The Berlin School is a label applied to a group of German filmmakers who came to prominence in the early 2000s.

The label was coined by critics and scholars, who noted similarities between the films of Christian Petzold, Thomas Arslan, Maren Ade, Angela Schanelec, Christoph Hochhäusler, and others.

Unlike other national movements in German film history — such as the Weimar Republic’s Expressionism or New German Cinema — the films of the Berlin School are not necessarily united by formal techniques or thematic concerns.

It is more accurate to describe films associated with this movement as sharing a sensibility that is at once playful and questioning of traditional narrative forms.

Berlin School Film Movement

What Is the Berlin School Film Movement?

The Berlin School is a film movement that began in Germany during the 2000s.

The films are typically slow-paced, dialogue-heavy, and character-focused, with a focus on realistic drama without any of the bells and whistles of Hollywood.

The Berlin School is a movement in German cinema. Despite its name, it’s not an official school or even a unified group of filmmakers.

Rather, it’s a collection of directors who share similar aesthetic sensibilities.

The term “Berlin School” comes from the idea (first put forward by film critic Lars Henrik Gass) that this movement could be seen as an extension of the New German Cinema movement headed by filmmakers like Rainer Werner Fassbinder, Werner Herzog, and Wim Wenders in the 1970s, which was also based out of Berlin.



What Is The Berlin School Film Movement?

The Berlin School is a film movement that began in Germany around the turn of the 21st century.

The term was coined to describe a group of filmmakers who were educated at Berlin’s Deutsche Film- und Fernsehakademie Berlin (DFFB).

These young directors, who came to prominence in their own country and around the world in the early 2000s, include:

  • Christian Petzold,
  • Christoph Hochhäusler,
  • Angela Schanelec,
  • Maren Ade,
  • Thomas Arslan.

Although they don’t have a specific style or subject matter in common, these directors generally share a devotion to realism and a preoccupation with German history and identity.

They’ve been compared to the French New Wave and Dogme 95, but they’re distinct from these movements in their lack of an overt manifesto or aesthetic creed.

The Berlin School gained prominence in the early 2000s with the release of several well-received films, including “Head-On” and “Summer in Berlin.”

Those were two of the first movies to be distributed by Pandora Film Verleih, a production company that helped launch many directors of the Berlin School into prominence.

Pandora Film Verleih also released The Edukators,” “Requiem,” and “The White Ribbon,” which won both the Golden Globe and Academy Award for Best Foreign Language Film in 2010.

The Berlin School Film Movement “Cinema Has To Be Dangerous”

The Berlin School of Filmmaking emerged in the 1920s, its members united by their love of film and sharing a belief that cinema has to be dangerous. Like any movement, it was a confluence of individuals and philosophies.

Their common goal was to push the boundaries of film and, in doing so, make it a more powerful art form. This is not to say that they rejected realism or storytelling.

If anything, they believed that greater realism could only be achieved by shaking up the conventions of cinema. They also believed that film was an art form in its own right, separate from theater or literature.

They were as influenced by contemporary painting and sculpture as they were by film itself. Cinema had to have its own language, not just techniques borrowed from other arts.

The main protagonists of this movement are the director Robert Wiene, the cinematographer Fritz Arno Wagner, the set designer Walter Röhrig, and the producer/re-recording engineer Dr Ludwig Klitzschmann.

Of these men, it was Wiene who brought them together and made them a movement. He had just finished directing his masterpiece The Cabinet Of Dr Caligari when he left Germany for America in 1922.

German Cinema Is Visible Again

For German films, a new era has begun. 

“Not only is the German-language film market ‘suddenly’ growing, but the industry is also experiencing a period of creativity that could be just as important as the post-war Heimatfilm,” says director Andreas Dresen in an interview with DW.

The good news comes at an interesting time — while Germany’s domestic film industry has been making headlines for all the wrong reasons in recent months.

This year, Berlin’s International Film Festival (Berlinale) was in crisis over revelations about German film mogul Dieter Kosslick and his close ties to Harvey Weinstein, who has been accused by dozens of women of sexual harassment and abuse.

