Angels in Berlin

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Last week I went to see the German film Wings of Desire, directed by Wim Wenders. The film is set in Berlin in 1987, and is mostly in black and white. It looks like a dark and lonely place.




Wings of Desire is about angels who have been around since time began and will be around forever. They drift around the city eavesdropping on people’s thoughts, trying to console them when they can. Sometimes they are effective and sometimes not. They mainly observe. The main character Damian, played by Bruno Ganz, falls in love with a trapeze artist, Marion, played by Solveig Dommartin, and decides he wants to become mortal to spend time with her. He dreams of enjoying worldly things like tasting food, feeling pain and having footsteps.

The film opens with a poem by Peter Handke who wrote the script with Wim Wenders. The Song of Childhood starts with:

When the child was a child,

it didn’t know that it was a child,

everything was soulful,

and all souls were one.


When the child was a child,

it had no opinion about anything,

had no habits,

it often sat cross-legged,

took off running,

had a cowlick in its hair,

and made no faces when photographed.


When the child was a child,

It was the time for these questions:

Why am I me, and why not you?

Why am I here, and why not there?

When did time begin, and where does space end?

Is life under the sun not just a dream?

Is what I see and hear and smell

not just an illusion of a world before the world?

Given the facts of evil and people.

Does evil really exist?

How can it be that I, who I am,

didn’t exist before I came to be,

and that, someday, I, who I am,

will no longer be who I am?”

“When a child was a child”, “Why am I me, and why not you?”, and “Why am I here, and why not there?” Are repeated throughout the film. The pace is slow and drifts along from sub-story to sub-story but it does not make one impatient for something to happen because there is no need for anything to happen. It just is. In a way it is kind of soothing.

At the end Damian becomes mortal and finds Marion. When she sees him she goes into a long monologue ending with,

“Last night I dreamt of a stranger… of my man. Only with him could I be alone, open up to him, wholly open, wholly for him. Welcome him wholly into me. Surround him with the labyrinth of shared happiness. I know… it’s you.

Longing. Longing for a wave of love that would stir in me. That’s what makes me clumsy. The absence of pleasure. Desire for love. Desire to love.”

The movie ends with the words: To Be Continued.

TV Tower
the Fernsehturm

There are three prominent landmarks shown throughout the film. One is the TV tower, the Fernsehturm, built in the 1960’s by the East Germans. Today it is a major tourist attraction with 1.2 million visitors a year who take the elevator up 207 meters to the observation deck. It can be seen from almost anywhere in Berlin.

During the film, angels sit on the shoulder of the statue of a gilded angel atop the Victory Column, at the center of the Tiergarten, a large park at the center of Berlin. The column was originally inaugurated in 1873 to commemorate various war victories. The gilded bronze statue is 8.3 meters high and weight 35 tons. The Berliners have nicknamed her “Golden Lizzy”.

Winged Victory
“Golden Lizzie”

The Wall and big open spaces near the Wall are in many of the film’s scenes. In one scene an old man is shown searching for Potsdamer Platz which was cut in two by the wall. He searches a large field full of rubble looking for his old stomping grounds. On the West side, the Wall had ugly graffiti and in the East, it was plain white. In the film it always looks dirty and out of place and ugly and isolating. Most of the Wall came down in 1990 but a section about 1 kilometer long has been restored and named the East Side Gallery. Today it is decorated with colorful and interesting murals.

East Side Gallery Mural



Wings of Desire is a dark movie full of questions and lonely isolated people. But there is also hope and humor. Peter Falk plays himself, an American actor in Berlin filming a movie. His character provides a delightful twist at the end.





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