Budapest Telegraph

1989: new documentary features Miklós Németh's help bring down Berlin Wall

Wednesday Oct 29, 2014

András Dési | Source: Népszabadság

The fall of the Wall demanded serious sacrifices. A new documentary-cum-thriller, entitled “1989”, shows earnest simultaneous efforts made at the top and among ordinary people.


The virtual Iron Curtain may have already fallen but they lived in two separate worlds. In Copenhagen, Denmark, Anders Østergaard was making his first film when he heard about the fall of the Berlin Wall. Erzsébet Rácz, a first year at the time, studied Hungarian and German literature at Eötvös Loránd University in Budapest at the time, and had often vacationed in what used to be the German Democratic Republic (GDR or East Germany). She found it strange that the Hungarian official media did not report about the East Germans who had come to Hungary with the intention to reach the Federal Republic of Germany (West Germany) through Austria. Then, suddenly, even the media reported when during the night of November 9, 1989, people were dancing atop the Berlin Wall, which had demanded so many fatalities in previous decades.

Twenty-five years later, already a married couple, Anders and Erzsébet, a Danish film director and the Hungarian co-director–scriptwriter made a documentary, entitled 1989.

The 90-minute-film is a concoction of documentary, family drama and political thriller. It opens showing the exhumation of the remains of Prime Minister Imre Nagy and other martyrs of the 1956 Revolution and closes by showing the fall of the Berlin Wall.

“We introduced thriller elements to make this film edutainment and, you know, tension dispels boredom among the viewers,” told Østergaard to Népszabadság.

His 2008 documentary: Burma VJ: Reporting from a Closed Country earned several prizes and was nominated for an Oscar.

Østergaard was inspired to make this film by a sad event: the funeral of former Czech President Václav Havel in December 2011. Watching the funeral on television, Anders and Erzsébet wondered how to record on film the year of 1989, which brought an end to Cold War and was so important in their lives.

“We were looking for a story in which high politics and the lives of ordinary people accidentally crossed. We chose a tragic event that occurred in August 1989. After the Pan-European Picnic that had taken place at Sopronpuszta, many East Germans attempted to cross the Hungarian–Austrian border illegally. Among them were Kurt-Werner Schulz, his wife and their six-year-old son. However, they ran into a Hungarian patrol. The patrol used their weapon: Schulz was shot and killed but his wife and son reached Austria.

“Having read a lot about the atmosphere of those months, I concluded that perhaps Schulz’s death was among the factors that motivated Hungarian Prime Minister Miklós Németh to open the Hungarian–Austrian border for the East German refugees. Németh wanted no more cases like that,” told this daily Erzsébet Rácz, who lives in Berlin.



By placing Miklós Németh and Kurt-Werner Schulz in the center of their documentary, the makers of 1989 brought back former Prime Minister Németh to public discourse on Hungary’s transition from Communism to multi-party-system.

“It was not our purpose to ‘rehabilitate’ him. But we think it is unjust that he has been dropped from the list of the ‘Fathers’ of the transition. Németh comes from a family of farmers in the village of Monok (Borsod-Abaúj-Zemplén county) and ascended to the position of prime minister. His ‘journey’ to the top is informative of the history of Hungary in the second part of the twentieth century,” the makers of the film have said. Østergaard and Rácz stressed that Németh truly intended to break with the policy of lies that was so typical of the regime of János Kádár.

As for shooting the film, Miklós Németh was readily available to be interviewed for the documentary, but the widow of Schulz, Gundula Schafitel, initially refused to comment the case publicly.

Eventually Erzsébet Rácz persuaded her to give an interview stressing that her husband’s death was not in vain. Actually, it was his tragic death that paved the way towards the fall of the Wall. In some way, his death saved the lives of many others.

The documentary cost nearly EUR 1.2 million. It will be broadcast in prime time on November 9, on the 25th anniversary of the fall of the Wall by ZDF German public-service channel. Erzsébet Rácz says 1989 shows a period when Hungary was standing on the right side.

Hungarians can be proud of that period.

[The film has been made in Danish, German, Hungarian and Norwegian coproduction.]

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