“Solo Sunny”, “I was nineteen”: screenwriter Wolfgang Kohlhaase died

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“Solo Sunny”, “I Was Nineteen”

Screenwriter Wolfgang Kohlhaase passed away

Some of the most successful films in the GDR came from his pen: With his flair for authentic reconstructions of uncomfortable realities, the native Berliner managed to get into works like “Berlin – Ecke Schönhauser” or “Berlin um die Ecke”.

“People around the corner” was his profession. Stories from life, no frills, told directly and clearly. Wolfgang Kohlhaase wrote that in screenplays. This resulted in celebrated successes such as “Solo Sunny” or “Summer for the Balcony”. With nearly three dozen such works, Kohlhaase made German film history and became one of the foremost screenwriters of an international reputation. He has since passed away at the age of 91.


Wolfgang Kohlhaase in August 2022 with his wife Emöke Pöstenyi at the Ernst Lubitsch Prize.

(Photo: photo alliance/dpa)

Kohlhaase lived in Berlin and in a small community in Brandenburg. For five decades he lived there in a house with a beautiful garden. He kept some of his professional trophies on the tiled stove: for example, there is the Golden Bear, which he received for his life’s work at the Berlinale 2010. Next to it is his wife Emöke Pöstenyi’s Goldene Henne, who celebrated success as a solo dancer in the GDR television ballet. and as a choreographer.

Shaped by World War II

In an interview for his 90th birthday, Kohlhaase shared his early impressions: “You don’t forget what you see out of the kitchen window for the first six years of your life. A lot depends on that.” His early years were shaped by the Second World War, which he experienced in Berlin-Adlershof. “I tried to talk, write and also make films about the background of my childhood. That was the Nazi era, that was the war. That was my parents’ wasted life,” he said.

Kohlhaase wrote for “Start” or the FDJ newspaper “Junge Welt”. An appointment for the newspaper took him to Babelsberg at DEFA, the central film company in the GDR. This world fascinated him: “The actors smelled wonderfully of the dust burned by the headlights.” Without any previous education, he got a job as a dramaturgical assistant. To him dramaturges were “people who talk other people into their business. I thought that was very good and I participated with full confidence.”

Enthusiastic about Italian neorealism

Neorealism came to German post-war cinema from Italy. For Kohlhaase it was a journey of discovery: “I thought cinema was a noble thing: they are on horseback, they are nicer people. And suddenly these post-war Italians came up with this beautiful neo-realism and told stories from the street.” As a young screenwriter, he thought, “Man, that works. Yeah, you can see that too.”

Together with director Gerhard Klein, Kohlhaase realized the crime thriller “Alarm im Zirkus” (1954) and the film “Berlin – Ecke Schönhauser” (1957) about young people in Berlin, probably one of the most important and successful DEFA films. With the avant-garde “Der Fall Gleiwitz” (1961) the duo gained international fame.

Problems with DDR superiors

The GDR superiors had all their problems with “Berlin – corner Schönhauser”, the generation conflict in “Berlin around the corner” in 1965 was too much for the criticism of socialism. The film remained on the shelves, as did almost all of DEFA’s production that year. According to Kohlhaase himself, he never intended to leave the GDR. He saw himself as “an agreement with the place where I live and with the society in which I joined, you also have an agreement with yourself”.

Kohlhaase’s “Solo Sunny” (1980) was one of his good films. He saw “I was nineteen” (1965) as an enduring film about the war. Also important to him was the celebrated “Summer for the balcony”, for which he wrote the evening dialogues between Inka Friedrich and Nadja Uhl in 2005.

After German reunification, Kohlhaase wrote “Die Stille nach dem Schuss” (2000) for Volker Schlöndorff about an RAF terrorist who was hiding in the GDR. Kohlhaase recalled the German-German hassle: “In the same year, two utopias disappear: a large and almost real one called DDR and a romantic and actually unreal one called RAF.”

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