This may be the first east-west German reconciliation movie ever, having been begun on the east side before the wall fell, and completed after.
Daniel is a trained architect at a large firm. He is pushing 40, yet has never gotten the big, important assignment. Finally the firm tosses him a bone — he is to head a team composed of young architects to design a complete mini-community, including dwellings and commerce. He builds his team, and they pour forth their youthful creativity; but their proposal is resisted by the Party functionaries that have their eyes on cost and efficiency.
Daniel (Kurt Naumann) has a lovely wife who has supportively borne with his mediocre career. But as his career finally appears to be taking off, she becomes irritated at the boredom and mediocrity of her own life. She wants them to move to a more exciting neighborhood, where there would be things to do. Gradually, her affection becomes alienated.
Thus the tragic tension. Finally able to pour out his creative heart in trying to build a real community, Daniel loses the foundational unit of every true community. The mordant humor is that the bureaucrats are able to stomp on even his flickering outward opportunity.
A latent theme that is only hinted at is the problem of tribal solidarity. Daniel’s vaguely incongruous physical appearance turns out to be rooted in the fact that he is a Vietnamese-German. (Yes, it sounds funny to say it. Only Americans are supposed to be hyphenated. But just as America opened its doors to Mexican laborers, and West Germany to Turks, so Communist Germany had its Vietnamese.) That this aspect is intentional is indicated by the suggestion by someone that the new community should by all means include a Vietnamese restaurant.
The wife (Rita Feldmeier) is clearly Aryan. Yet the ethnic theme is only hinted at. It could have become the main theme, but it is left dangling.
The overt question of whether a living and working community should be the creation of the budget-minded bureaucrat or the artistic-minded architect is itself indicative of how the modernist knows something is wrong, but cannot even ask the question properly. Where did the idea come from that a team of architects, however enthusiastic and well-intended they might be, are the proper generative locus for building communities? The notion of providing a Vietnamese restaurant is precious to the team, and it never occurs to them that the residents might prefer something else and ought to be the ones to make that decision.
It is just at this nexus that something like a von Misean discussion of entrepreneur and consumer has its place, and which provides the needed criticism of both alternatives represented in this movie. But not as a metaphysical end in itself like the libertarians propose. It is, rather, one aspect — and only an aspect — of the solution. It needs to be nested within and subordinate to the life of the community, which must have a purpose that is higher than merely “free market” — as if free market even were a “purpose” — even if the solution must also be completely different than the socialist planner’s pretension.
For sixty years, communist and capitalist has each with his own genius stamped his land with the faceless high-rises and warehouses that mark both sides of the “wall.” In contrast, we can look at picture-books of the beautiful German villages and towns created before Bomber Harris did his work of destruction. How did they do it? Did they even have architects? That is the study we need to see. How a folk, seemingly without forethought or effort, was able to create such a land should be the starting point of our reflection on how to proceed when the glorious day comes that the poisonous regimes we suffer under, both east and west, are finally destroyed.
German Die Architekten, with English subtitles. 1