I think every film ought to be an experiment, without predetermined results. 1

In the fall of 2013, in short succession four books were published on the so-called “Berlin School” of contemporary German cinema: Jaimey Fisher’s Christian Petzold, the co-edited volume, Berlin School Glossary: An ABC of the New Wave in German Cinema, the Museum of Modern Art’s The Berlin School: Films from the Berliner Schule, and my own The Counter-Cinema of the Berlin School. 2

Berlin School

Together with the most significant showcasing of the group’s films to date at one of the world’s foremost art institutions, New York City’s Museum of Modern Art, these publications might cause a certain canonization effect in a twofold sense. First, the publications and the institutional weight MoMA carries in the world of modern art—including contemporary cinema—create the conditions of possibility for future critical engagement with the Berlin School to exceed the more narrow boundaries of German (film) studies. 3 Even though most authors involved in these publications have close ties to the academic world of German Studies, the fact that these are all readily available English-language books might very well mean that a foundation has been created from which future debates can proceed—debates involving not merely German cinema experts but film scholars and cinephiles interested, more broadly, in contemporary world cinema. 4 This, of course, is not to say that the Berlin School will become the equivalent of more famous movements in film history, such as that of the Nouvelle Vague, Neorealism, or even the New German Cinema of the 1970s; nor might the Berlin School ever receive as much notoriety as did, more recently, the cinemas of Romania, South Korea or Thailand, to name but three national cinemas that have generated much interest across their national borders (and the institutional spheres associated with them). 5

Still, it has been a long time since German cinema has captured the imagination of cineastes across the world. 6 Indeed, the last time when German cinema reached this level of prominence was in the 1970s, when directors including Rainer Werner Fassbinder, Werner Herzog, Wim Wenders, Volker Schlöndorff, Margarethe von Trotta and Alexander Kluge successfully represented a new German cinema and the idea of a new (West) Germany. New German Cinema generated countless articles and numerous book-length studies. 7  But when was the last time that such studies have addressed German cinema that emerged after Fassbinder’s death in 1982 (and that are not studies of one or the other New German Cinema auteur)? 8 The exceptions are almost exclusively those books that engage post-unification cinema more broadly speaking, that is, collections of essays or monographs that either survey some of the key developments in German cinema of the last quarter century or cut through the range of film productions of that period by focusing on a special topic. 9 In this context, then, the emergence of four books on what is ultimately a rather small group of filmmakers who, to date, have helmed some fifty features in approximately two decades not only stands out, but potentially also creates the condition of possibility for, and indeed invites, sustained future explorations of the group’s films. We might thus say that both individually and collectively the Berlin School filmmakers, who are merely in the middle (and in some cases still very much at the beginning) of their careers, have already become (film) historical, and the only question with regard to this fact is how significant a mark the group will end up leaving on the ever expanding corpus of world cinema?

But there is a second sense in which we might regard these recent publications and exhibition developments as possibly effecting a canonisation of the Berlin School. Even a superficial glance through the four book publications (as well as the gradually growing number of essays published on the Berlin School and its individual directors) reveals a remarkably consistent list of filmmakers to whom they attach the “Berlin School” label. 10 Most prominent among these directors is Christian Petzold, whose films’ images (often of Nina Hoss, the single most recognisable face of the Berlin School) grace the covers of three of the four book publications on the group as well as of Fisher and Prager’s The Collapse of the Conventional. 11 Petzold, Thomas Arslan and Angela Schanelec form a first wave, or generation, of filmmakers; a second wave is said to consist of a slightly larger group of filmmakers: Christoph Hochhäusler, Benjamin Heisenberg, Maren Ade, Ulrich Köhler and Valeska Grisebach. 12 In short, the collective critical efforts as manifested by the major and minor publications amount to a rather precisely drawn “inner circle” of Berlin School filmmakers; we might say, then, that the above mentioned filmmakers are definitely regarded as belonging to the group, whereas, to appropriate the title of Ade’s second feature, everyone else does not. 13

I have spent some time recounting the Berlin School’s becoming-canonical, as it were, in order to call attention to one significant problem with the results of this process of canon formation—a problem that occurred largely unintentionally and certainly without any ill-will on the part of those (un)wittingly participating in the discursive production of the Berlin School canon. The problem I have in mind has a name: Henner Winckler.

Berlin School

Henner Winckler


By definition, groups or movements are defined by an inside/outside dynamic. In some cases, as with the Berlin School, the label itself is coined not by someone who is (considered) part of the group but, rather, by external observers. Once such a label is in circulation, other observers—at times aided by suggestions offered by those already associated with the label—might add names, discussing this or that director as someone also exhibiting the main traits of those filmmakers who have been established as belonging to this inner circle. In the case of the Berlin School, directors whose names were, at times, mentioned in German publications (film reviews in newspapers or German film magazines) included Jan Krüger (who is included in the Glossary), Elke Hauck, Pia Marais, Nicolas Wackerbarth and Isabel Stevers. Yet, if we were to look back over the label’s history since Merten Worthmann coined, or at least appropriated, it in a review of Schanelec’s Mein langsames Leben (Passing Summer, 2001) in which he also mentions Petzold’s and Arslan’s work, we would notice that Henner Winckler’s name was regularly mentioned, quite possibly with greater frequency than that of any other filmmaker whom I did not list above as belonging to the “inner circle.” 14 In any case, his name was almost always present in the early discussions of the Berlin School, whether in German publications from the mid-2000s or in the earliest English language formulations of a sense of a “Berlin School,” as in my 2006 report for Senses of Cinema on the Berlin Film Festival (Berlinale) or my introduction to the group from 2008 (“Intensifying Life”). 15 Note, too, that an important public panel discussion in 2004 on a “new realistic school” in contemporary German cinema included both Ade and Winckler (the other filmmakers participating were Sylke Enders and Sören Voigt). The German film magazine, Revolver, which was cofounded and is coedited by, among others, Hochhäusler and Heisenberg, published the transcript of the discussion in its eleventh issue in 2004. The magazine is often considered a Hausorgan (house publication) for the Berlin School, and Ade’s and Winckler’s appearance in its pages at the time marked one of the earliest appearances in it of any of the filmmakers now firmly associated with the Berlin School. 16

That Winckler was in fact considered a Berlin School filmmaker of the second wave, or generation, relatively early on in the group’s historiography has to do with: (1) the early production and distribution history of films that were, or would become, associated with the Berlin School; (2) personal relationships with other filmmakers of the Berlin School; and (3) the films themselves. That, in the long run, he gradually fell out of the “inner circle” of the Berlin School as it became codified (though, importantly, not by the protagonists themselves) was, in turn, due to circumstances that not only illustrate what is at least the partially arbitrary nature of such labels but also demonstrate that (film) history gets written in ways that do not always correspond to the best intentions of those critics and scholars writing it.

When in 2001 Worthmann used the label for the first time, 17 of those directors who would eventually be seen as constituting a second wave of the Berlin School (Ade, Grisebach, Heisenberg, Hochhäusler and Köhler), only Grisebach had already been able to enjoy the release of her first feature film, Mein Stern (Be My Star, 2001), which had premiered earlier that year at the Berlin Film Festival (Berlinale). Be My Star is a somewhat hybrid film in terms of its length (about an hour) as well as form—a fictional film exhibiting strong documentary traces that emerged from the director’s preferred method of working, which includes doing extensive ethnographic research and collaborating with non-professional actors. 18 It was a film, as Winckler argued in a conversation about his debut feature, Klassenfahrt (School Trip, 2002), that “set a standard that inspired me in details as well.” 19 Together with Köhler’s Bungalow (2002), School Trip premiered at the Berlinale in 2002, a year prior to Hochhäusler’s Milchwald (This Very Moment, 2003) and Ade’s Der Wald vor lauter Bäumen (Forest for the Trees, 2003). 20 It was these and a few other Berlin School films that would eventually inspire French commentators to speak of a nouvelle vague allemande, although it is worth mentioning that at times the French observers grouped the Berlin School films together with films such as Wolfgang Becker’s Goodbye, Lenin! (2003), Hans Weingartner’s Die fetten Jahre sind vorbei (The Edukators, 2004), Fatih Akin’s Gegen die Wand (Head-on, 2004), and a few others—films that have little to nothing in common with those of the Berlin School, which is why I think “Berlin School” and “nouvelle vague Allemande are not perfect synonyms.

