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CULTURE

Berlin gentrification takes spotlight in new film by actor Daniel Brühl

German-Spanish actor Daniel Brühl called on some of his more "humiliating" Hollywood experiences for the black comedy "Next Door", his directorial debut premiering in competition at this week's Berlinale film festival.

Berlin gentrification takes spotlight in new film by actor Daniel Brühl
Brühl in a Berlin 'Kneipe' in a scene from Nebenan. Photo: DPA

The German-Spanish Brühl, who shot to fame aged 25 with the bittersweet Berlinale contender “Good Bye, Lenin!”, is now himself up for the Golden Bear top prize Friday at an event that has gone all-virtual due to the pandemic.

Since his early success, Brühl, now 42, has starred in hits including “Rush”, TV series “The Alienist” and the “Captain America” franchise.

READ ALSO: Germany holds virtual Berlinale film festival 

“Next Door” (Nebenan) tells the story of Daniel, a preening German-Spanish actor played by Brühl who like the director himself lives in a gentrified district of Berlin and is up for a role in a major superhero movie.

On his way to the airport, he stops in at one of the German capital’s traditional corner pubs to rehearse his lines.

‘Vain and narcissistic’

Trying to understand his character’s “motivation”, Daniel frantically calls Marvel executives begging them for more pages of the top-secret screenplay so he can better prepare.

Daniel practises the ridiculous dialogue with a familiar Marvel comics growl while watched by Bruno, a mysterious local sitting at the bar who soon reveals he knows more about Daniel’s life than he should.

Bruno is a native East Berliner who doesn’t take kindly to the wealthy newcomers who have moved into the area and driven up prices, and he’s immune to Daniel’s attempts to charm him.

Their small talk turns combative, then sinister as Bruno shows the unctuous Daniel who actually has the upper hand.

Despite the obvious parallels, Brühl joked, “I’m a vain and narcissistic man but I’m not as horrible as the guy we see in the movie”.

He told AFP he wanted “Next Door” to tackle both the transformation of Berlin, where rents have increased more than 75 percent over the last decade, and the occasional silliness of the entertainment industry.

READ ALSO: In graphs: How gentrification has changed Berlin

“I’m making fun of all the (movie) projects, all the ones that I really loved doing. But I also had some experiences in which I felt ridiculous and humiliated,” he said.

“I mean being sent a page where everything is watermarked and blurred and then you have three lines and don’t have any context and people expect you to pull off some magic performance and you think like ‘what the fuck, what is this?'”

‘Ich bin kein Berliner’

Brühl called it “a very purging, cleansing experience for me to show this humiliating aspect finally in a movie”.

But he admitted to being a little afraid of biting the hand that feeds him with his savage satire.

“Someone like (Marvel president) Kevin Feige — he has a great sense of humour. That’s something I like about Marvel. So I hope that when these guys see the movie they understand the joke,” he said.

He sought inspiration from the Coen brothers and fellow actor-turned-director Julie Delpy for the wild shifts in mood in the movie, which was written by bestselling German author Daniel Kehlmann.

Brühl, who grew up in the western German city of Cologne but whose parents live in Barcelona, has called Berlin’s now upscale Prenzlauer Berg district home since the early 2000s.

He said he wanted to take on the ongoing friction between rich and poor in Berlin as well as easterners and westerners three decades after the Wall fell.

“I was privileged to be rather successful as a young man being an actor,” he said.

“But no matter where I went, I always felt like an invader, be it in Prenzlauer Berg or in Barcelona where I found an apartment in 2010.”

He said that even today, Berlin can still give him that fish-out-of-water feeling.

“Even after 20 years, there’s certain encounters that I have where I truly feel, ‘Ich bin kein Berliner’ (I’m not a Berliner).”

By Deborah Cole

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GERMANY EXPLAINED

Why are shops in Germany closed on Sundays – and will it ever change?

Germany's strict ban on shops opening on Sundays can be a shock to foreigners. We looked at the culture around it, and spoke to one of the country's largest trade unions to find out if things are ever likely to change.

Why are shops in Germany closed on Sundays - and will it ever change?

It’s Sunday. You’ve invited people for dinner, but you’ve forgotten the most important ingredient. Tough luck – you’ll either have to do without or wait until Monday because your local shops are shut. 

Most of us are familiar with this inconvenience, and perhaps you’ve even found yourself screaming: “Why?” in frustration in front of a locked-up supermarket. 

But it’s something us adopted Germans have had to get used to. We decided to take a look at the reasons behind Germany’s ban on Sunday shopping – and to find out if it might change in future. 

Where does the rule come from?

The Sonntagsruhe or ‘Sunday rest’ principle is an integral part of German culture, so much so that it is enshrined in the German constitution (Grundgesetz).

Article 140 of the law, which has remained unchanged since 1919, says: “Sundays and state-recognised public holidays remain protected by law as days of rest from work and spiritual upliftment.” 

