minutes.
The introduction of talking film meant the biggest change in the medium of film at the time. Optical sound on film technology, which had already been developed in 1921 and premiered in Berlin in the 1922 film Der Brandstifter (The Arsonist), needed a few more years to ripen and gain acceptance in the world. The weekly newsreel production achieved a new quality, thanks to the various tonal possibilities, such as adding music, spoken commentary and sound effects.
During the 20s there were about a dozen different newsreel formats, but once sound was introduced this number shrank quickly. The programs were shot without sound; commentary and music were added later on. Important speeches or addresses made the exception. They were recorded with the original sound, which was considerable more complex.
The selection of films available on this website consists mostly of newsreel reports and documentary films, with some exceptions.
The content of the selection covers a wide variety of contemporary life in the Weimar Republic and its most important events:
The election of the German National Assembly on January 19, 1919 granted women active and passive nationwide voting rights for the first time. The film Anna Müller-Lincke Kandidiert (Anna Müller-Lincke Runs for Office), which had been produced by the Reichszentrale für Heimatdienst (Agency for Homeland Services), was not just an advertisement for participating in the election. The film playfully used three fictional candidates to explain electoral procedures and their meaning. The film Der große Tag des deutschen Volkes (The German Nation’s Great Day) documents this important election in a number of scenes.
In addition to the early elections of the National Assembly, we also offer a wide variety of cinematic documents that chronicle history, ranging from Friedrich Ebert’s memorial service, to the birth of broadcasting, to the NSDAP’s national congress. You will also see (and hear) material that you might not be familiar with. For example, Gustav Stresemann inaugurating the cinematographic and photographic exhibition, women exercising Mensendieck gymnastics, a speech of Heinrich Brüning, as well as beach wear impressions from the 1920s. The temporarily banned film Land unterm Kreuz (Country Beneath the Cross) belongs to this repertoire as well. When it premiered in 1927 it cast a serious shadow on German-Polish relations.
The cinematographic records from the era of the Weimar Republic are far from complete, especially when it comes to documentary film. A large part of these works are considered lost. Furthermore, many of the remaining films, such as the newsreels, only survive in fragments.
Our selection of films from the era of the Weimar Republic has reached the German Federal Archives by a number of ways. A significant portion of the stock came from the records of the Reichsfilmarchiv. The holdings of the Reichsfilmarchiv were kept in the Central Film Archive of the GDR and were later absorbed by what is now the Bundesarchiv, the German Federal Archive. Occasionally the film stock came from private donations or other sources (please check out our inventory description regarding films from the World War I era.
Many of the documentary films we offer were created by production companies, that had also produced the newsreels. The following provenances make up our film stock:
Messter-Film GmbH. Film pioneer Oskar Messter created the most popular newsreel, his Messter Woche (Messter Week), during World War I. After the war he sold the company to Universum Film AG (UFA). The Deutsche Lichtspiel-Gesellschaft (DLG) (German Moving Picture Association) produced the Messter Woche under the same name until 1922.
Deulig Film AG.The Deulig Woche (The Deulig Week) was also produced by the DLG, beginning in 1920. In 1922, the same year the Messter Woche was cancelled, the show was renamed Deulig Wochenschau. After DLG merged with the UFA, the renamed Deulig-Tonwoche was produced by the UFA.
Universum Film AG. The Ufa Wochenschau considered itself the direct successor to the Messter-Woche, which is why it celebrated its 25th anniversary in 1939. The Berlin UFA-cinema showed the first segment titled Ufa-Wochenschau in 1925. The UFA and the DLG formed a syndicate in 1918.
Münchner Lichtspielkunst AG (MLK/Emelka). Founded in 1918 as the Bavarian counterpart to UFA, the Emelka would remain successful until the end of the 1920s. For a while, it was even the second largest company in the entire Weimar Republic. The Emelka Woche aired from 1926-31. Affiliated with the SPD it was the only alternative to the UFA’s right-wing nationalist newsreels. The party tried to use the newsreel to gain political influence in movies. Chancellor Müller, a social democrat, even got involved in the negotiations of the company, in order to prevent it from ending up in the hands of the UFA.
Archival Appraisal and Processing
The Weimar era film records, which the German Federal Archives had chosen for online presentation, all needed to be digitized. Before this could be done vast archival, and sometimes also conservatory, work was required.
The films were digitized as part of the Federal Archives’ cross-departmental project „Weimar—the first German democracy.“
As more digital backups will be created, the selection of the works in our film library will expand continuously over the next few years. This way we can properly conserve the films and at the same time offer them to a broad audience in a digital format. This includes films of the archive that, until now, have only existed on celluloid.
A finding aid about the Koblenz newsreel and documentary inventory written by Peter Bucher in 1984 and Hans-Günther Voigt’s 1991 topical inventory of film documents of the German workers movement were helpful for creating an index our film material.
Even though a lot of film material from the era of the Weimar Republic has been lost (primarily due to World War II), we are not able to offer online versions of all Federal Archive films, due to the fact that the federal government has no ownership of the rights of many relevant works.
The selection of the surviving feature films and documentaries was determined primarily by ownership of the film rights. Only those films, where the Federal Republic of Germany, represented by the Federal Archive, was determined to be the rights holder, are available in our film library. The quantity of accessible film material from the Weimar Republic is actually much larger.
The frequent fragmentation and new composition of the newsreels is an archival peculiarity of our holdings. As the newsreels were a compilation of many individual subjects and didn’t aspire to be very up to date, the cinemas often assembled their own compositions consisting of popular topics. Even archival compilations were not unusual.