Crucially, the French film distributor ASC used the term nouvelle vague allemande as early as February 2005 when bundling three new German films: Schanelec’s Marseille (2004), which had been selected for Cannes’s Un Certain Regard in 2004, Krüger’s Unterwegs (En route, 2004) and Winckler’s Klassenfahrt. 21 What links these films, and which undoubtedly caused ASC to distribute them together, is the fact that they were all produced by the small Berlin-based independent producer, Schramm Film, which, to date, has produced twenty films one finds attributed to Berlin School filmmakers and which by February 2005 had already ten films on its roster that would eventually find canonisation under the label. Importantly, Winckler, in a conversation I had with him in June 2006, explained that when he made his debut feature, which he developed based on his short film Tip Top (1999), he had been unaware of the label but had seen Arslan’s debut, Mach die Musik leiser (Turn Down the Music, 1994) as well as Schanelec’s Plätze in den Städten (Places in the Cities, 1998)—films, Winckler claims, that gave him a positive impression of Schramm Film: “when I was looking for a production company and noticed that they had produced these films by Arslan, Schanelec and Petzold I thought that someone who produces such films has to be open-minded. I thought such a production company would be good for me. I thus established some proximity with these filmmakers,” Winckler continues, “because although I bring part of my own team when making a film, another part comes from the producer. As a result, the conditions of production are such that films resemble one another to some extent, not least because one ends up working with overlapping personnel.” 22 Even though Winckler was not consciously aware of the existence of a Berlin School in the early years of the third millennium, then, he nevertheless sought out closeness to some of the filmmakers who would eventually be subsumed under the label and who had first been linked by Worthmann in his 2001 review.

While Winckler was not yet familiar with Schanelec, Arslan and Petzold on a personal level when he approached Schramm Film to produce his debut, he had, however, already established a friendship with Ulrich Köhler, which dates back to their shared time at the Hochschule für bildende Künste (University of Fine Arts) Hamburg from where, like Köhler, Winckler graduated in 1998 (previously he had studied at the Hochschule für Gestaltung Offenbach [Offenbach University of Art and Design]). Having been taught by experimental filmmakers Rüdiger Neumann and Klaus Wyborny, their friendship eventually manifested itself in a working relationship, as exemplified, for example, by the fact that together they received a grant from the German Federal Film Board (Filmförderungsanstalt or FFA) for 30,000 Euros in May 2012 to develop a script for an a yet to be realised film with the working title, I Turn to You. 23 According to Köhler, the film, named after former Spice Girl Mel C’s 2000 hitsong, is meant to be a “family story set in smalltown Germany, a modern Heimatfilm, if you will, but certainly neither a classical genre film nor a topic-of-the-day film, which might be one of the reasons for [our] difficulties to find financing for its production.” 24 Prior to writing this script, they also collaborated on Tip Top, on which Köhler worked as gaffer.

In short, then, Winckler’s history as a filmmaker is well embedded in both the history of the Berlin School through the production circumstances of his films—his second film, Lucy (2006), was also produced by Schramm Film—and personal friendships, especially with Köhler but also with Köhler’s partner, Maren Ade, who, according to Winckler, consulted him on the script for Lucy. Explaining his working relationship with both Ade and Köhler, Winckler stated in an interview at the time of Lucy’s release that Ade “advised [him] on dramaturgy, working concretely on the script.” Moreover, in the same interview Winckler called attention to the fact that his production team “overlaps with Ulrich Köhler’s. We really have a productive exchange from which I profit. This collaboration is positive and spurs us on. I like what comes out of it, even if I also fear I might be working too close to the other.” 25

The third aspect that firmly roots Winckler in the context of the Berlin School—indeed, that situates him not at its periphery but at its core, as the two diagrams below perhaps only partly visualise—is the nature of his films themselves. 26

Berlin School

Berlin School Network(ed) 27

Berlin School

Henner Winkler Network(ed) 28

This claim might perhaps be the most problematic of the three I am advancing in order to argue for Winckler as a Berlin School filmmaker whose work is worth recovering both on its own terms and in the context of the larger group. For starters, Winckler himself, in the interview just quoted, continues his explanation of his relationship with Ade and Köhler by claiming that he does not consider their films as “similar. Maren Ade’s film [Der Wald vor lauter Bäumen], for example, is very dramatic. In the centre is a main character who struggles through the entire plot. Ulrich Köhler, by contrast, is someone who takes the drama out. His heroes (in Bungalow and Montag kommen die Fenster/Windows on Monday, 2006) and mine are much more phlegmatic [than Ade’s. But] his characters’ willfulness is different than that of my characters. His heroes are protestors; mine are imprisoned in themselves. These are some big differences.” 29 Still, while Winckler’s comparative assessment is undoubtedly sound, I would still hold that his two films strongly resonate with those of his Berlin School peers and that insisting on these resonances might ultimately help to secure a place for his films in the (still evolving) Berlin School canon, rather than coming primarily at the cost of de-singularising Winckler’s work.

The Berlin School, as I see it, certainly can be argued to exhibit a number of aesthetic features that lend these films a sense of resemblance and coherence, even if this sense demands to be interrogated for the differences that ultimately distinguish the films and filmmakers from one another (and that perhaps, in the end, are more significant than a small number of aesthetic features that they seem to share, such as, for instance, a certain deliberateness of pacing accomplished through an overall preference for long-take mise-en-scène filmmaking over fast-paced montage style editing, a quiet mood resulting from a combination of sparse dialogue that is rarely enacted in (melo)dramatic fashion and either the absence of extra-diegetic soundtracks or sparing use thereof, as well as a small number of actors and technicians that have left their mark on films by more than one of these filmmakers, including editor Bettina Böhler, cinematographer Reinhold Vorschneider, actress Nina Hoss and actor Devid Striesow. As I argue in The Counter-Cinema of the Berlin School, ultimately I think it is a mistake to reduce the films of the Berlin School to such a list of stylistic criteria. Instead, we need to pay closer attention to how they collectively redistribute the sensible 30—of how we see, sense, and perceive not only the world in general but also unified, neoliberalised Germany in particular—and in the process produce a counter-cinema “consisting of an effort to counter the ‘history’ of Germany manufactured by the mainsteam [film] industry with recourse to a series of microhistories that cumulatively pose the question of who or what Germany, and thus a German nation as well as a German national cinema, is to begin with?” 31

Winckler’s films might in some respects strike us as the most realist of all Berlin School films. 32 Perhaps one of the biggest temptations with regard to the two features he has made to date, Klassenfahrt and Lucy, is to receive their teenage and young adult protagonists and the lives we observe them leading through the lens of “authenticity”—an evaluative lens to which we tend to have recourse when being confronted with what we take to be a quasi-documentary mise-en-scène. One reviewer directly expresses this sentiment when writing that Winckler’s debut film reminds her of Grisebach’s Be My Star, “for this film, too, appears to be so documentary-like that one has difficulties accepting it as a fictional film.” 33 Indeed, Be My Star in turn bears some resemblance to Tip Top, though this is no doubt coincidental. This take on Winckler’s film very much resonates with how many critics (mis-)describe the films of the Berlin School tout court: through the lens of realism, indeed, through the lens of an overly naïve idea of what realism is or may be. In my book I aim to show why this is a conceptual mistake—why, in fact, we should avoid reducing the Berlin School to the “realist” moniker unless by “realist” we seek to affirm what I’d like to think of as a “minor” Bazinian understanding of “realism”, i.e., the Bazin who explicitly warns us to “be wary of contrasting aesthetic refinement with who knows what sort of coarseness and immediacy, like those found in the kind of realism that limits itself to showing reality. [There] is no realism in art that is not, first and foremost, profoundly aesthetic.” 34 In other words, “In art, realism can obviously be created only out of artifice.” 35

