Berlin Alexanderplatz – Part I ‘’The Punishment Begins’’

(Rainer Werner Fassbinder, 1980)

Adapted from the Alfred Döblin novel of the same name, the short series of 15 ½ hours is an achievement in storytelling and book adaptation. With the boldness of Herr Fassbinder and his fascination for the History of Germany in the first half of the 20th Century Berlin Alexanderplatz holds a cult status amongst cinephiles.

Franz Biberkopf (Günter Lamprecht) is released after serving four years in Tegel prison for the murder of his girlfriend Ida (Barbara Valentin). After settling into his old apartment he visits Minna (Karin Baal), Ida’s sister. Minna succumbs to Franz forceful advances. In a flashback we see Franz killing Ida with a cream whip after correctly suspecting she was about to leave him. Franz later runs into his old friend Meck (Franz Buchrieser) and has a drink with him in Max’s (Claus Holm) bar, a local place. There he meets Lina Przybilla (Elisabeth Trissenaar), a young Polish woman, who moves in with him. He receives notification from the Berlin Police that he is barred from living in certain Berlin districts and surrounding municipalities, under the threat of a fine or imprisonment, Biberkopf places himself under the supervision of a charity called Prisoners' Aid, to which he must report once a month, and remain in employment. By doing this, he is able to remain in Berlin.

Here is the setup for the whole fresque that is Berlin Alexanderplatz a parallel with Germany and its History. Alfred Döblin’s novel is one of the most iconic novels of the Weimar Republic and is considered a masterpiece of literature. Director Rainer Werner Fassbinder always felt he had a close link with the novel and its protagonist Franz Biberkopf. Fassbinder said he read the novel at age fourteen and it helped him during his puberty. So Berlin Alexanderplatz is like the culmination of his exploration of the History of Germany.

The first chapter of the mini-series sets the pace of the story and shows how Franz is a man with his own way of doing things like sex. He is a rough man and he scratches everything on his way. We also discover that he is into a series of karma-like bad luck and unlucky destiny. As many Fassbinder characters he has a peculiar sexuality and he represents a bold character in a frail world where everyone seems to be living a tenuous existence. It looks like every female character has something broken in it and Franz has this self-confidence that makes him attractive in his dangerous behaviors.

Keep coming back for the Marchbinder month and we’ll go on with the mini-series of Berlin Alexanderplatz and its exploration of Fassbinder, Germany, and Franz Biberkopf.

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