The Destruction of Old Berlin in »The Legend of Paul and Paula« (1972) or Why Paula Truly Has to Die
The »most popular DEFA film of all ages« tells the story of the romantic love between Paula, a young single mother, and Paul, her unhappily married neighbour. While Paul represents the typical social climber working for the state, Paula embodies a poor female worker who struggles hard for her personal happiness. Through Paula Paul breaks away from his unsatisfying square life. They spend a short happy time together, but then Paula dies after giving birth to their child. Her death turns the »East German Love Story« into a tragedy.
The film owed a lot of its popularity among the East German audiences to Angelica Domröse’s vibrant interpretation of Paula and the music played by the rock band »The Puhdys«. The socialist party leadership, however, heavily criticized the “The Legend of Paul and Paula” because of its “negative” portrait of everyday life in the GDR. West German feminists on the other hand excoriated the movie for the naïve and self-sacrificing character of Paula. Hardly any reviewer took a closer look into the film’s urban setting and architectural backcloth, which turn the »legend« into a documentary of the radical restructuring of East Berlin’s old working-class quarters.
The highly symbolic pictorial language associates the demolition and re-building of whole streets in East Berlin with social change and ongoing injustice in the new »socialist« society: While Paul and his wife move into a new flat, Paula has to cope with carbon heating in an old tenement. Through her way of life, her dialect, her old furniture and her family tradition she at the same time represents the »Old Berliner«. The film’s urban setting alludes to various Berlin stereotypes and images of Berlin going back to the nineteenth century, eminently the pictures drawn and photographed by Heinrich Zille. From this perspective, Paula has to die because she stands for the sinking world of old Berlin.