Call for Papers: IAMHIST Blog – ‘A Day at the Archives…’ series

Call for Papers IAMHIST Blog PDF

The IAMHIST Blog is place for analysing film, radio and television history in a discursive context, and offers scholars working within these areas a space to disseminate their findings, knowledge and research.

A new series for the Blog, entitled ‘A Day at the Archives…’, aims to discuss different researcher’s experiences (from PhD student to Professor) of using a variety of archives and/or museums from around the world, particularly those which may help to contribute to and inform our knowledge of film, radio and television history, and thus work to advertise and highlight useful avenues for historical and empirical research for other scholars working within these areas.

If you would be interested in writing a piece for this series, which is intended to run indefinitely, then please email the IAMHIST Blog Editor, Llewella Chapman, with your suggestions and ideas:

llewella . chapman @ gmail . com

It should be noted that researchers are also very welcome to write about their own research projects for the IAMHIST Blog (separate from this series), and if you are interested in writing a more general piece for the Blog then please let Llewella know.

Please refer to the ‘IAMHIST Blog Guidelines’, which can be found [here] if you wish to contribute a piece for the Blog. For this specific series, the title of your piece for the Blog should be ‘A Day at the Archives/Museum… Name of archive/museum, location’. An example of this would be:

‘A Day at the Archives… The National Archives, Kew (UK)’

Tobias Hochscherf and Roel Vande Winkel have recently published what is hoped to be the first piece as part of this series, which can be viewed here: [link].

N.B. Offering to write a piece for this series works on a first-come-first-serve basis. If the archive/museum which you wish to write about has already been suggested by another scholar, then you will be offered the opportunity to write about another archive/museum of your choice (which hasn’t already been claimed).

A Day at the Archives… The German National Archive (Bundesarchiv) in Berlin

Tobias Hochscherf and Roel Vande Winkel

26 September 2017


Germans really believe that the early bird catches the worm. This, at least, is our impression. Having been to the Bundesarchiv (Federal Archive) on countless occasions, we’ve never managed to be there first, getting the prestigious locker key number one. And we’ve tried, believe us! Last June we met in Berlin Mitte for a quick coffee at 7:00 am and took the S-Bahn to Lichterfelde West on time for the opening of the archive … only to find out that many others were already waiting in front of the massive steel gates of the former garrison in which the Berlin branch of the national archive is located.

Apropos location, the place of the national archives alone breathes history. Whereas some archives were purpose-built to accommodate the various materials, the national archives in Berlin-Lichterfelde [link] seem rather provisionally located at a military garrison that could well be regarded a monument about 20th century German history. Built from 1873 to 1878 for Prussian cadets next to a newly designed bourgeois neighbourhood for officers and their families, the barracks were later used by the Leibstandarte-SS “Adolf Hitler”, the German dictator’s personal bodyguards during the Third Reich. During the “Night of the Long Knives”, several murders were committed within the military compound to eliminate SA men.

After the war, the barracks were then used by American troops who renamed the place as Andrews Barracks [link]. Throughout the entire complex, this problematic heritage could well be seen, including the exercise yard, SS-Statues that were concealed by concrete but are still at the entrance gate, and what looks suspiciously like Übermensch-statues at the gates to an enormous swimming pool one passes on the way from the main gate to the reading room of the archive. The people who decided to turn this old garrison – which was built to wage war – into an archive ought to be complimented for this decision. Right where some atrocities of the 20th century were planned, people are now able to study even the dark moments of German and European history. The site of the archive thereby also represents a modern-day democratic Germany.

It is somewhat odd to be reminded of what has happened at exactly this location through the years under Nazi rule after walking down from S-Bahn station Lichterfelde through the leafy and peaceful neighbourhood with its many stunning villas, parks and children’s playgrounds. The area does not really feel like being somewhere in the German capital but rather like staying at a small affluent town.

