A guest post for Omnified by Anja Samy
This is the second in our two-part series exploring the story of the thousands of rabbits that voluntarily made their home in the death strip of the Berlin Wall. Click here for part one which examines Kaninchenfeld or “Rabbit Field,” a memorial to the border crossing between Wedding and Mitte which uses wild rabbits – the “peaceful and subversive inhabitants of the death strip” – as its central motif.
Bartosz Konopka’s pseudo-documentary, “Rabbit à la Berlin,” is a fascinating and unconventional meditation on the rise and fall of the Berlin Wall through the eyes of the rabbit colony that inhabited the border strip between East and West Berlin.
The film is a tapestry of anecdotal interviews with citizens and ex-guards, footage and photographs from archives and as the New York Times claims, even a few bunny clips taken from YouTube, all of which is woven together with a great deal of intelligence, humor and subtlety.
Also known in German as “Mauerhase,” “Rabbit à la Berlin” received a great deal of critical acclaim including an Academy Award nomination for best short documentary in 2010. The film explores life in a totalitarian system, blending nature documentary with fable to create an allegory for the DDR.
The tongue-in-cheek narration guides the viewer through the events of the Cold War, managing to allude to their magnitude while also retaining the well-crafted naivety of the rabbit’s-eye perspective.
Drawn to the vegetable patches in the ruined center of post-World War II Berlin, the wild rabbits watched in confusion as the fences which had served to keep the creatures away from the plants, were replaced by something new.
In the space of a few hours, the rabbits found themselves blocked off from the western side of the city by barbed wire and concrete blocks. Less than a year later, a second ring of fortifications had been built, creating a narrow and completely enclosed strip of land between East and West Berlin.
With its patrolling guards, landmines, watchtowers and automated machine guns, the ring of ground soon became known as the “death strip” to the human inhabitants of the city. But to the thousands of rabbits who made it their home over the course of the war, it was a sanctuary free from predators and hunters.
One man interviewed in the film says that he initially thought the rabbits must be stupid to have found themselves trapped there, but he soon began to believe that the rabbits were bright: they lived peaceful, uncomplicated lives and they were secure even if they weren’t free.
There was even a peaceful coexistence between the soldiers and the rabbits. Every gunshot fired by the border guards had to be recorded and raised alarm, so to avoid any political or military consequences, the rabbits were left alone. As an ex-border guard explains, “no one fired a shot – at least not against the rabbits.”
However, the fall of the wall in 1989, which was a cause of celebration for many, was also a time of uncertainty and upheaval for others. The rabbit population was overwhelmed and quickly decimated by the unfamiliar surroundings and challenges that came with their newfound freedom.
Konopka, the film’s director and co-writer, was born in 1972 in Myślenice, Poland and witnessed firsthand what life was like for Eastern Europeans both during and after the Cold War. As Konopka explains in an interview with The Guardian: “For people living for 40 or 50 years in the communist system, they had a kind of security. Then they lost it and had to start a new life – our aim was not to judge those people.”