The late 1950s brought hopes for a new beginning: Nikita Khrushchev condemned Stalinism in his secret speech at the 20th Congress of the Communist Party of the Soviet Union in 1956, and Soviet "films of the Thaw" such as "Letjat Zhuravli" ("The Cranes Are Flying", 1957, Mihail Kalatozov) and "Ballada o soldate" ("Ballad of a Soldier", 1959, Grigori Chukhraj) hit the movie theaters. This led young, talented DEFA directors who had studied at the film academies in Moscow and Prague and/or had worked as assistants in the DEFA Studios to seek their own, less dogmatic approach to the antifascist tradition as well as contemporary issues.

Source: DIF
Konrad Wolf

This generation's most important representative was Konrad Wolf, who grew up in Moscow as the son of the exiled Communist writer Friedrich Wolf and returned to Germany in 1945 as a lieutenant in the Red Army, a story persuasively told in his 1967 film "Ich war neunzehn" ("I Was Nineteen"). Wolf's 1959 co-production "Sterne / Zwedzy" ("Stars") about the persecution of the Jews during World War Two was shown at Cannes as a Bulgarian film – due to the FRG’s intervention – and was awarded the special Jury Prize.

Source: DIF© DEFA-Stiftung
Manfred Krug, Günter Naumann, Edwin Marian, Erwin Geschonneck, Armin Mueller-Stahl (from left) in "Fünf Patronenhülsen" ("Five Cartridges", 1960)

Some of the most interesting stylistic approaches emerged in the antifascist films – a genre regarded as politically correct. Heiner Carow's 1958 film "Sie nannten ihn Amigo" ("They Called Him Amigo") tells the story of a boy in Berlin who hides a refugee from a concentration camp. In 1960 Frank Beyer, who had studied in Prague, took the Spanish Civil War as the setting for his "Fünf Patronenhülsen" ("Five Cartridges"), an adventure movie about international solidarity. Beyer's "Nackt unter Wölfen" ("Naked Among Wolves", 1963) was the first German dramatic film to depict life inside a concentration camp. Günter Marczinkowsky's stylized camerawork in Beyer's "Königskinder" ("And Your Love Too/Invincible Love/Royal Children", 1961/62), with Armin Mueller-Stahl and Annkathrin Bürger, signalized a kind of New Wave, influenced less by the Nouvelle Vague than by the new Czech and Polish cinema. With a Czech cameraman, "Der Fall Gleiwitz" ("The Affair Gleiwitz", 1961) reconstructs in detail the way in which the SS set up the events which sparked World War Two in 1939. The director Gerhard Klein worked together with screenwriters Günther Rücker and Wolfgang Kohlhaase.

Source: DIF© DEFA-Stiftung, DEFA-Holstein
Scene from "Berlin – Ecke Schönhauser" ("Berlin - Corner of Schönhauser", 1957)

Before that, Klein and Kohlhaase had created the genre of the "Berlin film" with a short series of productions – "Alarm im Zirkus" ("Alarm in the Circus", 1953/54); "Eine Berliner Romanze" ("A Berlin Romance", 1955/56); "Berlin – Ecke Schönhauser" ("Berlin – Corner of Schönhauser", 1957). In a style influenced by Neorealism, these films told stories about young people's daily life in divided Berlin.