During busy days at the archive – looking through the maximum allowance of 50 files a day – it’s good to go for a walk. There’s plenty to see for film historians nearby, including the grave of German film star Renate Müller, who fell out of grace with the Nazis and was under constant surveillance by the Gestapo prior to her sudden death in 1937 (the circumstances of which are still unknown), or the former houses of the Jewish-German television entertainer Hans Rosenthal, the actor Götz George (son of Heinrich George) or the industrialist Werner von Siemens.

But coming back to the archives, such institutions are of course somewhat linked to national character traits. We have visited many other invaluable archives for media historians, including the lovely BBC written archives centre in Caversham, Berkshire (if you haven’t been there before: GO!), the National Archives at Kew and others. Yet no other place is quite like the Bundesarchiv. It is very German – in a good and a bad way. The online database and tool for ordering documents INVENIO is bureaucratic and not really self-explanatory [link]. Some members of staff may seem distant, but they are very helpful. Never try to enter the reading room with your coat on or bringing a backpack (which is generally true for all libraries in Germany and Austria). Some people have tried and what followed wasn’t really something you folks want to try! And always remember: don’t take pictures at a desk without the corresponding sign – it doesn’t matter who you are or what you are in fact doing at the archive. There are no exceptions.

Yet, there is something we love about the archive, something the archive shares with Berlin: its makeshift atmosphere. You can bring your own mobile phones or tablets to take pictures, the mundane locker room looks like a forlorn train station somewhere in the remote parts of the USSR during the Cold War. Even the prices of the instant coffee machine seem to be from 1989. Yet you find the most interesting people there, going for a walk outside or a coffee. Scholars of audio-visual media and history, holocaust survivors researching their family history, pensioners trying to find information about their former companies or family homes, etc. Everyone seems to have the same shining eyes, being fascinated by piecing together information from original archival documents to make sense of their history(ies). Like Sherlock Holmes and Dr. Watson during their adventures, they are beguiled by what they have found or – like academic gold diggers to use another image – by what they might find soon. They all feel the excitement when they open up hitherto closed files or personal records, helping them to understand what has happened. The Bundesarchiv really is a treasure trove for researchers – one of the archives where academics and the general public can get access to documents almost without restrictions. Everyone who has ever received documents in which some government officials or lawyers redacted lengthy passages, will be happy to see that this is generally not the case at the German national archives.

Given the wealth of information, the Bundesarchiv’s pilot project to take pictures of documents with your own devices is ever more welcome. In the past, users had to order photocopies of documents which arrived a few weeks later by post. Although the cost was – compared to other national archives – quite reasonable, extensive research could still amount to considerable sums of money. Certainly an investment into one’s future – but nevertheless not easy for all. This was a problem especially to those who could not rely on the generous support of research institutions or other sources of funding, including many early-career researchers and pensioners. Under the regulations of the current pilot project, costs can be kept at a minimum. There are, however, restrictions on documents related to individuals: those documents can be photocopied, but not photographed. The logic escapes us. There must be something odd about German privacy/data legislation.

If you plan a trip to the Bundesarchiv, order all documents at least a day before. The use is free of charge and you may bring a pencil, a laptop or mobile electronic devices. The holdings are massive, including, for media scholars, the surviving documents of Goebbels’ ministry of propaganda, of Ufa and the other German film companies from the Weimar Republic and the Nazi era or the German Democratic Republic’s DEFA. The archive is open from 8 to 7 during regular workdays, except for Friday, when it closes at 4. It is closed on Sundays and national holidays. Nota bene: if you are interested in the Bundesarchiv’s holding of films and publications about films, you should go the Bundesarchiv-Filmarchiv, which will move to Lichterfelde eventually, but is currently still in the centre of Berlin, at Fehrbellinerplatz. In comparison to the Bundesarchiv in Lichterfelde, the Bundesarchiv-Filmarchiv is much more formal. Part of the building at Fehrbelliner Platz is inhabited by a branch of the Bundesnetzagentur (Federal Network Agency) that regulates telecommunications as well as electricity, gas, post and railway markets in Germany. Because of security concerns, access is very restrictive and you are only allowed into the building by appointment. Perhaps this will change when all Berlin branches of the archives will be moved to Lichterfelde. Let’s hope so.

