Celluloid Critique:

Documentary Filmmaking and the Politics of Housing in Berlin’s Märkisches Viertel

Alexander Vasudevan

Published in Issue 3.2 // Retrospectives

Keywords: documentary filmmaking, feminist activism, housing struggles, West Berlin, Helga Reidemeister


This is a paper about radical filmmaking and housing justice in the Märkisches Viertel in the 1970s. The satellite estate on the outskirts of West Berlin was one of the largest housing projects in West Germany and, for many residents, a space of increasing marginality and insecurity. As this paper argues, it was also a site of experimental filmmaking that documented the conditions faced by residents living in the Märkisches Viertel. The paper focuses on a group of students closely connected to the Deutschen Film- und Fernsehnakademie (dffb or the German Film and Television Academy) who began in the late 1960s to film various political activities and discussions in the neighbourhood. It places particular emphasis on the work of Helga Reidemeister, a social worker and student at the dffb whose documentary films adopted a working practice that depended on the direct participation of the families and women, in particular, with which she collaborated. Through a close reading of her 1979 film, Von wegen ‚Schicksal’ (1979), the paper foregrounds Reidemeister’s role as a feminist filmmaker whose work explored the mechanisms of displacement faced by tenants living in the Märkisches Viertel and the wider ‘structures of feeling’ that they generated. At stake here, is a broader commentary on the history of housing struggles in West Berlin and the importance of documentary filmmaking as a methodology for housing justice.


Alexander Vasudevan is Associate Professor in Human Geography and Fellow at Christ Church at the University of Oxford. Alexander’s work explores the city as a site of political contestation drawing on a range of methods (archival, ethnographic and participatory). He is the author of The Autonomous City: A History of Urban Squatting (Verso 2017), Metropolitan Preoccupations: The Spatial Politics of Squatting in Berlin (Wiley-Blackwell 2015) and co-editor of Geographies of Forced Evictions: Dispossession, Violence, Insecurity (Palgrave 2017). Alexander’s current research focuses on radical politics and precarious urban living. He is working on a project on the history of the anti-psychiatry movement.

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