Die Architekten

 (Peter Kahane, East Germany, 1990) 102 minutes


Director: Peter Kahane
Producer: Herbert Ehler
Screenplay: Thomas Knauf
Cinematography: Andreas Köfer
Editor: Ilse Peters
Music: Tamás Kahane
Kurt Naumann (Daniel Brenner)
Rita Feldmeier (Wanda Brenner)
Uta Eisold (Renate Reese)
Jürgen Watzke (Martin Bullat)
Ute Lubosch (Franziska Scharf)
Catherine Stoyan (Elke Krug)
Andrea Meissner (Barbara Schneider)

Reviews and notes

The story behind the making of this tragedy is integral to understanding the picture itself. Shooting started in September 1989 as multitudes took to the streets throughout East Germany. By the time the film was finished, East Germany no longer existed. Then and now, East German filmmakers are faced with unemployment. Many of the DEFA studio executives who initially approved this picture are no longer working. Kahane deftly shows the bureaucratic inner workings of the former East German centrally controlled economy. His protagonist (Kurt Naumann) assembles a team of irreverent architects who intentionally goad the powers that be. They want to see just how much they can get away with, and that turns out to be precious little.
- Variety, 11 March 1991

The Architects serves as a bookend to the overall history of DEFA and the GDR. Wolfgang Staudte’s The Murderers Are Among Us (1946) and Gerhard Lamprecht’s Somewhere in Berlin (1946), depicted Berlin as a city of ruins, symbolic for both the destruction of the Third Reich and the fertile ground upon which the dreams of a better, socialist future would take root. If the beginnings of DEFA were marked by depictions of a ruined city full of dreams, then The Architects marks its end: depicting a new city, but one in which the dreams now stand in ruin. As such, The Architects is a poignant and essential chapter in understanding the GDR, its architecture, and its cinema.
- Ralph Stern, Architectural Historian, University of Massachusetts Amherst

Some of the most telling moments in Peter Kahane's film The Architects, a somber, finely drawn portrait of life in East Berlin in the final days of the Communist regime, are long panning shots of the city's ugly, factorylike public housing. Shot from moving cars, these views of block after block of anonymous rectangular buildings evoke a joyless environment in which the imagination is systematically stifled and where people live in a state of chronic, low-grade depression.

The film depicts this society's grinding down of Daniel Brenner (Kurt Naumann), an idealistic architect in his late 30's. Daniel, like many others of his generation, is deeply frustrated by life under the Communists but somehow tolerates it. Hired to design a miniature city on the fringe of Berlin, he fools himself into thinking that he can counteract the prevailing gloom with a cheerier, more innovative approach. Working with a hand-picked team of friends who were classmates in architecture school, he comes up with a design that incorporates rooftop gardens and modern sculptures and that has architectural variety and generous breathing space.

Daniel's absorption in the project costs him his marriage; his wife, Wanda (Rita Feidmeier), is fed up with a life of scarcity and low expectations. And when he submits his plans to the powers that be, they denounce his innovations as frivolous and costly and insist on compromises. A typical demand is that a sculpture titled Family in Stress be renamed Family in Socialism. The scenes in which Daniel confronts the scornful, intransigent bureaucrats, who address him as though he were a disobedient child, have a chilling psychological conviction.

The Architects is drenched in a mood of edgy despair. And more than any film in recent memory, it portrays the destructive impact that a spiritually cold environment can have on the human spirit. When the attractive, high-strung Wanda leaves Daniel, it is clear that it is the drabness of their lives more than any lack of love that drives her away. Their breakup scenes are acute, superbly acted depictions of a marriage coming apart.

The decay of a society isn't always signified by a flashy Roman orgy. As The Architects suggests, it can be synonymous with a pervasive, soul-deadening dreariness.
- Stephen Holden, New York Times, 27 October 27 1993

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