Interactive Russian film project to rebuild Berlin Wall in city centre

A massive film-art project in the German capital is set to rebuild part of the Berlin Wall to create a closed-off mini-state, complete with visa checks, organisers said Tuesday.

Interactive Russian film project to rebuild Berlin Wall in city centre
Photo: DPA

The walled-in “city within a city” will host the world premiere of the mysterious and mammoth “DAU” film project and social experiment of enigmatic Russian filmmaker Ilya Khrzhanovsky, 43.

Pending final approval from Berlin city authorities, which organisers said was “in the works”, staff plan to erect 900 concrete wall slabs, each 3.60 metres (about 12 feet) tall, for the 6.6 million euro ($7.7 million) event.

Visitors to the parallel world will have to apply online for entrance “visas” and swap their cellphones for off-line digital devices with an algorithm that will suggest a personalised tour.

Set on a city block on Unter den Linden boulevard, the time-capsule project is due to launch on October 12 and end with a ritualistic tearing down of the wall on November 9, the day of the historic event in 1989.

The aim is not to create “a Disney GDR” (German Democratic Republic), said Thomas Oberender, director of culture festival Berliner Festspiele which will host the mega-event.

“It is not a film premiere but a mixture of social experiment, artistic experiment and… an impressive form of world-building,” he told a Berlin press conference.

The aim, said organisers, is to spark “a political and social debate about freedom and totalitarianism, surveillance, co-existence and national identity”.

'Most insane film shoot'

Long shrouded in mystery, a trickle of news and cryptic clues has created buzz and sparked controversy about the project, with critics labelling it a stunt hurtful to people who lived in communist East Germany.

“Out of respect for the victims who really experienced such situations, we should step away from this,” Berlin politician Sabina Bangert of the Greens party said, according to Tagesspiegel daily.

Others are excited about a convention-busting art event that will evoke, but not seek to replicate, the Cold War past of Berlin.

Germany's minister of culture, Monika Gruetters, said she was “absolutely convinced this will be a world event”.

Lending star power to the project are conductor Teodor Currentzis, composer Brian Eno, director Tom Tykwer, performance artist Marina Abramovic, the band Massive Attack and, according to German news agency DPA, the legendary anonymous street artist Banksy.

Berlin's “DAU-Freedom” is set to kick off follow-up events in Paris in November (“DAU-Equality”) and London in early 2019 (“DAU-Fraternity”), all organised by the London-based Phenomen Trust, co-founded by Russian millionaire Sergey Adoniev.

The epic “DAU” film project, more than a decade in the making, has been labelled “Apocalypse Dau: the most insane film shoot of all time” by Britain's Daily Telegraph.

Dau was the nickname of Soviet nuclear physicist and Nobel laureate Lev Landau (1908-68), one of the fathers of the Russian nuclear bomb and an advocate of free love.

The project started in 2005 as a conventional biopic, with funding from several European countries, but evolved into what Caravan magazine labelled a “brutal and baroque movie project/human experiment”.

'Experiment is ongoing'

Hundreds of amateur actors were asked to live full-time from 2009-11 in a mock-up secret Soviet nuclear research facility dubbed “The Institute” that was built in Ukraine.

Participants reportedly had to dress, speak and act as if living under the Soviet regime, with penalties for using cellphones or social media.

They wore scratchy underwear, ate tinned food, used roubles, carried ID cards and endured other privations of bleak Soviet life.

“They fell in love, betrayed friends, cheated on their partners, conducted experiments, were arrested, gave birth to children, grew older,” says the event's press release.

Veteran cinematographer Jürgen Jürges, who spent three years on the set, said the aim was to shoot their unscripted interactions “everywhere, anytime… They lived, and we filmed them.”

A rare journalist to visit the site, from GQ magazine, wrote that Khrzhanovsky was ever-present, projecting “a carefully crafted self-portrait of a tyrannical genius”.

At the end, Khrzhanovsky reportedly had neo-Nazis destroy the elaborate set.

The resulting over 700 hours of footage have been edited into 13 feature films, several TV series and are due to appear in an online multimedia project, said producer Susanne Marian.

“The experiment is ongoing,” promises a trailer on the project website (

Reclusive Khrzhanovsky did not attend the Berlin press event.

Oberender thanked the “very many people who for months, and up to two years, didn't speak about this project — a small miracle in a city like Berlin”.