When intertitles or logos are missing, it is often difficult to allocate individual subjects. This means, when we indexed the material we always had to match it with existing censorship data. Added “alien” subjects needed to be either tagged or removed and be conciliated with their original newsreel. Works with the same title also had to undergo material comparison. We then selected the copy that seemed substantially and technically more suitable for digitization.
In case we were not able to properly match relevant subjects with a newsreel, they were published under an archive title, for example Messter-Woche Individual Subjects 1921. If the corresponding censorship data was identified but no additional material was found, such new compositions were left as, for example, Messter-Woche 21/1920 + 37/1921.
Any metadata that was accrued in the course of indexing the content was supplemented by place and person indexation. This information as well as basic filmographic information is available for the users of the film library.
a) Citation Rules for Streaming Files
[Title of the Work], German Federal Archives, Film Collection: [Videolink]
The streaming file of the film „Anna Müller-Lincke kandidiert“ (1919) is cited as:
Anna Müller-Lincke kandidiert, 1919, German Federal Archives, Film Collection:
b) Citation Rules for Copies (Films, Excerpts, Stills)
The copy of a film/film clip/film still from „Anna Müller-Lincke kandidiert“ (1919) is cited as:
Anna Müller-Lincke kandidiert, 1919, Source: German Federal Archives, Film Collection: 4513
BAB, Bettina; NOTZ, Gisela; PITZEN, Marianne; ROTHE, Valentine (Hrsg.), Mit Macht zur Wahl! 100 Jahre Frauenwahlrecht in Europa. Frauenmuseum, Bonn 2006
BORGELT, Hans, Die UFA, ein Traum. Hundert Jahre deutscher Film, Berlin 1993
BARKHAUSEN, Hans, Filmpropaganda für Deutschland im Ersten und Zweiten Weltkrieg. Hildesheim 1982
BUCHER, Peter, Wochenschauen und Dokumentarfilme 1895 – 1950 im Bundesarchiv-Filmarchiv (16 mm Verleihkopien). Findbücher zu Beständen des Bundesarchivs, Band 8, Koblenz 1984
KREIMEIER, Klaus, EHMAN, Antje, GOERGEN, Jeanpaul (Hrsg.), Geschichte des dokumentarischen Films in Deutschland. Bd. 2 Weimarer Republik, Stuttgart 2005
GOERGEN, Jeanpaul, Der dokumentarische Kontinent. Ein Forschungsbericht, in: Geschichte des dokumentarischen Films in Deutschland. Bd. 2 Weimarer Republik, hrsg. von Klaus Kreimeier, Antje Ehman und Jeanpaul Goergen, Stuttgart 2005, S. 15-43
GRÖSCHL, Jutta, Die Deutschlandpolitik der vier Großmächte in der Berichterstattung der deutschen Wochenschauen 1945 – 1949: ein Beitrag zur Diskussion um den Film als historische Quelle. (Beiträge zur Kommunikationsgeschichte; Bd. 5) Giessen, Univ. Diss., 1995
HOFFMANN, Kay, Wochenschau, publiziert am 06.09.2011; in: Historisches Lexikon Bayerns, URL: www.historisches-lexikon-bayerns.de/Lexikon/Wochenschau (letzter Zugriff: 13.03.2018)
JOSSÉ, Harald, Die Entstehung des Tonfilms. Ein Beitrag zu einer faktenorientierten Filmgeschichtsschreibung, Freiburg im Breisgau 1984
KLEINHANS, Bernd, „Der schärfste Einsatz für die Wirklichkeit“. Die Geschichte der Kinowochenschau, St. Ingbert 2013.
MESSTER, Oskar, Mein Weg mit dem Film, Berlin 1936
MÜLLER, Corinna, Vom Stummfilm zum Tonfilm, München 2003
POLZER, Joachim (Hrsg.), Weltwunder der Kinematographie – Beiträge zu einer Kulturgeschichte der Filmtechnik – Aufstieg und Untergang des Tonfilms – mit Geschichtsdarstellungen zu Lichtton und Magnetton. 6. Ausgabe 2002, Potsdam 2002
ROTHER, Rainer (Hrsg.), Die Ufa 1917–1945. Das deutsche Bildimperium. Deutsches Historisches Museum, Berlin 1992
Björn Seidel-Dreffke, Die Geschichte der Deutschen Wochenschau, in: Filmportal.de, URL: www.filmportal.de/thema/die-geschichte-der-deutschen-wochenschau (letzter Zugriff: 13.03.18)
Ufa-Lehrschau (Hg.), 25 Jahre Wochenschau der Ufa, Berlin 1939
VOIGT, Hans-Gunther (Hrsg.), Filmdokumente zur Geschichte der Deutschen Arbeiterbewegung, Berlin, 1991
a) Related documents from the German Federal Archives
R 9346 Approval reports issued by German film review offices
R 901 Federal Foreign Office (Classification group 9.2 photo and film)
R 109 Universum Film AG
N 1275 Oskar Messter Estate
b) Additional audiovisual historical records
Picture Archives/Digital Picture Archives of the German Federal Archives
Picture Archives/Digital Picture Archives of the German Federal Archives
The Federal Archives hold approx. 11 million images, aerial photographs and posters on German history. The earliest photographs date back to the year 1860. This database is specialized on historical images of events and persons. The Digital Image Archives (https://www.bild.bundesarchiv.de/dba/en/) of the German Federal Archives contain a representative cross section of more than 200,000 images.