It is in this sense, then, that I think reducing the Berlin School in general to an undertheorised idea of realism costs our ability to make sense of their films—of what they do and why they matter today—too much. Likewise, reducing Winckler’s films in particular to a quasi-documentary sense of realism (and its attendant concerns of authenticity) strikes me as too costly, for doing so tends to inscribe into these films the very predetermined results that the director himself argues must be avoided when making films. For the category of the “authentic” always already functions representationally, pointing to a preexisting, profilmic world whose constitutive multiplicity—its ongoing becomings, if you will—is imperceptibly reduced to one particular view thereof. This has as its consequence that such a view exerts a measure of “constituted power,” to use Antonio Negri’s Spinozian language, precisely by disavowing its exertion, by claiming that its view “merely” reflects the authenticity that is said to be simply “there” in the real world. 36

What is interesting about Winckler’s films is that they tackle this (preconstituted) power of the visual and its routine deployment in everyday life head-on; and they do this not by attempting to alienate viewers from their images so that we would never even consider them “authentic” representations of real life, but by soliciting from us a particularly intensified gaze that ends up getting us closer to the films’ images rather than to the reality they appear to “represent.” As a result, the films immanently—by affecting how we look at its images—confront our gaze with our habituated tendency to assume that what we see when we are in front of “realist” images is authentic. And the staging of this confrontation for the viewer marks precisely the experimental character to which Winckler, born in 1969 in Hünfeld (a small town by Fulda in Hessia), refers in the epigraph to this essay: it is a confrontation in which the outcome cannot possibly be predetermined, for how we end up assessing the quality of his images depends on the mode of engagement his films manage to solicit from us, from our capacity to be affected by his images’ particular power(s).


Berlin School

DVD cover, Klassenfahrt

To illustrate what I mean, here, let us first take a look at his debut, Klassenfahrt, which follows a group of students from Berlin on their school trip to a small Polish town at the Baltic Sea. Played almost exclusively by non-professional actors, the students exhibit the very behavior patterns, attitudes, and desires one would expect teenagers on the verge of adulthood to exhibit: the desire to be accepted for who one is, which is often elusive precisely because acceptance is granted more often than not only if one is part of a group that is defined by likeness rather than difference; the display of indifference to what the educational apparatus has to offer; the testing out of one’s ability to solicit libidinal desires from others; and so forth. Indeed, much of this can already be detected in Winckler’s short film, Tip Top, which also sketches the dynamics among a group of teenagers. 37 Tip Top focuses on two characters, though without either providing much background or overly psychologising them. There is Ronny (Michael Ginsburg), a somewhat disaffected and non-articulate boy, who does not seem to be good at soccer, as we witness in the film’s in medias res opening scene when he is chosen last for a scrimmage before simply leaving the game, ignoring his teacher-coach’s objections. Rather than trying to endear himself to his more athletic peers, Ronny instead prefers to experiment with drugs (he sniffs glue, a habit he has apparently developed to such an extent that a store clerk refuses to sell any more glue to him). The film’s second protagonist is Maja (Annika Salzer), who appears to struggle with gaining acceptance from her peers. Seeking to rectify this, she throws a pajama party only to find herself being bullied by her guests who cruelly tack her to a wall while Ronny, whom she had briefly kissed at the beginning of the night, shows more interest in another girl who shares his curiosity in drugs.

The film is characterised by a lack of substantial dialogue (tellingly, it is in a scene with Maja’s mother that most of the film’s dialogue occurs), its camera’s observational attitude, and its de-dramatised plot in which even its most dramatic moment—the bullying of Maja—is depicted as if it were merely part of the teenager’s daily routine. The victim, Maja, barely puts up a fight and quickly resigns herself to her fate, both at this moment and, we sense, for the foreseeable future, since even Ronny, the other outsider, ignores her when coming onto the scene. Instead of helping her, he barely stops and instead moves on to share his drugs with another girl. Patrick Orth’s camera renders sensible for us her indifference at, and to, this moment. We are made to sense not only that this is just the way things are for her but also that any active resistance to the status quo does not seem to be on her, or anyone else’s, mind. 38

Berlin School

Bullying sequence: Maja briefly struggling against being tacked to the wall; parallel cut to Ronny who shows his drugs to another girl; cut back to Maja, resigning herself to the fact that she remains an outsider after noting that not even Ronny intervenes on her behalf. 39

In Klassenfahrt, Winckler once more investigates group dynamics among high school students by zooming in on two protagonists. 40 Like Ronny and Maja in the blueprint for his feature debut, so Ronny (Steven Sperling) and Isa (Sophie Kempe) stand apart from their peers by virtue of their reluctance to be part of established group dynamics that seem to define the students’ interactions. Gradually drifting towards one another, their burgeoning amorous relationship gets derailed by the appearance of the slightly older Marek (Bartek Blaszczyk), a Polish hotel worker who develops a crush on Isa as well, thus triggering in Ronny pangs of jealousy that affect his behavior in Isa’s presence and eventually push him to challenge his competitor to a Mutprobe (test of courage) that ends in possible tragedy. 41

Berlin School

Marek, Isa, and Ronny in Klassenfahrt

The film never resolves what happens to Marek after he jumps off the pier into the edge of the Baltic Sea looming below. Reminiscent of Anna’s disappearance in Michelangelo Antonioni’s L’Avventura (1960), Marek’s jump into the dark water occurs just off-frame, the event of his disappearance marked merely audibly by a splashing noise and immediately confirmed by Ronny’s surprised reaction to what appears to have transpired at the very moment he had turned his back on his rival. And like in Antonioni’s film, so in Klassenfahrt the narrative never reveals what ultimately happened. Though Marek’s disappearance is eventually noticed, the police fail to locate him (dead or alive), just as Ronny, who scrambles down to the water’s edge to look for Marek, fails to ascertain whether his rival ran away or drowned (though the latter option seems by far the more likely.)

Ronny, one might note, fails to act upon his uncertainty, neither immediately calling for help nor later confessing his knowledge of what might have transpired to his teacher or the police. Crucially, however, the film does not turn what arguably is a moral failure on Ronny’s part into its central issue. Instead, it is presented like any other event: it is treated with the same interest (or lack thereof), as just one event among all the rest, neither more nor less interesting or remarkable. This relative dis-interest on the film’s part in going for this narrative event’s easy dramatising payoff is matched by the particular point of view assumed by Orth’s camera. Winckler himself claimed that he “does not merely want to tell a story but also reveal a perspective on the world.” 42 And in my interview with him, he explained that in Klassenfahrt the camera embraces “the point of view of the students so that it never takes up a perspective that someone would assume who is actually not present.” 43 Winckler’s goal, we might surmise, is not to judge (from outside) the characters’ actions but, rather, to show how the world that is narrated by a story is itself the effect of the primacy of an act of seeing, of assuming a perspective from which one creates the world as natural—a world we simply assume to be merely ‘there’, as a given in front of our eyes, as, that is, existing merely for our gaze and, thus, for the telling of stories in which this world appears more or less ‘authentically’ represented.

Guido Kirsten, in his detailed analysis of the film’s opening sequences, makes a compelling case for considering the narrative point of view provided by Klassenfahrt in terms of a “limiting objectivism.” 44 In his view, the film’s refusal to narrate the events through a purely objective point of view while nevertheless providing us with shots that appear to be staged as expressing various characters’ points of view (though most often Ronny’s) has the effect of inducing in us the sense that we should produce a reading of the film that “aims at the homology between the film’s world and the real world and subjects the film to appropriate criteria of quality with regard to the accuracy and precision of its observations.” 45 I am inclined to agree with this assessment of the film’s dominant point of view but think that Klassenfahrt ultimately does not so much encourage viewers to produce a reading of the film predicated on a presumed homology between its fictional world and the real world than challenge us to hesitate rather than simply presupposing such an homology as the principle upon which the film’s reception becomes possible and, ultimately, normative. For any encouragement to approach a film based on a supposed or insinuated homology between, on the one hand, its images and sounds and, on the other, their origin in the real world cannot help but import a preexisting hierarchy that predetermines our assessment of the film’s force within the narrowly confined parameters of ‘quality’. The more we consider the images to be homologous with ‘real’ reality, the more realistic, that is, authentic, we judge them to be; and, in turn, the greater a film’s alleged authenticity, the higher our regard for it often tends to be.