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EXPLAINED: Berlin’s latest Covid rules

In response to rapidly rising Covid-19 infection rates, the Berlin Senate has introduced stricter rules, which came into force on Saturday, November 27th. Here's what you need to know.

A sign in front of a waxing studio in Berlin indicates the rule of the 2G system
A sign in front of a waxing studio indicates the rule of the 2G system with access only for fully vaccinated people and those who can show proof of recovery from Covid-19 as restrictions tighten in Berlin. STEFANIE LOOS / AFP

The Senate agreed on the tougher restrictions on Tuesday, November 23rd with the goal of reducing contacts and mobility, according to State Secretary of Health Martin Matz (SPD).

He explained after the meeting that these measures should slow the increase in Covid-19 infection rates, which was important as “the situation had, unfortunately, deteriorated over the past weeks”, according to media reports.

READ ALSO: Tougher Covid measures needed to stop 100,000 more deaths, warns top German virologist

Essentially, the new rules exclude from much of public life anyone who cannot show proof of vaccination or recovery from Covid-19. You’ll find more details of how different sectors are affected below.

If you haven’t been vaccinated or recovered (2G – geimpft (vaccinated) or genesen (recovered)) from Covid-19, then you can only go into shops for essential supplies, i.e. food shopping in supermarkets or to drugstores and pharmacies.

Many – but not all – of the rules for shopping are the same as those passed in the neighbouring state of Brandenburg in order to avoid promoting ‘shopping tourism’ with different restrictions in different states.

2G applies here, too, as well as the requirement to wear a mask with most places now no longer accepting a negative test for entry. Only minors are exempt from this requirement.

Sport, culture, clubs
Indoor sports halls will off-limits to anyone who hasn’t  been vaccinated or can’t show proof of recovery from Covid-19. 2G is also in force for cultural events, such as plays and concerts, where there’s also a requirement to wear a mask. 

In places where mask-wearing isn’t possible, such as dance clubs, then a negative test and social distancing are required (capacity is capped at 50 percent of the maximum).

Restaurants, bars, pubs (indoors)
You have to wear a mask in all of these places when you come in, leave or move around. You can only take your mask off while you’re sat down. 2G rules also apply here.

Hotels and other types of accommodation 
Restrictions are tougher here, too, with 2G now in force. This means that unvaccinated people can no longer get a room, even if they have a negative test.

For close-contact services, such as hairdressers and beauticians, it’s up to the service providers themselves to decide whether they require customers to wear masks or a negative test.

Football matches and other large-scale events
Rules have changed here, too. From December 1st, capacity will be limited to 5,000 people plus 50 percent of the total potential stadium or arena capacity. And only those who’ve been vaccinated or have recovered from Covid-19 will be allowed in. Masks are also compulsory.

For the Olympic Stadium, this means capacity will be capped at 42,000 spectators and 16,000 for the Alte Försterei stadium. 

3G rules – ie vaccinated, recovered or a negative test – still apply on the U-Bahn, S-Bahn, trams and buses in Berlin. It was not possible to tighten restrictions, Matz said, as the regulations were issued at national level.

According to the German Act on the Prevention and Control of Infectious Diseases, people have to wear a surgical mask or an FFP2 mask  on public transport.

Christmas markets
The Senate currently has no plans to cancel the capital’s Christmas markets, some of which have been open since Monday. 

According to Matz, 2G rules apply and wearing a mask is compulsory.

Schools and day-care
Pupils will still have to take Covid tests three times a week and, in classes where there are at least two children who test positive in the rapid antigen tests, then tests should be carried out daily for a week.  

Unlike in Brandenburg, there are currently no plans to move away from face-to-face teaching. The child-friendly ‘lollipop’ Covid tests will be made compulsory in day-care centres and parents will be required to confirm that the tests have been carried out. Day-care staff have to document the results.

What about vaccination centres?
Berlin wants to expand these and set up new ones, according to Matz. A new vaccination centre should open in the Ring centre at the end of the week and 50 soldiers from the German army have been helping at the vaccination centre at the Exhibition Centre each day since last week.

The capacity in the new vaccination centre in the Lindencenter in Lichtenberg is expected to be doubled. There are also additional vaccination appointments so that people can get their jabs more quickly. Currently, all appointments are fully booked well into the new year.