But the practice of not working on Sunday has been around for much longer. The idea that the seventh day of the week is a day of rest dates back to the old testament and was declared a general day of rest across the Roman Empire as early as 321, by Roman Emperor Constantine.

In the centuries since, however, most of Europe has gradually relaxed the strict ban on commercial activities on Sundays. 

But in Germany, the rules remain restrictive. It’s unlikely to change anytime soon partly because of religious reasons, and also in relation to the interests of workers.

Germany’s biggest trade union Verdi spelled out their view. “It’s not ‘modern’ to work seven days a week,” they told The Local. “That’s the Middle Ages.” 

What exactly does the law mean?

On the face of it, the German law forbids all forms of work on Sundays and public holidays, though numerous exceptions are laid out in the Working Time Act. 

As well as emergency and rescue services, hospitals, nursing and care facilities, exceptions include cultural and sporting activities, and the hospitality sector. 

Another notable exemption to the rule is bakeries, which are allowed to open for three hours on Sundays – which is why you may often find a long queue at your local baker if you want to get your freshly baked Brötchen on Sunday morning. 

A saleswoman reaches for a loaf of bread in a bakery.

A saleswoman reaches for a loaf of bread in a bakery. Photo: picture alliance/dpa | Mohssen Assanimoghaddam

Illustrating how seriously the rule can be taken in Germany, there have even been cases of bakeries being sued for selling bread for too long on Sundays.

Shops, however, aren’t exempt from the rule and, the only way they can legally open on a Sunday is on a so-called verkaufsoffener Sonntag – Sunday trading day.

In most federal states, shops are allowed to open on between four and eight Sundays per year, and the States can decide when these should be. The chosen days must, however, be linked to a relevant occasion – such as a local festival, a market, a trade fair, or a similar event. 

Sunday openings also have to be recognisable as an exception to the general rule and Sunday openings that have already been approved can often be later overturned by the courts.

How strictly is the rule enforced?

Retailers who break the rules and open for business on Sunday can face fines ranging between €500 and €2,500.

The strictness of enforcement can vary widely between different regions.

In Berlin, for example, you can still find lots of Spätis (late night shops) open on Sundays. Although this is technically illegal, the authorities in the capital seem to take more of a relaxed approach to enforcement than in other states. 

A "Späti" late-night shop in Berlin.

A “Späti” late-night shop in Berlin. Photo: picture alliance/dpa | Florian Schuh

In the traditionally Catholic state of Bavaria, for example, the law is much more strictly guarded and enforced.

READ ALSO: Why Germany has strict shop opening hours

Is the law likely to change?

A survey by Spiegel in 2017 showed that 61 percent of Germans wanted to be able to shop on a Sunday, and this desire is shared by the trade industry.

The German Trade Association, for example, which represents around 400,000 independent companies, has strongly criticised Germany’s refusal to budge on the issue of Sunday openings on several occasions and argued that Sunday opening is also popular with staff, with many shop assistants appreciating the work in a more relaxed atmosphere.

In its latest statement on the issue, the association stated that, especially after following the economic impact of the pandemic, many retailers would benefit greatly from being able to open on Sundays. 

READ ALSO:

“It is remarkable that in no other EU country Sunday opening is as restricted as in Germany,” the association said. “Even in strongly Catholic EU countries such as Italy and Poland, shoppers can generally shop on Sundays. The same applies to France, although they place great value on culture and socialising.”

However, even if there is a widespread desire in some quarters to allow Sunday trading, an amendment to the constitution would require the consent of two-thirds of the German parliament. Also, there remains strong opposition to changing the rule from many workers’ groups and trade unions.

Trade union Verdi, which regularly files complaints against states and organisations which seek to deviate from Sunday trading restrictions, said that Sunday rest is still very important for workers.

A sign reads “Spring for Frankfurt – Sunday trading day” in front of a shoe shop in Frankfurt.

A sign reads “Spring for Frankfurt – Sunday trading day” in front of a shoe shop in Frankfurt. Photo: picture-alliance/ dpa/dpaweb | Arne Dedert

A spokesperson said: “We have just one day a week when employers can’t stop us from going to football together, meeting friends, attending cultural events, or spending free time with the whole family.

“And we want to keep it that way. There are six days a week when we can go shopping, take the car to the garage, do our banking, or get the package delivered from the online retailer. On Sunday, there has to be peace and quiet.”

The Verdi spokesperson added that it’s important to think about “work-life balance, and not about being available 24/7 for a company”.

We also asked the union if the law looks set to change in the near future.

The spokesperson said: “Sunday, which is a non-working day for most people, has so far been protected by the majority of political parties in Germany.

“Verdi, with its almost two million members, continues to work to ensure that working on Sunday does not become an everyday occurrence.”

So it appears that the culture shock for many non-Germans of shops being closed on Sundays won’t change anytime soon. 

READ ALSO: From nudity to sandwiches – the biggest culture shocks for foreigners in Germany

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