Is it not the case, however, that Klassenfahrt —and we might argue the same for Lucy, which according to Winckler is “almost something like a sequel to Klassenfahrt46—refuses just such hierarchisation by virtue of what I take to be its cinematography’s most remarkable stylistic aspect: its virtual in-difference with regard to that which it allows to enter its frame? For example, whereas Kirsten suggests that the characters are being marked by the film as belonging to “an East German lower class milieu [Unterschichtsmilieu],” I would argue that the film offers in fact very little evidence that they are either “ostdeutsch” or from the lower classes. 47 (Really, “Unterschicht” connotes something even stronger than “lower class,” as it carries a sense of the “precarious”). 48 While one would not be tempted to attribute an upper-class background, socially or economically, to this group of teenagers, I do not think they display any of the clichés one usually associates—largely due to their representations in the German media—with the Prekariat. And just like Lucy specifies its setting as Berlin only ever so gradually (and I would add, the specification of its setting as Berlin will remain obscure to those viewers who are not intimately familiar with the relatively non-descript area between Friedrichshain and Alexanderplatz), so in Klassenfahrt any socio-economic specification, which is to say: differentiation, is essentially refused by the film’s stylistic strategy to behold everything with the same attitude: observing, curious, a-judgmental, and without discernible prejudices. 49

The film’s lack of desire to specify who these teenagers “are” by locating their social background with any precision whatsoever should not be mistaken for a false universalising of their experiences, however. Rather, the film’s stylistic refusal to differentiate them renders affectively sensible one of the central socio-political characteristics of the emerging neoliberal paradigm in unified Germany, the development of which picked up speed during the Schröder-Fischer years around the turn of the millennium: society’s ever-increasing de-differentiation, or, in Bernhardt Groß’s words, “the contemporary leveling of all class differences.” 50 Such a de-differentiation is, of course, not the same as the literal making-equal of everyone, as if we lived in a faux-utopian fulfillment of the Communist Manifesto. Rather, this de-differentiation is the expressed manifestation of an indifference to matters of class distinctions. The real existing class differences have long disappeared from our daily purview, with the rich now residing in secluded spaces to which members of the so-called middle, let alone the lower, classes have no longer access and, at most, view with a sense of desire (whether manifested as jealousy or an obsessive preoccupation with the well-to-do as depicted in talk shows or on standard German primetime television fare). In an age where any mention of class difference is frowned upon and demeaned as engaging in anachronistic class warfare, the social enactment of this disavowal of difference manifests itself precisely in the desire to be just like everybody else.

Not surprisingly then, the teenagers in Klassenfahrt all resemble one another, whether in terms of their chosen apparel, their behavior, or speech; their most pronounced characteristic is precisely that they do not exhibit much in terms of individuality! 51 Moreover, Ronny, whose outsider status appears mostly self-imposed, exhibits his ‘rebellion’ or non-conformism in the most recognisable ways possible, such as the jacket he wears with the slogan “Free Spirit’s Party Place,” his silly (unintentionally?) racist clowning at the local museum and his standoffishness towards the class teacher. Thus ironically, if not tragically, he demonstrates the very difficulty that his generation is facing with regard to any possibility of affirming difference without being always already provided with the forms of expression for such difference by the socio-economic formation that uses the marketing of difference as its most powerful sales-engine. This perhaps also explains why the students’ perception of the Polish space as being different from their own in Germany does not solicit any real interest from them; indeed, their response to this actual difference is precisely in-difference.

Berlin School

Ronny, a free spirit looking for his party place.

The intelligence of Klassenfahrt lies thus precisely in the fact that it cinematically responds to (rather than “represents”) the conditions of possibility by which the protagonists find themselves confronted in their efforts to act upon their environment. The film responds to the overriding sense that subjects living under the conditions of neoliberalism, which at the beginning of the third millennium were finally starting to manifest themselves with increasing force in unified Germany, are precisely not defined by something that is individual. Just as his peers seem indifferent to whatever might be new about the location and its people to which their school trip exposes them, however momentarily, so Ronny’s indifference to seemingly everything ultimately serves less as the content Klassenfahrt seeks to “document” than as the occasion for rendering sensible the thinking-feel of an in-different perspective itself. His feelings for Isa seem the exception, but he has no real means to express such difference and, in any case, while he seems bothered by Marek’s presence, it is difficult to avoid the impression that on some fundamental level he is not too bothered by it either. The film tests out—experimentally, without presupposing the result—what happens to our sensation of the very reality we, on one level, perceive as being re-presented in near documentary-like fashion when we are induced to regard everything as “gleich gültig” (indifferent, in the sense of ‘equally valid’). 52

The film’s de-dramatising strategy—Lucy would subsequently take this to a still more intense level—ends up confronting the viewer with a sense of “realism” that is nothing but the effect of a carefully modulated aesthetic strategy of in-differentiation, of a refusal to presuppose the existence of our ability to differentiate. The resulting sensation of ‘realism’, however, is not defined by its representational quality (its degree of accuracy or authenticity) but by the affective, haptic force with which the film’s aesthetic construction impinges upon our capacity to see, sense, and perceive. Rather than subjecting us to an almost always totalising sense of “that’s how reality really is,” Klassenfahrt induces in us a sensation of a Gegenentwuf (a counter-conception) to the kind of reality commonly presupposed by films that appeal to a realist aesthetic without problematising its assumptions, without putting its aesthetic decisions, through which we are granted access to its representational content, at stake. 53 “Reality,” when watching Klassenfahrt, is thus not defined by a sense of authenticity. It is defined, rather, by the sensation of a particular force expressive of the regard with which the film—and in response to it we as viewers—renders it: the greater the force, or its intensity, the greater the regard, that is, the capacity to be affected by reality in ways that are not immediately reducible to preconceived notions thereof. Such a regard is, as I argue in The Counter-Cinema of the Berlin School at greater length, characterised by the temporality of the future perfect: rather than seeing, sensing, and perceiving that which was or is, such regard effects a sensation of something about which one might claim, perhaps with some hope, that it will have been, precisely because this regard is attuned to reality as a process of differentiation at the very moment when the social relations make it increasingly difficult to differentiate between anything whatsoever.


Berlin School

DVD cover, Lucy

Lucy is in this respect indeed a sequel to Winckler’s first feature. A careful study of a young mother and the social milieu that affords her and her friends minor moments of happiness but that also constantly threatens to crush her desires before she can ever figure out what they actually are, it features characters who appear to be merely slightly older versions of the protagonists of Klassenfahrt (and of Tip Top, for that matter), an impression enhanced by the fact that some of the same non-professional actors play characters in both films. 54 Wildly speculating, one might posit that Isa and Ronny have become, in Lucy, Maggy (Kim Schnitzer) and Mike (Ninjo Borth), respectively, and that during the temporal interstice linking the two films their relationship produced Lucy, a baby whose existence seems to overwhelm the young adults to some degree, though never so much that they—especially Maggy—would completely fail in their ability to be responsive to her needs.