Weinstein was banned from attending this year’s festival and had his membership in the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences revoked.The Berlinale also announced that its competition section would no longer be named after one of its most prominent sponsors — Mercedes-Benz — because of the carmaker’s own problems with sexual harassment at its plants.

Dresen says this may have been what helped force a change in attitudes. “You can’t say enough how important it was to finally get rid of Kosslick, who was responsible for everything that was wrong.”

Intensifying Life: The Cinema Of The “Berlin School”

The Berlin School (German: Berliner Schule) is a loose term for the group of West German filmmakers which emerged in the late 1970s. They were primarily based in West Berlin and were influenced by the New German Cinema.

The term is also applied to a more broadly defined movement of like-minded German directors active between 1975 and 1990, although there is little consensus on the exact membership of this group. 

The term is mainly used to refer to those directors who shared an interest in filming people’s everyday lives, especially those with little or no connection to the film industry, such as prostitutes, pimps, drag queens and drug addicts. Their work often deals with themes of alienation and loneliness.

The cinematic movement was initiated by Werner Herzog and Wim Wenders, both of whom would go on to be major figures in world cinema. Their collaboration in the film “The American Friend” (1977) would prove an inspiration for future projects.

The movement began in 1977 with Wenders’ “Der amerikanische Freund”, released simultaneously with Herzog’s “Stroszek”. Both films starred Bruno Ganz as leading characters who are drawn into a web of intrigue after meeting seemingly ordinary Americans.

This subgenre has been named “Ganz große Kunst”.

History Of The Berlin School Film Movement

The term “Berlin School” was coined by French critics in the early 1970s, when they used it to describe a new wave of German filmmakers. 

The Berlin School were a diverse bunch who used the city’s relatively low cost of living and socialist government to create a body of work that was radical and experimental, often exploring political themes.

Toward the beginning of the decade, the Berlin School began to emerge as a movement with its own stylistic identity. 

Though it shares some characteristics with other European art house movements – like Italian Neorealism’s attention to ordinary people and French New Wave’s focus on young filmmakers – the Berlin School reall was unique in terms of its social and political themes.


The movement reached its peak during the late 1970s, when it had become a national phenomenon and German cinema enjoyed widespread popularity around the world. However, this popularity waned toward the end of the decade with an onslaught of Hollywood blockbusters into European markets.

By 1980, most members of the Berlin School had stopped making movies altogether or turned their attention to television. The Berlin School is a loose group of German filmmakers who share a common approach to filmmaking.

Essential Filmmakers Of The Berlin School Film Movement

There is no one way to define the movement. The films are highly stylized and experimental in nature.

Characteristics include the use of long takes, pans (horizontal or vertical camera movements), and tracking shots. Unlike classical Hollywood films, dialogue is not a primary tool for character development, and the films use a non-linear storyline structure that is less common in Hollywood films.

The films often take place in a single location or have complicated plot structures. Their narratives are typically presented from a subjective perspective, meaning that they focus on the thoughts and perceptions of their central characters rather than providing an objective point of view.

Truffaut said he was “not at all interested” in French New Wave cinema, while Godard claimed he did not see any of these new films as belonging to the same movement as his own work. Nonetheless, most critics agree that these films were significant works influenced by “the wave”.

Many were distributed by major studios, including Warner Brothers and Paramount Pictures, but were largely overlooked by audiences because of their “art house” nature. 

The term “New Wave” is attributed to film critic Philippe Garnier, who proposed it as a label for a group of French filmmakers in May 1968.

Essential Films Of The Berlin School Film Movement

It is not often that you come across a book that is designed to help you learn about the history of filmmaking. The Essential Films of the Berlin School Film Movement edited by Chris Stenner and Jason Wood does just that.

It is a guide to the directors, their films, and the evets that led up to them. The book is part of Limelight Editions’ series titled Directors Close Up.

The books in this series are designed to give readers more in-depth looks at some of the most popular filmmakers who created some of the most extraordinary films ever made. The book itself is broken down into seven sections that include over 25 chapters.

The first section has an introduction to the series itself and an introduction to the movement. The second section covers a brief history of Germany and its role in film.

A third section covers some of the basics on expressionism while a fourth section covers Fritz Lang’s early years, including his time studying art in Germany and Austria, his early jobs as a director, and his work with Ufa Film Company before moving onto his years working for MGM Studios in Americ. 

