New in the archive: Amateur film of life behind the Berlin Wall

6th November 2019

© Brian Wehner from IWM photo archive, HU 140206. An East German guard in a concrete lookout looks over the wall through binoculars towards the camera on Dresdener Strasse.

IWM has acquired unseen footage and images showing life in Berlin in the 1960s, just as the city was being divided by the Berlin Wall. As amateur footage, it is unlike anything else in IWM’s collection. It shows the construction of the Berlin Wall, famous Berlin landmarks, a visit to Hitler’s former residence at The Eagle’s Nest and the stark reality of border crossings through the eyes of an American service family living in West Berlin. The acquisition coincides with the 30th anniversary of the fall of the Berlin Wall, one of the most iconic and defining moments of the 20th century, which falls on 9th November 2019.

Less than two decades after the end of the Second World War, the footage clearly shows a city still recovering from one of the most devastating conflicts in global history. Berlin residents living alongside derelict and damaged buildings and bomb sites watch as the Berlin Wall physically divides their homes and families. The footage also offers a fascinating insight into the history of Bernauer Strasse (Bernauer Street). As the houses themselves formed part of the Wall, with the doors opening onto East Berlin and the back windows onto the West, this street witnessed many famous escapes; through tunnels, out of windows and over barbed wire. It was the site of East German border guard Conrad Schumann’s dramatic leap to freedom and it witnessed the destruction of the Reconciliation Church. The footage clearly shows the Wall on Bernauer Strasse, with residents gathering on the platforms that overlook it.

Rebecca Harding, IWM curator, said: “What is particularly special about this acquisition is that, as amateur footage, it reveals normal family life during an intensely abnormal period. While many official organisations including broadcasters documented the Berlin Wall, in particular its momentous fall, footage of this hugely important period in history from unofficial viewpoints is rare. The footage sheds light on an American family trying to maintain some semblance of a normal life several thousand miles from home and in the middle of a time of great political turmoil. This struggle for normality during times of crisis and uncertainty will be strikingly familiar to those who lived through the tense decades of the Cold War.”

Wehner photo archive

© Brian Wehner from IWM photo archive, HU 140187.  Brian Wehner awaits his turn to observe East Berlin from a viewing platform in the French sector of West Berlin circa 1963.

Contact the licensng team for more information. PLEASE NOTE: The photo archive is not currently available to view on our website.

Find Out More

The Rise and Fall of the Berlin Wall on Film 

IWM is marking the 30th anniversary of the fall of the Berlin Wall at IWM London and at IWM North. From 5 November until 1 December 2019 a brand new work of art from renowned street artists STIK and Thierry Noir will be displayed for the very first time at IWM London. The artwork, which has been created on original sections of the Berlin Wall, reflects on this pivotal moment in world history and its lasting legacy. It also explores the deep, symbolic connections between the Berlin Wall and street art.