Differently put, one of the aspects that renders Lucy as utterly other to the many standard German television films that are based on the same dramatic situation is the fact that it is precisely not a “pessimistic problem film”; 55 if anything, it functions as a “counter-model to all the speculatively constructed stories of misery about teenage-mothers that German afternoon talk-shows or investigative reports narrate.” 56 As in Klassenfahrt, Winckler, who has expressed great admiration for films by Fassbinder, John Cassavetes, Abbas Kiarostami and Andy Warhol and Paul Morrissey, is not interested in offering his characters up as sociological case studies that are meant to illustrate a general thesis of which the film tries to persuade its viewers. 57 As he puts it: “I think there are many films that resemble ours, and yet they explain the world rather than pose a question about it … They arrive with a clear message and use their means to persuade viewers of a propagandistic image of the world. And just as I do not like to see the effort that goes into staging a film so I do not want to see such a prefabricated intention. I believe every film ought to be an experiment, without predetermined results.” 58 One of the direct consequences of this attitude towards filmmaking is the fact that Winckler’s film’s point of view is one of sympathy and curiosity, rather than pedagogy.

Yet, this connection between Winckler’s two features is, at best, of secondary importance. For Lucy is less interested in documenting how post-graduation life “really is” for a set of characters that might have grown up from those in Klassenfahrt, than in rendering sensible something that affects them with the force of the unknown, the extra-ordinary from within the routine of the everyday, the ostensibly normal. The film is not interested in performing a j’accuse!, condemning the social circumstances as being responsible for the situation in which Maggy finds herself. Rather than being interested in representing the state of affairs characteristic of young mothers faced with the prospect of raising a child on their own, Lucy seeks to attend with great patience to the very process of transformation that defines Maggy’s (current) experience of the world, even though her world looks to us utterly banal, normal, and even static because, for Maggy, the presence of her daughter does not consist in a catastrophe that automatically manifests itself as transformative. She decides, for example, to move out of her mother’s apartment and start an experiment in family life of her own, together with Gordon (Gordon Schmidt), the new boyfriend Maggy pragmatically selects as a possible mate with whom she might be able to raise Lucy (at least for a while). Yet Maggy’s decision is not necessarily a direct effect of being a mother at an age at which her own mother must have given birth to her. 59 Arguably, none of her decisions and actions is causally predetermined by her motherhood, though of course her actions are affected by Lucy’s presence.

While we are made to expect that eventually something more drastic is going to happen—perhaps most pronouncedly during the sequence when Maggy seems at a loss while being intensely aware of Lucy’s presence in her life—nothing dramatic ever transpires, just as there does not seem to be any greater dramatic consequence resulting from Maja’s predicament in Tip Top or, indeed, from Marek’s disappearance in Klassenfahrt. And yet, in scenes like this one, much transpires because of the sheer physicality of the acting and of how Winckler’s camera stages it: the heaviness of the stroller as Maggy carries Lucy into the subway station, which simultaneously marks the burden that Lucy’s existence presents for her mother; Maggy’s sense of being alone in a big city while somewhat aimlessly pushing the stroller around Alexanderplatz. Winckler depicts this cinematically by juxtaposing medium shots of her that reveal the relative emptiness of the space she traverses and more closely cropped shots that almost literally squeeze her in, putting significant visual pressure on the frame, which culminates in her struggle to get into the streetcar with the stroller as the doors are about to close on her. We sense how at this moment the environment—in which Lucy is merely one, but by no means an over-determining, element—seems to be on the verge of overwhelming Maggy, and yet, she does not break. Unlike widely publicised and sensationalistic stories about young, single mothers abandoning their newborn, Maggy neither abandons Lucy nor harms her, not even when it appears to dawn on her that her not-yet-adult life has already undergone a massive transformation even before it fully got underway. 60

Berlin School

In Lucy, Maggy trying to figure out what to do as the environment—and the frames—appears to squeeze her in.

Instead of catering towards the very clichés that, in fact, predispose us towards such catastrophic expectations (i.e., the idea that young mothers from a lower class background are always incapable of “properly” performing motherhood), Lucy, like all of Winckler’s films to date, gradually forces us to adjust our capacity to see, perceive, and sense the everyday: they force us to expand our capacity to be affected by the most “normal” and seemingly banal, ordinary social relations and their own reality. Specifically, what its languorous pacing—in terms of both Lucy’s cinematography and rhythm and the film’s plot in which hardly anything happens at all—accomplishes is to induce in us a sensation of how the ostensibly banal and normal is itself shot through with an ongoing condition that is not yet named, that is not yet known as it exerts its force within Maggy’s (and her peers’) experience of everyday life processes. Lucy, then, is most interested in examining that which is not yet established in lives that otherwise seem anything but remarkable and that potentially might remind viewers only too much of the ordinariness—and seeming predictability—of their own lives.

Cinematically, Winckler’s main strategy to confront us with just this sensation of a lack of the readymade is his decision not to provide us with establishing shots, which corresponds to the fact that, as Ekkehard Knörer argues, “The life of these youth in a small family, as part of which they find themselves, is a life without establishing shot.” 61 A life without establishing shots: taking seriously this condition of possibility for living one’s life under the ever-changing conditions brought about by neoliberal processes (that, as such, are not represented in Winckler’s films precisely because they have permeated life itself, have become invisible precisely as a result of their very effectivity) commits the director to making his viewers observe a set of characters whom he offers to our gaze as ‘lifelike.’ But the lifelike quality of these characters is finally not defined by their degree of recognisability; rather, it is, much more intriguingly, characterised by how our access to their lives forces us to put at stake the very establishing shots in our heads—that is, the establishing shots that we allow to govern our own lives and with the help of which we reduce reality’s constitutive processes of becoming, and thus their capacity to affect us with their inherent temporality of the future perfect, to its representational presence, to what (allegedly) is.

Both Klassenfahrt and Lucy, like Tip Top, are, then, attempts to shed new light on rather banal processes of everyday life, not by representing them more accurately or authentically than has been done before, but by rendering sensible those aspects of everyday normality that, because of their very normality, must, in fact, remain unknown and yet, as the unknown, affect the everyday all the more intensely. As viewers, we in turn are exposed to that sensation of the unknown, not because the films represent it or draw it out by naming it but because they manage to affect us with the very sensation of the unknown qua unknown, as something that, as such, is not representable even though it is, in fact, effective through its affective force that always precedes the logic and experience of recognition.

Berlin School

Final scene of Lucy: Top: shot/reverse shot of Maggy contemplatively beholding Lucy; Bottom: Reflecting, Maggy turns away from us and catches a faint reflection of herself.

But the unknown that we are made to sense, as in the film’s concluding moments in which Maggy contemplatively beholds her daughter before catching a faint glimpse of herself in a window of the daycare place, is not so much the unknown affecting Maggy in the film as it is the unknown at the heart of our own reality—a reality that our reliance on establishing shots (another way of saying “clichés”) tends to reduce to the familiar. The force of Winckler’s images seeks to deconstruct precisely by inducing in us a process of seeing, perceiving, and sensing reality (as it seems to be) as being ultimately other to what is merely there on the representational plane of recognition and identification. Maggy’s gaze at and through the subtly reflecting window, with her face turned away from the camera, is a line of flight that catches our gaze, or, rather, that our gaze is made to catch, away from Maggy and Lucy, as well as Lucy. It turns us towards something in our own reality that, however, is not already of it. Rather, at best, this something might be said to assume existence as a result of how our way of seeing, sensing, and perceiving our own reality has been affected by the way in which the force of Winckler’s filmmaking without predetermined results works on us.

We might say, then, that Henner Winckler’s films effect in us a redistribution of the sensible. 62 And this is, in my view, precisely one of the key characteristics of the very counter-cinema of the Berlin School—a “minor” cinema (in the Deleuzean sense of “minor”) that does not seek to represent the state of affairs for its viewers but, rather, to affect us with the (utopian) sensation of a will have been that inheres as potential in the material here and now. This sensation, however, is characteristic neither of an existing (German) people nor of the (German) present but is, rather, productive of something about which one potentially might be able to say that at some time-to-come will have had existence, will have produced results—results that could not have been predicted in advance.


