In Berlin Hands Were Joined

Pictures and propaganda from the 1951 World Festival of Youth and Students for Peace in Berlin. Original title: W Berlinie złączyły się dłonie

vlcsnap-831874Young people of the world unite(!) for big rallies, anti-imperialist fraternity, saluting, and military-type mass exercise—all under the watchful eye of Stalin and other communist leaders in giant portrait. Narration is extra-thickly propagandistic, unintentionally ironic: “the Brandenburg Gate divides the free world from the world of oppression and injustice” (how true!). Immediately after, shots of lively East Berlin are juxtaposed with empty, dead West Berlin, in which, in wait, stalk “Adenauer’s police dogs”. Next: shots of the humane, friendly “people’s” police of the East mingling with a group of kids. But that’s all build-up to the joyous festival itself. Trains arrive: Polish, North Korean, Chinese, Soviet, British, American, French, Vietnamese, Spanish, Indian, Egyptian. International youth mingle and dance. During the festivities, a Polish boy makes friends with a Chinese girl and, the narrator proudly tells us, decides to become her pen pal. Since on screen they “speak” in hand gestures, one wonders what language they’ll use to write. But no matter: the celebrations are massive, co-ordinated, filled with screaming German children raising their arms in unison to greet their leader. There’s song, sports, people using their bodies to create East German socialist symbols on football fields. Indeed, what’s most surprising about the festival—and the film—is how clueless it is. If form counts (and it does), then what we’re seeing is continuity rather than a break. West Berlin may be where the “neo-fascists” live, but Hitler’s National Socialist rallies have found a better home in the good ‘ole East. Long live political spectacle! Long live the “fight for peace”!

Jan Zelnik, 1951


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