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"At the Border Movie Theaters: With Rubbish for Freedom!" Article from Blickpunkt (April 1956)

Until the erection of the Berlin Wall in 1961, it was fairly easy to cross the border in Berlin. Young East Germans took advantage of the situation and attended special daytime screenings of Western films in West Berlin cinemas located near border crossings. These screenings were supported with West German tax revenue. In light of that, this April 1956 newspaper article criticized border movie theater programs, which consisted largely of entertainment films with no cultural pretensions.

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Next door, along the huts in the shadow of brick factory façades, “genuine pepper” and other spices, intestines, and binder twine for combine harvesters are offered for sale. On the other side of the street are advertised the “spiritual goods” that are offered to visitors from the East “cheap and in good quality”: A Bullet WaitsThe Angel of the RowdiesWith an Iron FistKing of the Rocket MenHot Lips, Cold Steel: movie titles from the so-called border movie theaters, the kind you find at Potsdamer Platz, on Brunnenstraße, near the Warsaw Bridge, and at nearly all border crossings. And the weekly market, which is actually open the entire week, is usually also found right there.

Chains and ropes are strung when the next showing is half an hour away. In long lines of hundreds, as during the Reichsmark period, the waiting crowd in front of the entrance. Admission: 25 Pfennigs (West) or 1.50 DM (East) it says at the box office. “Please have your IDs ready to be checked!” Chewing gum is the most popular item at the counter of the candy stand in the lobby. An “Extra,” handed out free of charge at the entrance, provides information about the upcoming program.

. . . to Dixieland

The air in the theater is thick enough to cut, a whiff that takes your breath way, but no disadvantage for the box office, as three to four shows – “Special shows for visitors from the East” – are on the schedule from 9 am to 3:30 pm. The narrow doors, opened each time for only about 20 minutes, do manage to turn over the audience, but not to refresh the air. The cleaning ladies cannot rid the market of the flat illusion every two hours. But this does not bother the visitors. Only a few are older than 25; hardly anyone is over 40. Here people come with a briefcase from the vocational school or go the theater because of the convenient opening times. The loudspeakers playing the music, which is just as “hot” as the atmosphere, blare out the syncopated Dixieland a little louder than in other movie theaters. That is unavoidable, for otherwise one would not be able to make out a melody among the audience’s rhythmic foot stamping.

... a good idea

When the idea surfaced six years ago that visitors from the Soviet-occupied territories should be “culturally looked after,” as they say, those behind the idea primarily wanted to show all the films that are profitable. There was even a willingness to make sacrifices. The authorities waived the entertainment tax, the film distributors did not even charge any fees, and about two dozen movie theaters near the sector border were given the privilege of having special screenings with these allowances. To avoid unfair competition, the only condition was that they were not to show films that were currently running in the evening at other theaters. But the owners of the movie theaters could choose freely among the reruns, some of which were not even three months old.

What is known as the dictatorship of popular taste promptly began. The Fahrraddiebe [Bicycle Thieves] or Schwurgericht [Trial by Jury] remained empty. Texas serenades with three pistols and fifteen dead bodies had a full house. But the cause lay not with those visitors from the East, who said, understandably enough: “I don’t want a problem film but light entertainment when I go the movies in the West. I have plenty of problems at home.” Those visitors don’t have time to go to the “special showings” that are restricted to about four in the afternoon. In the evening, the border movie theaters show the “normal program” at non-discounted prices. “Nobody would indemnify us if our seats at the special showings remained empty,” they argue. But young people, vocational students, who have time to go to the movies in the morning, dictate: “We want to see Westerns.” And the program accommodated them.

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