  1. Henner Winckler, qt. in Christoph Hochhäusler and Nicolas Wackerbarth, “Neue realistische Schule?,” Revolver 11 (2004): p. 99
  2. Jaimey Fisher, Christian Petzold (University of Illinois Press, 2013); Roger Cook, Lutz Koepnick, Kristin Kopp and Brad Prager, eds., Berlin School Glossary: An ABC of the New Wave in German Cinema (Bristol: Intellect, 2013); Rajendra Roy and Anke Leweke, eds., The Berlin School: Films from the Berliner Schule (New York: Museum of Modern Art, 2013); and Marco Abel, The Counter-Cinema of the Berlin School (Rochester: Camden House, 2013).
  3. MoMA has a longstanding investment in German film culture, and its annual showcasing of new German film productions is well into its fourth decade. Between November 20 and December 6, 2013, MoMA showcased seventeen films (“The Berlin School: Films from the Berliner Schule”). Parallel to this event, which was attended by a number of filmmakers associated with the group, the Deutsche Haus at New York University ran a two-day colloquium, “The State We’re In: the Films of the Berliner Schule.” For more information, see Michael Sicinski, “This Very Moment: MoMA’s ‘The Berlin School’,” http://www.fandor.com/blog/this-very-moment-momas-the-berlin-school.
  4. Reviewing three of the four books, Jasmin Krakenberg makes a similar point in her concluding paragraph. Calling our attention to the “reciprocal exchange” between the Berlin School and “many other international filmmakers,” she suggests the broader field of international art cinema might productively be examined through the lens of the Berlin School’s aesthetic accomplishments. Jasmin Krakenberg, Book Review, Film Quarterly 67.3 (Spring 2014): pp.86-89. Jaimey Fisher and I are currently in the early stages of editing a forthcoming volume, A Transnational Art Cinema: The Berlin School and Its Global Contexts (Detroit: Wayne State University Press), focusing on the relationship between the Berlin School and global (art) cinema.
  5. Such interest is, of course, largely limited to the film festival circuit and cinephiles who attend to non-mainstream cinema.
  6. The only kind of German-language film that has consistently been able to travel well outside German-speaking countries is the Historienfilm (history film): films dealing with the Nazi era, such as Oliver Hirschbiegel’s Der Untergang (Downfall, 2004), the totalitarian aspects of East Germany, such as Florian Henkel von Donnersmarck’s Das Leben der Anderen (The Lives of Others, 2006), and the violence of the “leaden” years associated with the internal terrorism of the Rote Armee Fraktion (Red Army Faction) or RAF, such as Uli Edel’s The Baader Meinhof Complex (Baader Meinhof Komplex, 2008). Arguably, however, these are not the kind of films that impress cinephiles who look to world cinema as a source of both visual pleasure and intellectual stimulation.
  7. The classic study is Thomas Elsaesser’s New German Cinema: A History (New Brunswick: Rutgers University Press, 1989). For a considerably briefer account of what is sometimes characterized as a last new wave of European cinema, see Julia Knight, New German Cinema: The Images of a Generation (New York: Wallflower Press, 2004).
  8. Important studies of NGC auteurs include: Thomas Elsaesser, Fassbinder’s Germany: History, Identity, Subject (Amsterdam: Amsterdam University Press, 1996); Roger Cook and Gerd Gemünden, ed., The Cinema of Wim Wenders: Image, Narrative, and the Postmodern Condition (Detroit: Wayne State University Press, 1997); and Brad Prager, The Cinema of Werner Herzog: Aesthetic Ecstasy and Truth (New York: Wallflower Press, 2007).
  9. For good examples of the former, see Paul Cooke, Contemporary German Cinema (Manchester: Manchester University Press, 2012); Pierre Gras, Good Bye Fassbinder: Le cinéma allemande depuis la reunification (Paris: Actes Sud, 2011); Thomas Schick and Tobias Ebbrecht, eds., Kino in Bewegung: Perspektiven des deutschen Gegenwartsfilms (Wiesbaden: VS Verlag, 2011); Paul Cook and Chris Homewood, eds., New Directions in German Cinema (New York: I. B. Tauris, 2011); and David Clarke, ed., German Cinema Since Unification (New York: Continuum, 2006). For the latter, see Jaimey Fisher and Brad Prager, eds., The Collapse of the Conventional: German Film and Its Politics at the Turn of the Twenty-First Century (Detroit: Wayne State University Press, 2010); and Mattias Frey, Postwall German Cinema: History, Film History, and Cinephilia (New York: Berghahn Books, 2013).
  10. There is considerable debate about the label itself, and many of the directors associated with it have doubts, if not serious misgivings, about it.
  11. In some respects, at least, one could argue that what Hanna Schygulla was to Fassbinder’s films Hoss is to Petzold’s: to date she has played the female lead—who in Petzold’s films is almost always the central protagonist—in six of the director’s thirteen films. Indeed, she starred in six of his last nine: Toter Mann (Something to Remind Me, 2001), Wolfsburg (2003), Yella (2007), Jerichow (2008), Barbara (2012), and Phoenix (2014). However, international viewers might recognise her from films such as Anton Corbijn’s A Most Wanted Man (2014) or Max Färberböck’s Anonyma: Eine Frau in Berlin (A Woman in Berlin, 2008). For more on Petzold’s films see also Jaimey Fisher, “Christian Petzold, Senses of Cinema 67 (July 2013), http://sensesofcinema.com/2013/great-directors/christianpetzold/.
  12. Whereas in my book I divide the two groups into two different “waves,” in my original essay on the Berlin School, “Intensifying Life: The Cinema of the ‘Berlin School’” (Cineaste online 33.4, Fall 2008), I describe them as belonging to two different “generations.” Michael Baute, Ekkehard Knörer, Volker Patenburg, Stefan Pethke and Simon Rothhöler, the co-authors of “The Berlin School—A Collage,” propose to divide them into “the DFFB {Deutsche Film- und Fernsehakademie, or German Film and Television Academy, Berlin} and the Revolver generation,” respectively (Senses of Cinema 55 (July 2010), http://sensesofcinema.com/2010/feature-articles/the-berlin-school-–-a-collage-2/). MoMA’s retrospective of the films also included Madonnen (Madonnas, 2007) by Maria Speth, whose partner, Reinhold Vorschneider has worked as cinematographer on nearly half of all Berlin School films thus far. The Berlin School Glossary casts its net a bit wider and includes not only Speth and three additional contemporary German filmmakers but also Jessica Hausner and Barbara Albert, two contemporary Austrian filmmakers.
  13. Ade’s film is entitled Alle Anderen (Everyone Else, 2010); a still from it serves as the cover of MoMA’s book.
  14. Merten Worthmann, “Mit Vorsicht genießen,” Die Zeit 27 September 2001, http://www.zeit.de/2001/40/Mit_Vorsicht_geniessen.
  15. For my report, see Marco Abel, “The State of Things Part Two: More Images for a Post-Wall Reality—The 56th Berlin Film Festival, Senses of Cinema 39 (April-June 2006), http://sensesofcinema.com/2006/festival-reports/berlin2006/. The original 2006 German-language version of “Berlin School—A Collage” also mentioned Winckler. See Michael Baute, Ekkehard Knörer, Volker Pantenburg, Stefan Pethke, Simon Rothöhler, “Berliner Schule—Eine Kollage,” Kolik 6 (October 2006), http://www.kolikfilm.at/sonderheft.php?edition=20066&content=texte&text=1.
  16. Of all the filmmakers that were ever associated with the Berlin School, only Petzold (#5 and #10) and Schanelec (#5) were featured earlier in the magazine’s pages.
  17. I should point out that the term “Berliner Schule” was already in use in the 1970s when it referred to Arbeiterfilme (workers films) such as Christian Ziewer’s Liebe Mutter, mir geht es gut (Dear Mother, I’m all right, 1972) and Max Willutzki’s Der lange Jammer (The Long Lament, 1973). Those films have little if anything in common with the films of the “new” Berlin School. Interestingly, however, both Ziewer and Willutzki were among the first group of students accepted to the newly founded DFFB in 1966, a group that also included Harun Farocki and Hartmut Bitomsky, who, in the late 1980s and early 1990s would become important for the first wave of the “new” Berlin School filmmakers as teachers, mentors, and friends. For an interesting account of the DFFB’s early years—one that might be suggestive for attempts to think through the relationship between the political cinema of “1968” and the question of what political cinema might be today (in Germany), as well as for assessing whether or not the films of the “new” Berlin School are political and, if so, in what ways—see Tilman Baumgärtel, “Die Rolle der DFFB Studenten bei der Revolte von 1967/68” (http://www.infopartisan.net/archive/1967/266705.html), originally published in Junge Welt 27 & 30 September 1996 and 2 October 1996.
  18. For a more extensive discussion of the film see chapter 7 of my The Counter-Cinema of the Berlin School, as well as Urs Richter, “Everybody’s Different: Valeska Grisebach’s Mein Stern,” Senses of Cinema 21 (July 2002), http://sensesofcinema.com/2002/feature-articles/mein_stern/.
  19. Claudia Lünstedt and Ansgar Vogt, “Klassenfahrt: Gespräch mit dem Regisseur und den Hauptdarstellern,” http://www.peripherfilm.de/klassenfahrt/interview.htm.
  20. For in-depth interviews with Hochhäusler, see Marco Abel, “Tender Speaking: An Interview with Christoph Hochhäusler,” Senses of Cinema 42 (February 2007), http://sensesofcinema.com/2007/cinema-engage/christoph-hochhausler/; and Marco Abel, “‘It’s a Battle of Stories’: An Interview with Christoph Hochhäusler about The City Below (2010), The Lies of the Victors (2014), and Political Film,” Cineaste online (forthcoming winter 2015).
  21. See Bertrand Loutte’s article, “Allemagne année 05: le nouveau cinema allemande”  (Les In Rocks 9 February 2005, http://www.lesinrocks.com/2005/02/09/cinema/actualite-cinema/allemagne-annee-05-le-nouveau-cinema-allemand-1170669/). Loutte aims to introduce many of the Berlin School filmmakers to his French readers—including Winckler, whom he quotes.
  22. Marco Abel, Unpublished Interview with Henner Winckler, Berlin, 14 June 2006.
  23. See http://www.ffa.de/ffa-vergibt-rund-300000-euro-fuer-drehbuchfoerderung.html?highlight=henner%20winckler. Klaus Wyborny, together with Werner Neskes, Hellmuth Costard, and others, founded in 1968 the “Hamburg Film Cooperative,” which took its inspiration from the Jonas Mekas’s “Film-Makers’ Cooperative,” aka “The New American Cinema Group.”
  24. Personal Email, 22 March 2014.
  25. Claudius Lünstedt and Ansgar Vogt, “Lucy: Interview with the director and the leading actress,” http://www.berlinale.de/external/de/filmarchiv/doku_pdf/20061253.pdf, p. 133.
  26. Interested readers might consider following the links provided to the diagrams and click on some of the names; it is perhaps only in the diagrams’ interactivity that the overlaps and connections among the Berlin School filmmakers, including Winckler, become apparent. It should also be said that these diagrams do not fully represent the true extent of the interconnectivity among these filmmakers, but it is currently the best attempt at visualizing it.
