World Cinema - East Germany, September 2015

Michael Rowan, a member of Chiltern Film Society's committee, is finding out about how people from different countries experienced cinema in their homeland.

With one exception I have only ever visited the cinema in the UK and had always assumed that mine was a universal experience. One day a chance conversation made me wonder if perhaps I was being naïve and so I set myself the challenge to find out what people living in Chesham but born in another country recalled about cinema in their homeland. I am very grateful to everyone who gave up their time to give me such an insight often reviving memories that they had forgotten.


Today I am speaking with Ines Landberg who came to Chesham in 2005 but was originally from a small town outside Leipzig in Germany. Ines is Mum to three boys but has a background in Dentistry and attends promotional marketing events in her profession.

Unsurprisingly Ines enjoys travel, socialising, theatre and cinema. She moved to Chesham from Denham. Living in East Germany, when the Berlin Wall came down Ines realised that with her professional qualification she could now travel anywhere, not just in the Eastern Bloc, and so she travelled through Europe and even lived in Peru for a time before settling down in the UK where she has lived for 16 years.

1) How does the cinema here differ from East Germany?

Ines - The cinemas were much smaller and the one that I was taken to as a child was a beautiful old Art Deco building which still remains today though it is very dilapidated. The cinema had rounded leather seats on a slight slope before a large stage. It was called Freidenslichtdspiel Theatre which translates as Peace Light Play Theatre. Formerly it was called Burgergarten, but this was before my time. I would love to go back inside to see what how it differs from my childhood memory. At this cinema all children would have a large school celebration for our school intake into primary school. In the 1960s this was the most modern cinema in East Germany.

As a teenager we would visit the ‘Capitol’ in Leipzig, which has since been taken down and replaced with a glass shopping mall despite lots of protest to save the cinema. A new cinema was rebuilt elsewhere in Leipzig.

2) What was the first film that you remember been taken to?

Ines - The film was called Ronja - Child of the Forest and was taken from the book which was written by the author of Pippi Longstocking.

3) What was the film about?

Ines - The film was animated and was about children roaming free in the forest. Everyone wanted to be Ronja.

I asked Ines if she thought that the theme of freedom contrasted with her experience in East Germany and was that why she related to Ronja. Ines thought not. She was a child and felt free and in fact had lots of freedom relative to children today so they just thought that their experience was normal.

4) What were the adverts like?

Ines – There were no adverts in the cinema in East Germany other than a line telling the audience about the next film which could be a month away. In her home town no posters advertising the film were printed but rather they would be drawn or painted by a local artist.

It was very difficult to get movies into the cinema so each film would be shown three times to packed houses. Everyone would wish to go.

5) As a child who took you to the theatre?

Ines - Mum and Dad took me as a family treat to the theatre in her home town. The Cinema still remains though it is closed up now, but I would dearly love to go inside once more. Grandfather was a baker so we always had special cake when we returned home from the cinema.

6) Tell me more about the  films of your childhood

Ines - Any American influence was not to be tolerated; we had Russian cartoons a bit like Tom and Jerry. So children’s films did not have the Walt Disney ending - in The Little Mermaid she dies at the end and the Grandmother in Little Red Riding Hood is eaten, not merely shoved under the stairs by the big bad wolf.

7) Was it expensive to go to the cinema?

Ines - No it was very cheap in East Germany, so 30p for children and 50p for adults.

8) What was the etiquette for going to the cinema in Germany?

Ines - People dressed up in their Sunday best clothes, but not as smart as when they went to the theatre. Children were expected to be quiet and if you couldn’t be quiet you were considered to young to go to the cinema. (Ines was 11 when the Berlin Wall came down).

9) What films did your parents enjoy?

Ines – My parents used to love all the Italian movies particularly those starring Sophie Loren. Romy Schneider who played Empress of Austria was also a favourite of my Mum.

10) What kind of refreshments could you buy at the cinema?

Ines – I can’t recall any drinks but we wouldn’t have been allowed to drink inside the cinema. Snacks were part of the cinema treat but these had to be eaten before or after the film, inside you were meant to watch the film nicely.

11) And could you and can you smoke in the cinema?

Ines - I can’t remember I was only a child.

12) What sort of films were shown, the usual blockbuster or something else that went down well?

Ines - Whatever they could get but nothing American, so no Jaws, which I only discovered when my husband told me it was his favourite movie.

13) Do you go to the cinema in UK and what were your first impressions?

Ines – Yes I do go to the cinema but not often because of child care and when I do go it is mostly to watch children’s films at the moment. When I arrived here I noticed that the cinemas were a lot bigger here in the UK with more screens and more comfortable seats though obviously in West Germany the differences were much less marked. People in the UK are far more tolerant of eating in the cinema and of the noise from patrons eating and of the resulting litter on the floor.

14) In the UK we have certain films that are shown every Christmas such as It’s a Wonderful Life and A Christmas Carol is that the same in your country and if so what?

Ines - Yes it is the same in Germany too. We love the old classics like an adult version of Cinderella which was filmed in East Germany. On New Year’s Eve is a film called Dinner for One which was  made in West Germany with German actors speaking English dialogue. It is a comedy made in black and white in 1963. It is only 18 minutes long and we know all the jokes but everyone watches it each year.

15) You mentioned that you have also lived in Peru what was it like going to the cinema there

Ines - We went to see the Children’s movie, Ice Age which was in Spanish with English subtitles. It was very hot so everyone goes in their beach clothes and they buy all the food stuff including all the sweets and popcorn.  People can smoke in the cinema and everyone talks so much that it is hard to hear the movie but the enjoyment of the audience is apparent.

16) What film character did you or would you like to be?

Ines - I saw Dirty Dancing eight times as a teenager in West Germany and everyone wanted to marry Patrick Swayze.

17) Finally what is your favourite film here or in Germany?

Ines - Sweet November or A Walk in the Clouds.

Ines Landberg thank you for sharing your experience of cinema