Alone in Berlin

| June 13, 2017

How did an ordinary, middle-aged couple become a symbol of defiance against Nazi brutality? Alone in Berlina true-life tale of courage from award-winning actor-director Vincent Perez (The Secret), unfolds against the tumultuous backdrop of Berlin in 1940. Otto and Anna Quangel (Brendan Gleeson, Edge of TomorrowOscar winner Emma Thompson, Saving Mr. Banks) are a working-class husband and wife doing their best to ride out the war. Everything changes, however, when their son is killed fighting on the front lines. They begin pouring their rage and grief into postcards emblazoned with anti-Nazi slogans, risking everything to disseminate their messages of protest across the city. But this seemingly small act of subversion rattles the regime, including a police inspector (Daniel Brühl, Inglourious Basterds) who will not rest until the culprits have been caught. Based on the bestselling novel Every Man Dies Alone by Hans Fallada, Alone in Berlin is both a gripping thriller and a stirring ode to resistance.

Otto and Elise Hampel were a working-class couple who created a simple method of protest while living in Berlin during the early years of World War II. They composed postcards denouncing Hitler’s government and left them in public places around the city. They were eventually caught, tried, and beheaded in Berlin’s Plotzensee Prison in April 1943. Shortly after the end of the war, their Gestapo file was given to German novelist Hans Fallada, and their story inspired his 1947 novel translated into English and published in 2009 as Every Man Dies Alone.

This movie is part thriller and part homage to a couple who history tells us was executed because of their deed. In the film, it is told that the son had been killed during the German assault on France, but some research says that the wife’s brother had been killed. Whatever the situation, the movie shows how the Otto Hampel devised a plan to protest for more than two years against Adolph Hitler by placing postcards with words of resistance and sedition against Hitler and his army. I don’t necessarily know whether Otto thought that this would help, but he was determined to spread the word about his son’s death, which he described as a killing by Hitler. He distributed more than 250 cards around Berlin. However, I don’t believe it’s ever been known just what affect on the community this form of protest had on changing their minds about the atrocities that had been levied due to the followers of Hitler during his reign.

The Hampels, whose names were later changed to Quangel, could very well had been the aunt and uncle next door, but their plan was so covert and secretive that they were successful in their mission. Inspector Escheriche, played by Bruhl, was committed upon order of his superiors to find whomever was leaving these cards. Further research on my part about this case uncovered the following exchange between Otto and the Inspector: In one of these Escherich says: ‘What did you expect anyway, Quangel? You, an ordinary worker, taking on the Führer, who is backed by the Party, the Wehrmacht, the SS, the SA? The Führer, who has already conquered half the world and will overcome the last of our enemies in another year or two? It’s ludicrous! You must have known you had no chance! It’s a gnat against an elephant. I don’t understand it, a sensible man like you!’

The sad way in which Otto was discovered–and the two were consequently executed–was heartbreaking. Alone in Berlin is a great movie, based on a true life story, that shows just what two people could accomplish when they put their minds to trying to shed truth on a devastating period in German and global history.

Alone in Berlin is available through DVD from IFC Films on June 13, 2017. For more information, visit

About the Author:

Elaine Hegwood Bowen, M.S.J., is an editor, writer and film critic in Chicago. She is the author of "Old School Adventures from Englewood--South Side of Chicago" and the proud parent of "the smart rapper"--chemist-turned-rapper, turned humanitarian...Psalm One!
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