February 16, 2018 / 10:24 AM / 5 months ago

Berlin festival movie tells true story of Cold War rebels with a cause

ESSEN, Germany/BERLIN (Reuters) - As Soviet tanks crushed an uprising in Hungary in 1956, a group of children in East Germany began their own protest, taking on a communist regime that would keep their country divided for three more decades.

Dietrich Garstka, who fled former Communist East as a schoolboy and inspired the film 'Das schweigende Klassenzimmer' which is due to premiere at the Berlinale film festival, gesticulates during an interview with Reuters in Essen, Germany, February 9, 2018. REUTERS/Leon Kuegeler

The true story is told in “The Silent Revolution” (“Das schweigende Klassenzimmer”), a movie that premieres at the Berlin International Film Festival that opened this week in the city that is now the capital of a unified, peaceful Germany.

With tightly controlled news media back home, two schoolboys from the East see footage of the 1956 Hungarian uprising - a key moment of Cold War history - while on a trip to the cinema in West Berlin.

They tell their classmates and after listening to western news on the radio together at a house in the countryside, they agree to hold a minute’s silence for those killed in the failed revolution.

The entire class is ultimately expelled and most flee to the West in a bid for freedom and to put their academic careers back on track.

Dietrich Garstka, who wrote the book on which the movie is based, started school in 1945 - the year Adolf Hitler’s Nazi regime collapsed - so the communist East German system was all he knew.

He risked a lot by refusing to answer his history teacher’s questions during the minute’s silence, but, Garstka said: “Doing that protest was important to me, to show these scumbags that we think differently to them.”

He and his classmates realized they would have no chance of making a life for themselves if branded enemies of the state, so they decided it was better to take the risk of fleeing.

“They completely underestimated us, thinking we were little puppets who believed what the ‘great socialists’ said,” he told Reuters.

While Garstka’s rebellion was against a system that most Germans now look on as a grimly repressive regime, he says young people today remain rebellious and always will.

“I think young people are often underestimated by their parents nowadays. They’re not indifferent ... you can be sure they’ll get involved whenever there’s a campaign or something to do,” Garstka said, adding that ecological issues were often the focus of protests in today’s Germany.

“If I wanted to be ironic, I could say we had the luck of growing up in a dictatorship and we could show that (rebelliousness).”

“The Silent Revolution”, directed by Lars Kraume, premieres in Berlin on Tuesday. The festival runs until Feb. 25.

Reporting by Petra Wischgoll in Essen and Michelle Martin in Berlin; Writing by Michelle Martin; Editing by Robin Pomeroy

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