Please send us a message and a photograph if you are ever able to beat the Germans in getting locker key number one for a day at the archive!


Tobias Hochscherf and Roel Vande Winkel are both members of the IAMHIST council. They are working on various themes relating to Third Reich cinema for some time. While they usually collaborate through skype and other means of online communication, they welcome the opportunity to meet face-to-face when going to archives. Tobias is professor for audiovisual media at the University of Applied Sciences Kiel and the University of Flensburg. Roel is professor of film & TV studies at the LUCA School of Arts in Brussels and the University of Leuven, Belgium.


Disclaimer: The IAMHIST Blog is a platform that offers individual scholars the opportunity to present their work and thoughts. They alone are responsible for the content, which does not represent the view of the IAMHIST council or other IAMHIST members.

Tracing German Post-war Newsreels in Archives

Sigrun Lehnert

5 September 2017


Many film archives are affected by closures or absorbed by other, larger archives – for example the newsreel archive of the Deutsche Wochenschau in Hamburg, which I mentioned in an a article in 2014, doesn‘t exist anymore. [i] During the liquidation phase of the archives, questions may arise again regarding usage rights for films, and materials might not accessible any more – for months or for years or even never again. The migration of all data to existing databases takes time. Furthermore, due to lack of storage, particularly context material could be at risk as it is often regarded not to be important. Context material comprises documents, which could provide information about the media usage or the film production. However, holistic research on media content and media design linked with production, distribution, and reception is essential.

The cinema newsreel is a media format which is no longer produced and shown today, but it was very important before television was established in West Germany at the end of the 1950s, in East Germany at the beginning of the 1960s. The ten-minute films containing different current reports were shown in the interludes. In those days, political and social interest groups attached great importance to the newsreel. Due to its cinematic elements and emotional effect by film montage with music and sound, newsreels were regarded as having a high impact on the peoples’ opinions. Moreover, the newsreel films have contributed to the cultural memory for generations of cinemagoers and are described as a “family album of the nation” (Minister for Culture and Media Michael Naumann at the 60th anniversary celebation of Deutsche Wochenschau).[ii]

The company Neue Deutsche Wochenschau GmbH was established in 1949 (renamed to Deutsche Wochenschau GmbH in 1955) and produced the newsreel Neue Deutsche Wochenschau (NDW). However, the collection contained also the first post-war newsreel in Germany, the British-American community production Welt im Film (first edition from 18 May 1945), which was used for re-educational matters. Initially the British and then in 1952, also the Americans withdrew from the newsreel production. After the Welt im Film was taken over from the Neue Deutsche Wochenschau GmbH, it was renamed Welt im Bild and in 1956 renamed Ufa-Wochenschau, which was produced until 1978. In 1963, the NDW was renamed Zeitlupe and was terminated in 1969.

So, the collection had a history which spanned 70 years – a complete inventory from the first newsreel edition to the last one. Producing newsreels (see fig.) not only meant piling reels every week, all the remains of the editing were also stored and furthermore, the archive grew through the worldwide exchange with other newsreels.

Figure 1: Newsreel Producing Team in 1950s (with kind permission of Film- und Fernsehmuseum Hamburg)

Not just the films, but a lot of other materials were preserved in the Hamburg newsreel archive: folders with cinematographers’ reports, with the film exploitation notes, all the commentary texts and film content descriptions, folders for lists of films from other newsreels abroad, the music lists and folders for commissioned documentaries. In addition to this, film tins and files with production records for every single edition were stored in cellars. Those records comprised, for example, newspaper excerpts as the information basis of the reports, also including correspondence, brochures and notes.

