Although three decades had passed since the Franco-Prussian War and another decade and a half awaited World War I, the Berliners in this 1900 color film (with some 1914 scenes toward the end) of their city appear depressed. The elegance of their civic environment cannot have been to blame. Perhaps the militarism that seems to have infused their society was responsible. Next on tap, after this film of not quite five minutes is over, is a film, also in color, of Berlin in 1936, after Hitler’s rise, and then in 1945, after the end of World War II. Much different. And then one from 1954.
After it I watched a recent tourist film listing the top 10 attractions of Berlin. For all the great old buildings that almost unaccountably survive, Berlin in this film was very, very ugly. I was there with my brother, Tony, in 2004 or thereabouts, and as much as we tried to keep within the ambit of beautiful architecture – mostly in the former eastern sector of the once-divided city – the place seemed soulless. The non-architectural explanations for that are many, but the architectural ones should not be discounted.
[Note: Leon Krier, who knows Europe past and present far better than I do, warns me that many of the shots in the first film “are from Paris, Munich, St Petersburg. Moscow, Vienna and other European places.” And yet, the Berlin Channel labels the film as Berlin. I went through it again and could not find anything that was obviously not in Berlin, especially based on the shopfront signs, which were German so far as I could tell, but these could be in Munich or Vienna for all I know, and Leon knows so much more than I do. I would take him at his word. So let the viewer beware!]