24 July 2018



'God's hand lets no man fall.'

'You have to be able to see the world, and go towards it.'

I'm mega-excited about this one. This is something extremely special. I was already a fan of Fassbinder's, little uppity film snob that I am, lol, and those of you who know me well might be aware by now that I have an intense interest in World War Two and the circumstances, fermenting away in Germany in the 1920s and 1930s, leading up to it.

I'd recently watched Claude Lantzmann's SHOAH, an epic nine-hour documentary about the Holocaust in which the director interviews in-depth some of the people directly affected by it. I mean, I was already tremendously excited about this weighty whopper (sounds like a burger, doesn't it?) of a documentary and naturally assumed that it would be the longest film I'd ever watch on the subject of things relating to World War Two.

Then along comes BERLIN ALEXANDERPLATZ, a fifteen-hour movie set in Germany in the 1920s/1930s that originally aired as a German mini-series on German television in 1980. I bet it absolutely smashed all the TV ratings for that year.

Clocking in at a spectacular nine-hundred minutes, it watches like a mini-series, divided up into digestible blocks of one hour approximately, with credits coming at the start and finish. So you needn't fret that you don't have the time to watch a fifteen-hour movie. Just treat it like one of those box-sets you binge-watch when the missus is at her sister's. I know, I see you, eating pizza and guzzling beer in bed with your remote control all tucked up beside you, very cosy indeed...!

So, what is this fifteen-hour epic about, and who is its hero, or anti-hero? Franz Biberkopf is probably more of an anti-hero than a hero, as he's not without his faults. We first see him when he's being released from prison. Well, I did say he wasn't perfect, lol.

There's a touching scene at the very beginning where he's actually afraid to leave the place where he's been incarcerated for four long years. The guard at the prison gate has to talk him gently into leaving and going back out into the world. Franz is disorientated, discombobulated and generally all of a flutter to be at liberty once more to come and go as he pleases.

He returns to his old landlady, Frau Bast, and his comfy old lodgings, where everything seems to just slot back into place for him initially. His first experiences as a free man are worthy of note. A ginger-haired and ginger-bearded Jewish man who helps him up when he falls down in the street tries to tell him a story, some sort of parable maybe, but Franz is having none of it.

A prostitute who looks a lot like Kate Bush picks Franz up in the lashing rain and takes him back to her flat where they drink whiskey but don't have sex. Franz, a big burly middle-aged bloke who really looks very German, if you know what I mean, doesn't manage to muster up the enthusiasm to make love to her, despite the fact that she's kind enough to give him a free biology lesson while laughing her tits off at him...

Methinks that the lusty Franz is saving his sexual energies for something- or someone- else. He goes to visit a middle-aged but still attractive blonde woman called Minna whom he obviously knows. Once he's established that she's alone in her apartment, he brutally rapes her and gives her a black eye and some finger-marks around her throat as well, for good measure. This is how Franz likes his sex, by the way, rough and ready.

After the rape, Franz feels fantastic about himself again. Despite his repeated insistence that 'I don't want to go on as before,' he's committed rape and battery within hours of being released from prison. And his victim, Minna, is not the first woman in her family against whom Franz has committed an unpardonable atrocity. What do you think he was in prison for...?

Franz seems to find it ridiculously easy to pick up women. He's not particularly good-looking but he's big, confident and obviously an alpha male type, to whom broken or damaged women flock like z-list 'celebrities' to the opening of an envelope.

After one night down his local pub, he finds himself a live-in girlfriend in Lina, a nervous Polish woman who almost certainly has a troubled past and some kind of inner sadness. She regards herself as being in the Last Chance Saloon when it comes to bagging a man, and is pathetically grateful for Franz's attentions. Could she do better? I honestly don't know.

Although you wouldn't have him down as the commitment type, Franz finds it useful to have sex-on-tap from a live-in girlfriend, and presumably he doesn't mind availing of all the free cooking and cleaning as well. He cheats on Lina early into their relationship with a sex-hungry widow lady.

He's the kind of man who'll take every opportunity that comes his way, and this one was handed to him on a plate, with garnish on the side and cheese and biscuits to follow. As long as Lina never finds out about it, then what does it matter? What Lina doesn't know won't hurt him...

Once he has the whole sexual side of things sorted out, well, all he needs is to find himself a job. After all, a man needs to be able to work to support himself and his family, doesn't he? Well, that's where the problems start. He's on a register of violent criminals likely to re-offend, so he already has a black mark against him.

