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


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