Hans Fallada, what now? A film examines writer’s turbulent life

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He smoke, drank, took drugs, chased women and suffered nervous breakdowns: Hans Fallada, a German writer of popular fiction peopled by characters who lived as desperately as he did. Now, a docu-drama of his life, the good times and bad, is being filmed at authentic locations around Germany.

Angrily, actor Michael Schenk hurls books onto the floor of the house in Carwitz, proceeds to flirt with his house maids and then furiously fires off some letters. All while the cameras are rolling. He is playing the role of the writer Hans Fallada (1893-1947) in what will be a docu-drama for German TV.

“The documentary is to air on the cultural broadcaster Arte in the summer of 2016,” says director Christoph Weinert, taking a break in the early filming at the Fallada museum in the small hamlet of Carwitz, some 100 kilometres north of Berlin.

The 52-minute film aims to provide a comprehensive portrait not only of the writer Hans Fallada’s literary achievements, but also the shadow side of things. As Rudolf Ditzen – his real name – Fallada was beset by alcohol abuse, drug addiction, and psychological problems, spending major periods of time behind bars and in institutions.

Altogether, 12 actors, a number of chickens and 15 extras were on the set as the Hamburg production company C-Films recently began the film shoot at what had been Fallada’s country home in Carwitz from 1933 to 1945. Schenk plays Fallada in his later years, while another actor, Bill Becker, plays him in his younger years.

Weinert notes that the Fallada film “belongs to a series on writers” that began in 2014 with the very well-received docu-drama about Kurt Tucholsky (1890-1935). “Since Tucholsky’s great successes end about the time that those of Fallada began, we chose Fallada as the next one,” the director said. This will be followed by a film about Nobel literature laureate Heinrich Boell (1917-1985).

Very little has been done on screen about Fallada’s turbulent life, Weinert said. “It can be argued that Fallada lived five lives,” he added. After the huge worldwide success of Little Man, What Now? (1932), the writer who till then had lived in poverty suddenly had a lot of money. Some of that he immediately lost in excessive gambling and the pursuit of other addictive pleasures in Berlin.

Carwitz, a hamlet surrounded by lakes, fields and forests, was the place that Fallada sought to lead a quiet, orderly life. In 1933, the year he turned 40, he acquired a cottage overlooking an orchard, a small lake, and boat house. “This is where he found his own home turf,” Weinert said.

It was also in Carwitz that Fallada sought to keep his distance from the Nazis, who had come to power that same year, 1933. He did not want to emigrate like so many other writers of his generation and he often worried that the authorities in Berlin would revoke his license to write. In 1935, he was designated as an “undesirable author,” which prevented his writings from being translated and published abroad.

The problems notwithstanding, biographers agree that the first ten years in Carwitz were for Fallada, his wife and three small children among the happiest in his life. Having been trained in farming, the writer even took up raising animals – hence the chickens on the film set.

The docu-drama also brings Fallada’s son Achim Ditzen in front of the camera, as well as writers Jenny Williams and Klaus Juergen Neumaerker, the author of a book about Fallada’s psychological and mental illness problems. Fallada at one point spent several weeks in the “Domjuech institute for the crazy” in the town of Neustrelitz, where some parts of the film are being shot on location. Historical film materials and photographs will be used to round out Weinert’s film.

Weinert and his production team are especially happy that they are being allowed to film at the authentic location in Carwitz, something that is not taken for granted. Fallada museum director Stefan Knueppel says “we are happy to make the house available.” There had been one feature film shot in Carwitz in the past – in 1988 in what was then communist East Germany. The eastern German film company DEFA produced the flick “Fallada’s last chapter” there.

At the time, however, only one room in the house had been set aside as a memorial site. In the meantime, Carwitz has become the seat of the Fallada archives and is greatly in demand as an authentic venue for serious Fallada scholarship.

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