Since the NDW from 1950 to 1952 received financial support from the Federal German government (cf. BArch B145/147), it was considered that the film stock (estimated 3,000 editions) was owned by the state. In an official tendering, the Deutsche Wochenschau lost the exploitation rights to the Bundesarchiv and their partners. At the beginning of 2016, the film reels, video cassettes, and documents from the newsreel archive of Deutsche Wochenschau GmbH in Hamburg were transferred to the Bundesarchiv in Berlin (cf. Paschen, 2016).

Today, television channels use the newsreel films for documentary formats and pay for the usage rights. In 2010, the Deutsche Wochenschau GmbH had already started to digitize the films and make them available on the Internet. In addition, the written film contents were available online. The Bundesarchiv continued the project and started the platform www.filmothek.bundesarchiv.de. Almost all editions of NDW, Welt im Film/Welt im Bild, Ufa-Wochenschau and Die Zeitlupe are now accessible.

The East German newsreel Der Augenzeuge however, was and still is distributed by the Progress-Filmverleih in Berlin. The institution started its own internet portal www.progress-film.de for Der Augenzeuge and DEFA-documentary films (DEFA – Deutsche Film AG, state controlled, founded 1946 with support of the Soviets in East Germany). Unfortunately, a lot of editions and documentaries are not available online so far. Missing films are for the most part accessible on 35mm reels, on DVD or Video tape at the Bundesarchiv in Berlin-Wilmersdorf, whereas written materials regarding Der Augenzeuge, e.g. correspondences, committee minutes, and music list, are accessible at the Bundesarchiv in Berlin-Lichterfelde. Regrettably, nothing is known about the whereabouts of all the files with context materials from the former Hamburg newsreel archive – they are not recorded in finding aids of the Bundesarchiv. Some documents about the newsreel institution and its connection to the Federal Republic Government can be found at the Bundesarchiv in Koblenz.

For getting access to the Bundesarchiv collections, it is recommended to get in contact with an archivist and asking for advice and support for selecting the folders or films, as the online-catalogues are incomplete. Written documents are not digitized – in exceptions, documents are delivered on microfich. So, still it is necessary to travel to German archives for doing time consuming research on the spot. Hopefully, in the process of general digitization, it will be more and more possible to work with reliable and linked search engines online. There are some stumbling blocks for digital archives, but also advantages, for example to cooperate with other archives and their databases and to build up new networks for interdisciplinary research.


[i] Joachim Paschen (2016): Eine Kulturschande für Hamburg. In: Hamburger Flimmern No. 23. Hamburg: Film- und Fernsehmuseum e.V., 26-31, here: 28, edition available: http://www.filmmuseum-hamburg.de/fileadmin/bilder/flimmern_pdf/flimmern_23.pdf

[ii] Exemplarische Studie: Wochenschau und Tagesschau in den 1950er Jahren. In: Behmer, M., Bernard, B. & Hasselbring, B. (Hrsg.) (2014): Das Gedächtnis des Rundfunks. Die Archive der öffentlich-rechtlichen Sender und ihre Bedeutung für die Forschung. Wiesbaden: Springer, 261-268, book available: http://www.springer.com/de/book/9783531183190


Dr. Sigrun Lehnert majored in Media Management (Master of Arts) in Hannover, Germany. Since 2010 Sigrun Lehnert is scientific assistant in Hamburg. Her dissertation project at the University of Hamburg was on „Wochenschau und Tagesschau in den 1950er Jahren“ (German newsreel and early television news in the 1950s), supervised by Prof. Dr. Knut Hickethier. The following book has been published in 2013 by UVK, Konstanz. Her research fields are: film history, television history, documentary film, newsreels, archives and film heritage.

Website: www.wochenschau-forschung.de


Disclaimer: The IAMHIST Blog is a platform that offers individual scholars the opportunity to present their work and thoughts. They alone are responsible for the content, which does not represent the view of the IAMHIST council or other IAMHIST members.

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