  27. This diagram was generated through the InfoRapid Wissensportal: http://de.inforapid.org/index.php?search=Berliner%20Schule%20(Film), 7 August 2015.
  28. This diagram was generated through the InfoRapid Wissensportal:, http://de.inforapid.org/index.php?search=Henner%20Winckler, 7 August 2015.
  29. Lünstedt and Vogt, p. 133.
  30. The phrase “distribution of the sensible” refers to the work of French philosopher Jacques Rancière’s concept of “le partage du sensible”; the standard English translation, “distribution of the sensible,” seeks to capture the French meaning of “sensible” as referring to both sensation and sense-making. For more, see for example, Jacques Rancière, The Politics of Aesthetics, trans. Gabriel Rockhill (New York: Bloomsbury Academic, 2013).
  31. The Counter-Cinema of the Berlin School 23. Throughout the book I struggle with defining who or what the Berlin School—or a Berlin School cinema—is. The book’s conclusion explicitly foregrounds this struggle, suggesting that perhaps there “‘is’ indeed no Berlin School {but that} today one of the most urgent critical-utopian acts may very well be to posit that it will have been at some time-to-come” (p.310).
  32. See also “Neue realistische Schule?,” Revolver 11 (2004): pp. 72-119.
  33. Daniela Sannwald, “Forum: Zu still für dich,” Der Tagesspiegel 7 February 2002, http://www.tagesspiegel.de/kultur/forum-zu-still-fuer-dich/289058.html.
  34. André Bazin, “Cinematic Realism and the Italian School of the Liberation,” in André Bazin, What is Cinema?, ed. and trans. Timothy Barnard (Montreal: caboose, 2009): pp. 215-249, at pp. 226. I’m drawing on this translation rather than on the standard Hugh Grey one because of the problematic nature of the latter. Bazin’s original reads: “On doit se méfier d’opposer le raffinement esthétique à je ne sais quelle crudité, quelle efficacité immédiate d’un réalisme qui se contenterait de montrer la réalité. … qui’il n’étai pas de ‘réalisme’ en art qui ne fùt d’abord profondément ‘estétique’. … Mais le réalism en art ne saurait évidement ne procéder que d’artifices.” André Bazin, Qu’est que le cinéma? (Paris: Les Éditions du Cref, 2002): pp. 257-285, at pp. 267-269. My use of “minor” to qualify the idea of realism that I attribute to Bazin is meant to evoke Gilles Deleuze’s concept (see, for example, his Cinema 2: The Time-Image, Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press, 1989); and I think that this, what I like to think of as a counter-, realism—Bazin called it “true realism” as opposed to “pseudo-realism of tromp l’oeil” (“Ontology of the Photographic Image,” in Barnard, p. 6)—closely resonates with Daniel Morgan’s superb revisionist reading of Bazin’s oeuvre. See Daniel Morgan, “Rethinking Bazin: Ontology and Realist Aesthetics,” Critical Inquiry 32 (spring 2006): pp. 443-481.
  35. Ibid., p. 227
  36. For Negri’s important discussion of constituted (potestas aka potere) and constituent power (potentia aka potenza), see Cesare Casarino and Antonio Negri, In Praise of the Common: A Conversation on Philosophy and Politics (Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press, 2008): pp. 148-149. For a more detailed discussion of these concepts in the context of the Berlin School, see my The Counter-Cinema of the Berlin School.
  37. Prior to Tip Top, Winckler made a number of other short films, including Pool (1993) and Darlings (co-directed with Natali Barry, 1993), both shot in black and white (and together with Tip Top available as extras on the Klassenfahrt DVD), as well as Lust (1995). Pool and Darlings (I have not seen Lust) already hint at Winckler’s interest in observing group dynamics—Pool is about various teenagers spending an afternoon at someone’s private swimming pool, whereas Darling is about a young man trying to edit a film while friends, prompted by his eager requests for feedback, offer commentary on his efforts (“Although I don’t fully understand it I think it’s quite good the way it is”; “I’m sure your film will be wonderful”). However, both films aesthetically differ from his later work, not only due to their black and white cinematography but also because of their use of stylistic devices such as slow motion and extra-diegetic sound, which Winckler will not (or, in the case of extra-diegetic sound, only rarely) use in his later films. And after working as assistant cameraman on Yüksel Yavuz’s documentary, Mein Vater, der Gastarbeiter (My Father, the Guest Worker, 1995), Winckler also co-wrote Yavuz’s debut feature film, Aprilkinder (April Children, 1998), which since its release has become a key reference in discussions of German-Turkish cinema. For more on the latter cinema, see Sabine Hake and Barbara Mennel, eds., Turkish German Cinema in the New Millennium: Sites, Sounds, and Screens (New York: Berghahn Books, 2012).
  38. Patrick Orth is Ulrich Köhler’s preferred cinematographer. In addition to Bungalow and Windows on Monday, he shot Köhler’s third feature, Schlafkrankheit (Sleeping Sickness, 2011), as well as his student film, Rakete (Fire Cracker, 1998). He also worked on Arslan’s Gold (2013) and, earlier, on Elke Hauck’s Karger (2007).
  39. Screen grabs from Tip Top (Klassenfahrt DVD, Filmgalerie 4512007).
  40. It is worth mentioning that Winckler worked as cameraman on the short film Baden (Swimming, 2004) by Stefan Kriekhaus, who co-authored both of Winckler’s feature films. Baden (available as an extra on the Lucy DVD) bears strong resemblances to Winckler’s work. Focusing, like Winckler does in his films, on the group dynamic of teenagers on the cusp of adulthood, the film observes how one teenager is prevented from enjoying an afternoon at the local public swimming pool because his farmer parents expect him to till their farmland. Only at night, after the pool has closed and the communal fun his peers were able to enjoy—frolicking activities he can observe only with mournful eyes as he is operating his family’s tractor— is long over can the boy sneak onto the premises and swim a few lonely laps by himself.
  41. For an analysis of how contemporary German cinema, including Klassenfahrt, represents Poland, see Jakub Kazecki, “Border, Bridge, or Barrier? Images of German-Polish Borderlands in German Cinema of the 2000s,” in Gabrielle Mueller and James Skidmore, ed., Cinema and Social Change in Germany and Austria (Waterloo: Wilfrid Laurier University Press. 2012): pp. 207-224.
  42. Cristina Moles Kaupp, “Klassenfahrt: Faszination und Erschrecken dicht beieinander,” http://film.fluter.de/de/10/kino/1182/?tpl=1260.
  43. Unpublished interview
  44. Guido Kirsten, “Fiktionale Authenzität und die Unterklausel im Zuschauervertrag,” in Kino in Bewegung: Perspektiven des deutschen Gegenwartfilms, ed. Thomas Schick and Tobias Ebbrecht, pp. 105-120 (Wiesbaden: Vs Verlag, 2011), p. 111.
  45. Ibid., p. 117.
  46. “Lucy: Interview mit Henner Winckler,” http://www.lucy-der-film.de/html/interview.html
  47. Kirsten, op. cit., p. 114.
  48. In German, a better synonym for Unterschicht than “lower class” might be Prekariat, a term for which there is no direct English equivalent. That said, both terms are contested sociological terms. This is not the place to engage in this debate; for an accessible account of the phenomenon of a “neue Unterschicht” (new lower class/Prekariat) in Germany, see Wolfgang Uchatius, “Die neue Unterschicht,” Die Zeit 10 March 2005, http://www.zeit.de/2005/11/Unterschicht.
  49. As is true for all Berlin School films, Lucy refuses to use establishing shots that identify its setting in immediately recognisable ways by, say, providing us with an aerial shot of the city or a glimpse of its television tower in the midst of Alexanderplatz.
  50. Bernhard Groß, “Scharf beobachtete Wirklichkeit,” Der Freitag 4 October 2010, https://www.freitag.de/autoren/der-freitag/scharf-beobachtete-wirklichkeit. Between 1998 and 2006, Gerhard Schröder (Social Democratic Party) was Germany’s chancellor; Joschka Fischer (the Green Party) served under Schröder as Germany’s Foreign Minister.
  51. In my interview with contemporary German director Dominik Graf, he argues that today, in Germany, “most people talk alike. It is not only the case that a different use of language based on class specificities hardly exists any more in scripts but also that one gets the sense that in real life most people mostly talk in clichés, like in a soap opera.” “‘I Build a Jigsaw Puzzle of a Dream-Factory: An Interview with German Filmmaker Dominik Graf,” Senses of Cinema 55 (July 2010), http://sensesofcinema.com/2010/feature-articles/“‘i-build-a-jigsaw-puzzle-of-a-dream-germany’-an-interview-with-german-filmmaker-dominik-graf”-2/
  52. Groß, “Scharf beobachtete Wirklichkeit.” In German, the compound adjective gleichgültig means indifferent, but if written separately, as gleich gültig, it means ‘equally valid’. I.e., gleichgültig—indifferent—connotes a lack of distinction or, more positively, of equality.
  53. See in this context also Ulrich Köhler’s important 2007 essay, “Warum ich keine ‘politischen’ Filme mache,” http://newfilmkritik.de/archiv/2007-04/warum-ich-keine-politischen-filme-mache/, also available in English (translation: Barbara Steinbruegge) as “Why I Don’t Make Political Films,” Cinema Scope 38 (Spring 2009): pp. 10-13.
  54. The actress playing Isa has a minor role in Lucy, for example. And the actor playing Gordon in Lucy essentially plays himself as one of Ronny’s classmates in Klassenfahrt, while Michael Ginsburg (Ronny in Tip Top) has a minor part in Klassenfahrt.
  55. Marcus Wessel, “Lucy,” http://www.critic.de/film/lucy-514/, 10 May 2006.
  56. Isabella Reicher, “‘Lucy’: Die Lücke zwischen Wunsch und Pflichten,” Der Standard 28 August 2006, http://derstandard.at/2566616/Lucy-Die-Luecke-zwischen-Wunsch-und-Pflichten.
  57. Hochhäusler and Wackerbarth, “Neue realistische Schule?,” p. 97.
  58. Hochhäusler and Wackerbarth, op. cit., p. 99.
  59. Mike, who is Lucy’s father, is (at least for the moment) shunned as a partner by Maggy, but he is not out of either Maggy’s or Lucy’s life; on the contrary, we sense that he still hopes to get back together with the mother of his child, and he does in fact take an active interest in the baby, though we gather from a comment Maggy makes that this might not always have been the case.
  60. Maggy does briefly abandon Lucy in an earlier scene, when she momentarily leaves her daughter in her apartment to buy a beer across the street. When Maggy returns, she finds herself confronted by Gordon, who in the meantime had returned to their apartment and now pointedly wonders what might have happened if Lucy had woken up during Maggy’s absence. However, the point worth noting about how Winckler stages this scene is that he refuses to realise this plot point’s most obvious dramatic payoff in that he simply does not allow its dramatic potential to develop along cliché lines (Lucy did not wake up and is just fine) and thus avoids denouncing Maggy.
  61. Ekkehard Knörer, “Kleine Leben in der großen Stadt,” taz 14 February 2006, http://www.taz.de/1/archiv/archiv/?dig=2006/02/14/a0202.
  62. I take, but also rework, this notion from Jacques Rancière’s seminal work. For more, see my The Counter-Cinema of the Berlin School.