Franz swears an oath in front of Lina that he wants to go straight from now on. 'I've taken an oath, and you're my witness, that I want to stay honest forever.' Unfortunately, good honest work in Germany at that time was hard to come by.

The country was in the grip of a massive depression at the time. The words 'unemployment' and 'inflation' are synonymous with the Germany of the day. That's one of the reasons Hitler and the Nazi party were able to grab power in 1933. They saw what was happening in the country and they promised the voters 'Arbeit Und Brot,' or work and bread, which was all that men like Franz were asking for.

Fassbinder shows us, with a very light hand rather than shovelling it on with a, well, with a shovel, lol, that Germany is undergoing certain, shall we say, changes, at this time. We see two lads pasting a poster on a wall that says 'WER IST ADOLF HITLER?, or 'WHO IS ADOLF HITLER?'

The dictator-to-be was already making a name for himself, small at first but growing, for his powers of oratory, which were seemingly considerable. He always seemed to me to be just a stumpy little man with a bad moustache bawling into a microphone so forcefully that the first ten or so rows of his audience got literally bombarded with spit, but what do I know, lol.

We see Franz selling tie-clips from a tiny stall on the public street, a career no more illustrious than his brief stint as a door-to-door shoelace salesman. Although he does get to meet the Merry Widow that way, haha. Perks of the job, you might say.

The point here is that, when he's shouting about his wares to the passers-by, he's saying that if they're not comfortable buying from Jews, well, not to worry because he's an Aryan...! Although we know that this stuff happened in Germany at this time, it's still a shock to hear it directly from the mouth of Franz, a man we're getting to like despite his obvious flaws, the rape and battery of women being just two of these.

Then, out of the blue, he's offered a job by a man in a pub. Isn't that the way it so often happens? The man in the pub is satisfied, for his part, that Franz is a 'true German.' 'Germany for the Germans,' after all, and none of your Commie Reds or Jews or any of that.

So, what exactly is this new job? Franz is now the latest street vendor, if you please, of the VOLKISCHE BEOBACHTER, a real-life anti-Semitic newspaper run by Julius Sturmer, a well-known Jew-hater himself. It's the official newspaper of the NSDAP or Nazi party. On his first day of work, Franz is presented with the armband he's meant to wear while he's working. On the armband is a swastika...

Okay, I'm not telling you a single thing more, not even if you threaten me with tickles, to which I'm unnaturally susceptible. We've only really covered a couple of hours of the film-mini-series here, which means that there's about another twelve hours left and a lot can happen in twelve hours. A very lot, lol.

I'm sure you want to know about the fate that befalls Franz and Lina and their friends and contemporaries, mostly ordinary Germans struggling with unemployment and inflation and a government too weak to solve their basic problems (that's where Hitler and the Nazis swoop in; they see a weakness in the wall that stands between them and power and they probe at it until it collapses.) Will Franz manage to stay on the straight-and-narrow, or will the lure of easy money in the rapidly burgeoning Nazi Germany be too much for him to resist? There's only one way to find out, folks...

BERLIN ALEXANDERPLATZ: THE LIMITED EDITION BLU-RAY BOX-SET is available to buy now courtesy of SECOND SIGHT FILMS. It comes with a plethora of fantastic extra features (listed below) and it might just be a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to get your hands on this masterpiece in its nine-hundred-minute splendour and luxurious entirety. Don't miss out...!

  • Limited edition deluxe box set (2000 copies only)
  • 'Fassbinder: Love Without Demands’ - The acclaimed 2015 feature length documentary by Christian Braad Thomsen
  • An appreciation by writer and critic Tony Rayns
  • Berlin Alexanderplatz - A Visual Essay by Daniel Bird
  • A Mega Movie and its Story’ documentary by Juliane Lorenz
  • • ‘The Making of Berlin Alexanderplatz’
  • 'The Restoration' documentary including ‘before and after’
  • The Original Recaps
  • Berlinale 2007 trailer
  • 60-page perfect bound book featuring new essay by Cahiers Du Cinema’s Stephane du Mesnildot and archive material by Wim Wenders, Thomas Elsasser and Christian Braad Thomsen


Sandra Harris is a Dublin-based novelist, film blogger, poet and book-and-movie reviewer. She has studied Creative Writing and Film-Making. She has published a number of e-books on the following topics: horror film reviews, multi-genre film reviews, womens' fiction, erotic fiction, erotic horror fiction and erotic poetry. Several new books are currently in the pipeline. You can browse or buy any of Sandra's books by following the link below straight to her Amazon Author Page:


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