Hello, Berlin! is a hybrid film. It combines an ambiguous, unresolved, and menacing story of a date between a woman and an aggressive young man with an imaginary sightseeing tour that takes the viewer through the East Berlin of 1987. The “date” was shot by Thomas Werner in black and white and juxtaposed incongruously with a recording of a bland German conversation lesson in which a woman invites a man over to her place on a first date. The “tour” was made out of color found footage from a promotional film showcasing the pleasures and comforts of living in a modernized socialist city. As upbeat synthesized music plays in the background, tourist sites are highlighted, as are scenes of people enjoying the leisure activities of shopping and strolling, swimming in a pool, attending horse races and music concerts, and going to the zoo. The found film, notably, also shows both the massive, monumental exterior and the busy, crowded interior of the Palace of the Republic (Palast der Republik), East Berlin’s most iconic public building (which was dismantled in the mid-2000s in reunified Germany, making this film a historic document).
The film has no didactic purpose and may not seem like a thoroughgoing critique of Soviet-style socialism to a present-day viewer, but it captures the tensions of East German life and bursts with bitter sarcasm toward its official image. Notably, it ends with the line, “When exactly will the tour be over?” Indeed, to period eyes, even the most innocuous footage of East Berlin and its tourist attractions likely would have been laden with the weight of living in a divided city. At one point, for example, viewers, both of the film and of the imagined tour, spot the iconic Brandenburg Gate, only to watch the camera demurely turn around without approaching it. What the camera does not reveal but the audience would have known is that the landmark became inaccessible following the construction of the Berlin Wall in 1961.
Similarly, the film shows a disjunction between the happy people who are enjoying socialist leisure in the found footage and the strange, inarticulate, and alienated ones who have their date in one of the high-rise apartment blocs that dominated much of East Berlin. After leaving the woman’s apartment, the disaffected, leather jacket–clad young man who earlier carried a bottle of beer in his breast pocket walks alone by the side of a busy road, looking little like the happy citizens in the found film.