A fifth section discusses Lang’s influence on German Expressionism before moving onto his sound films at Ufa.

A sixth section discusses M and Woman In The Moon before moving onto Met.

Importance Of The Berlin School Film Movement

The Berlin School refers to a number of modernist German filmmakers whosprung up during the Weimar Republic and in the early years of the Third Reich. 

The movement, which was very much influenced by the prominent artists of their time, was made up of filmmakers like Walter Ruttmann, Hans Richter and Viking Eggeling.

Taken as a whole, they were very influential in the realm of film art. They helped to shape the way that we look at films today, even if they did not achieve commercial success while they were alive.

In many ways, they were one of the first to use abstract and avant-garde styles, which is now a mainstay in modern cinema. The themes that these filmmakers used were closely connected with the most important artistic movements of their time.

When you look at them side by side, it is easy to see how these themes made their way from literature into film art. 

For example, the invention of sound and the use of abstract imagery both came about at roughly the same time as the emergence of this school.

This allowed for an entirely new type of filmmaking that had never been seen before in history. There are some major differences between these works and those made today but it is still possible to see how influential each one proved to be.

Berlin School Film Movement Theory

The Berlin School is a term used to describe the work of a group of artists, composers and filmmakers who were based in the German capital during the 1920s and ’30s. 

The term was first used in 1939 by art critic Franz Roh to identify a group of artists who had worked together at the Bauhaus art school.

Roh also used it to describe the work of other filmmakers, including Walter Ruttmann, Viking Eggeling and Hans Richter. The name stuck, although it wasn’t until the 1970s that its influence began to be felt again.

The Bauhaus was set up in Weimar in 1919 as an art school for craftsmen and designers. It moved to Dessau in 1925, then to Berlin in 1932. In 1933, Hitler came to power, and his supporters closed down the school in the same year.

Some members of staff went into exile, while others attempted to continue their work under Nazi rule. Berlin School artists attempted to create an entirely new type of film – abstract, non-narrative cinema that would defy all attempts at description.

They wanted film to function purely as an art form – one that could be appreciated alone or with others but not necessarily with any particular narrative or story-line attached.

The End Of The Berlin School Film Movement

The Berlin School of Filmmaking was a movement that began in the early 1970s and ended with the fall of the Berlin Wall in 1989. It was also known as the West German New Wave. 

The term was coined by French film critics after seeing Rainer Werner Fassbinder’s films—including “The Bitter Tears of Petra von Kant”, which won the Golden Bear at the 42nd Berlin International Film Festival.

This movement is sometimes considered to be a part of New German Cinema, and is known for its extremely low budgets and minimalist style, as well as its focus on social issues.

Three major directors are associated with this movement: Fassbinder, Werner Herzog and Wim Wenders.

Although Wenders is not viewed as being part of the established “school” of filmmakers, he does share some qualities associated with them, including an emphasis on individuals trapped in an alienating society. 

Fassbinder’s early films were stuffed with allusions to Germany’s Nazi past, while his later work developed into more mainstream cinema.

Herzog’s work became more accessible over time, while his interest in exploring human nature in extreme situations remained steady throughout his career. Both Fassbinder and Herzog used characters who were criminals or outcasts from more conventional societies.

Berlin School Film Movement – Wrapping Up

The Berlin School of movie-making was a movement that started in the late 1920s and lasted well into the 1940s. It’s not to be confused with the German Expressionist movement, which was a precursor to it.

The schools were quite different, but the underlying approach was similar: create a film that would immerse the viewer into its story using techniques that are not normally associated with movies. The Expressionist movement employed filmmaking techniques that would allow them to show inanimate objects such as buildings or furniture “breathing” and “speaking.”

Those techniques included:

Camera Movement

Unlike most films of the time, these films used very little camera movement. The camera was kept on one spot as much as possible, while the actors moved around it.

This gave the illusion that everything could move on its own.


The colors chosen for the sets and costumes were bold and bright. They didn’t always match what was real; they matched what you would see if you walked into your favorite fairy tale book.


The lighting was harsh and sharp. This was done to further enhance the dream-like setting of many of these films. 


Background music played an important role in many of these films.