History on screen: East Germany through its filmmakers’ eyes

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By DAVID RISING Associated Press

BERLIN (AP) — As John F. Kennedy peered over the Berlin Wall into communist East Germany in 1963, red curtains blocked the U.S. president’s view through the Brandenburg Gate and a banner perched in front of it accused the United States of breaking an international agreement “to prevent the rebirth of German militarism.”

A western newsreel documented the crowds cheering Kennedy on the western side as well as the East German stunt, the narrator noting that Kennedy didn’t get a good look at the gate, because “the Iron Curtain was supplemented by a giant cloth one, as the Communists made sure he saw their propaganda.”

That might have been the final word on the visit, were it not for a new project, 30 years after Germany’s reunification, to digitize thousands of East German newsreels. The movies being scanned, transcribed and posted online provide a perspective from inside a country that no longer exists but was a critical part of the Cold War.

The East German Augenzeuge, or Eyewitness, newsreel on the Kennedy visit trumpeted the prank as a triumph, scoffing that the American president got an “unexpected surprise instead of the great view into the…


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