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Q & A: Wim Wenders

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The Scene talks to German film director Wim Wenders about Berlin's creative re-birth since the fall of the wall, and the city's influence on his own work.

The Scene: What does Berlin mean to you?

Wim Wenders: If there's any city in the world I would call my city, it's Berlin. I came here when I was a student in the early 70s and I have kept a residence ever since. It's an amazing city.

TS: What makes it special?

WW: Maybe where it is located. There's the whole of eastern Europe, Warsaw and Moscow and it's a gate to all of that. In the west you have Paris and London and below you have Vienna and Munich, Berlin is just at the crossroads of Europe. It is a very lively city, in a way it's the only city I know in Europe that is really the sort of melting pot that New York once was.

I don't think there's any other city in the world that went through changes like Berlin. Most cities are just what they are: Paris 20 years ago or 50 years ago is still more or less the same as today. Berlin is a different city now than 20 years ago. When I shot my film "Wings of Desire" it was an island, a closed city. Wherever you go it was the East, every direction was the East. Now you have all directions.

Berlin has reinvented itself. It's found its past from the 1920s when it was once a really buzzing, lively city. It still attracts lots of artists, filmmakers, painters, writers, musicians, lots of musicians. I remember in the 80s when it was still isolated. All those people came here, even the Australian Nick Cave lived here. Lou Reed was attracted -- an endless number of musicians came here.

It's a unique city. There are cities that drain you of energy, you're there for a while and they leave you depleted. I love to come back as much as possible to Berlin, it is always filling you with energy. There's only a very few cities that do that, such as New York. You get there and you have lots of ideas and you can't go to sleep and the city keeps feeding you.

TS: Two of your films feature angels over Berlin; what was the inspiration?

WW: It's just a strange presence. If you roam around the city and walk around, you realise there's a lot of them around -- images of angels. Not just in cemeteries, on houses, decorations, on columns.

I realised there's this thing with angels in the city and somehow at the time I made "Wings of Desire" I was looking for somebody who could lead me through the entire city, which was still divided at the time. I needed a figure that could cross the wall -- no one could do that apart from my invisible angels.

TS: How has Berlin changed since you made that film?

WW: Berlin is a city that really shows its past, with all the scars and wounds and horrors that it lived through. Slowly these scars are closing. When the wall fell in 1989, it was a city full of no man's lands, there's still some of them. You don't find these no man's lands in any other modern city. You don't find these wastelands.

TS: What about the people?

WW: Germans are not really known for their sense of humor, I'm not telling you a secret there, but Berliners are a race apart. You get in a cab in Berlin and after a few minutes the driver's going to get you to laugh. They have a very dry, stark, tragic humor. They have seen it all, they have survived it all, and they let it come.

There's also this Berlin accent. It's difficult to talk about it in English, but Berliners just speak differently from any other city in Germany. There's a certain ease with the language, they invent their own words. They still have lots of French expressions because only 200 years ago the Prussians spoke French. In Berlin you have all these reminiscences of a French speaking past, but everything is said with a little bit of a wink. Berliners don't take anything too seriously -- that's how they survived two bitter wars I think.

TS: How has this influenced your work?

WW: I'm not exactly known for my comedies, but I've done some tragic comedies. Berlin is an inspiration. Berlin of course had its serious and sad sides and its terrible downfalls, but Berlin is a lively city and has a great sense of life and discovery.

I don't know any other city where you can go museum-hopping or gallery hopping like in Berlin. It has its own museum island with nothing but museums on it.

TS: What about other artists?

WW: U2 were the first to discover the glory of this city with their album "Achtung Baby." They came right when the wall fell and recorded an entire album here and were inspired by the city. It's always a good sign when a city inspires a musician to write a song, I'd go to any city that created song. Berlin is one of them.

TS: Were you here when the wall fell?

WW: When the wall came down I was on the exact other side of the planet. I was in the desert of Australia. There were no mobile phones, no satellite radio, nothing. I was in a lousy little place called Turkey Creek. There was a fax machine and two weeks too late I got a dark fax of newspapers from Berlin showing some black images. You could maybe see the wall with some people dancing on it, but it was already two weeks after the fact. I got to the nearest phone, it took me hours to place the call to find out what happened -- maybe the Russians had stopped it all. There were definitely people dancing on the wall in this picture, but what did it mean? I had no idea. I had missed it. I flew back the next day to catch it, but the wall was down already.

TS: Did everyone welcome the toppling of the wall?

WW: It was a moment of great joy, and incredible energy in the city. People were just embracing each other for weeks, running through the East and the West with tears in their eyes. I must say, the Germans didn't really live their joy for the few years that followed. There was a certain bitterness. In the mid 90s everybody was pissed off with everybody else. Now that's another wound that has healed, I think now they're coming to terms with it. It's also a sign that there's a chancellor who is a woman who grew up in the East. Germany is growing together and that stale feeling after reunification is going steadily.


Which is Wim Wender's best film?
Buena Vista Social Club
Faraway, So Close!
Paris, Texas
The Million Dollar Hotel
Wings of Desire
or View Results
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