About The Author

Marco Abel is Willa Cather Professor of English and Film Studies at the University of Nebraska-Lincoln. His third monograph, Mit Nonchalance am Abgrund: Das Kino der “Neuen Münchner Gruppe” (1964 – 1972), is forthcoming in September 2024 with transcript Verlag (Germany). He is also the author of The Counter-Cinema of the Berlin School (Camden House, 2013), which won the 2014 German Studies Association Book Prize, and Violent Affect: Literature, Cinema, and Critique After Representation (University of Nebraska Press, 2007). He is the co-editor of several books, including, with Jaimey Fisher, of the forthcoming New German Cinema and Its Global Contexts: A Transnational Art Cinema (Wayne State UP, January 2025) as well as The Berlin School and Its Global Contexts: A Transnational Art Cinema (Wayne State UP, 2018). Other books he co-edited include, with Aylin Bademosy and Jaimey Fisher, Christian Petzold: Interviews (University Press of Mississippi, 2023); with Christian Gerhardt Celluloid Revolt: German Screen Cultures and the Long 1968 (Camden House, 2019); and with Chris Wahl, Michael Wedel, and Jesko Jockenhoevel of Im Angesicht des Fernsehens: Der Filmemacher Dominik Graf (text + kritik, 2010). With Roland Végső, he is the co-editor of the book series Provocations (University of Nebraska Press).Marco Abel has also published numerous essays on German cinema and interviews with German film directors in several edited volumes as well as journals such as Cineaste, German Studies Review, New German Critique, Quarterly Review of Film and Video, and Senses of Cinema. Together with Jaimey Fisher, he also co-edited a dossier on Christian Petzold for Senses of Cinema (issue 84).

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