In Heaven, Underground

In Heaven, Underground

A scene from IN HEAVEN, UNDERGROUND, a film by Britta Wauer. Picture courtesy Seventh Art Releasing. All rights reserved.

In Heaven, Underground

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In Heaven, Underground (2011)

Opened: 11/18/2011 Limited

Limited11/18/2011
Cinema Village...11/18/2011 - 12/01/201114 days
Town Center 501/13/2012 - 01/19/20127 days

Trailer: Click for trailer

Websites: Home

Genre: Documentary

Rated: Unrated

Synopsis

In the north of Berlin, concealed in a residential area and surrounded by walls, is a primeval forest of trees, rhododendron and ivy. Between the rampant green, though, are thousands of stones -- large and small, artistic and plain, splendid and dilapidated, nameless and ones with illegible inscriptions. Berlin-Weissensee is the largest Jewish cemetery in Europe that is still being used for burials. Walking over the cemetery is like walking through a history book.

Weissensee is a fairytale forest, a jungle in the midst of the German capital, but above all, Weissensee is a very lively place: on its huge grounds Argentinean extended families search for the tomb of their predecessor, restorers paint graves with sparkling stars of David, whilst the slight man in the cemetery registry hands out documents about relatives to a busload of expatriates. The birds of prey expert counts the hawks' fledglings and an eighty-year-old tells of how he fell in love with a girl from his school here -- during sport class on field A8, right there, where today the colourful graves of the new Russians are found.

The Weissensee Jewish Cemetery is now 130 years old and has never been closed. The cemetery belongs to the few institutions in Germany, which, even during the Nazi era, remained under Jewish administration. The most astonishing thing is that neither the cemetery nor the archives have ever been destroyed -- it is a paradise for story gatherers.

Director's Statement

It is more than a challenge to fairly handle the fates of more than 115,000 departed souls and their relatives in a film. There is no chance of being comprehensive. A list of famous names, a sequence of lifetime achievements or recounting sad deaths does not make for an interesting film. Yet Weissensee has earned this.

The screen should not to be filled with graves, ivy and gravel, but with people telling of the rich lives that was once led in Berlin. For me it's a matter of personal connections. The idea was one of pursuing some few fates and letting protagonists who were personally connected to the dead tell the tale. People with memories, feelings and thoughts are central. They should play the main role in the film and make plain to the viewer what is precious about Weissensee.

Naturally the era of Nazi dictatorship overshadows all other events. But the film does not want to restrict itself to recounting deaths from those years. To reduce the dead of Weissensee to their sad ends is a falsification. Many of those buried their completed unusual things, achieved something special or experience something strange. The film also wants to tell of funny, absurd and thoughtful moments, and of a great love -- one without a happy ending.

-- Britta Wauer

Subject Biographies

RABBI WILLIAM WOLFF was born in Berlin in 1927. In 1933 he moved with his parents and siblings to Amsterdam and six years later to London. Even in Berlin, at the age of four, he wanted to be a Rabbi. Rabbi Wolff serves the three Jewish communities in Schwerin, Rostock and Wismar, with nearly 2,000 members. He still lives near London and commutes between his job sites.

HARRY KINDERMANN immigrated with his parents to Palestine in 1924, but moved back to Berlin because his grandfather - a German patriot - demanded that he grow up in Germany. Hi father got a job as a bricklayer in the Jewish Cemetery Weissensee. Harry Kinderman "practically grew up" in the cemetery. Here, he fell in love with his classmate Marion Ehrlich, who was deported to Auschwitz and later murdered. His grandfather and grandmother were also deported and murdered. After liberation, Harry Kindermann married and named his daughter after his first great love, "Marion".

BARUCH BERNARD EPSTEIN was in Berlin in 1933. Because his father was a Hungarian Jew, the family had to leave Berlin and moved to Budapest. In December 1958 he immigrated to the United States, where years later he married. He has lived almost 30 years in New York. In 2008 Baruch first visited the Weissensee cemetery, where his grandmother Helen Epstein is buried.

DANIEL Hakerem was born in Haifa, Israel in 1951 and is the son of German immigrants. In 1959, he traveled for the first time to his see his grandmother in Berlin. On this trip Daniel Hakerem visited the Weissensee cemetery. His grandmother, Anna Katz died in 1969 and was buried in Weissensee.

GABRIELLA Naidu was born in 1950 and grew up with three brothers. Her father was an Italian shoe designer and her mother a foreign language correspondent. In 1960 the family moved to Zurich, where Gabriella Naidu later trained as a needlework teacher. Her great-grandfather Adolf Schwabacher was director of the Berlin Stock Exchange is buried at Cemetery Weissensee.

Filmmaker Biography

Britta Wauer is an award winning director and producer for documentary films, with a number of noteworthy documentaries to her credit. She was born in Berlin in 1974 and studied at the Berlin Journalist School. After working for Spiegel TV in Hamburg, she studied film (directing/producing) at the German Film and Television Academy Berlin (dffb). Since 2001 she has directed documentaries focusing mainly on contemporary history, current affairs and biographies. These include her 2008 feature documentary Gerda's Silence about the life and times of Holocaust survivor Gerda Schrage; the 2005 TV documentary Berlin: A Square, a Murder and a Famous Communist, about Berlin's famous theater Die Volksbuehne; her collaboration with Sissi Huetlin titled The Rapoports - Our Three Lives, about the German Jewish emigre family who went to live in East Germany after being prosecuted during the McCarthy era in the US; and her 2001 debut documentary A Hero's Death, in which she reveals the truth around East Germany's national hero Egon Schulz, a border controller who, instead of being killed in action, actually died from friendly fire.

For her documentaries, Britta Wauer has received nearly twenty international awards, including the Grimme Award, the highest distinction in the German television industry.

 

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