The story of two men, a woman with a child, and their travels on the highways of East Germany.<p value="<amp-fit-text layout="fixed-height" min-font-size="6" max-font-size="72" height="80"><em>Long Roads – Secret Love</em> (<em>Weite Straßen – stille Liebe</em>) starts when Berlin-based trucker Hannes Kass (Manfred Krug) pulls his semi-truck over to check on something. While fixing the problem, Herb Schneider (Jaecki Schwarz), a cheerful young man, approaches him and asks for a ride to Rostock. If this were a Hollywood film, we’d know that things were about to go downhill for Hannes, but this isn’t Hollywood and Herb turns out to be a good guy who dropped out of college because he hadn’t figured out what he wanted to do with his life yet. Herb is prone to flights of fancy, which we see through his eyes. After playing a prank on the young man that lands him in the hospital with pneumonia, Hannes atones by taking on Herb as a second driver. On their return to Berlin, the men give a ride to Johanna (Jutta Hoffmann) and her daughter Rieke (Ulrike Plenzdorf). Johanna is on her way to stay with friends in Berlin after having a falling out with the girl’s father (she says she’s not married, but do we believe her?). When Johanna’s plan to stay with friends doesn’t pan out and there are no rooms to be had anywhere, Hannes invites Herb and Johanna to stay at his place. It isn’t long before both men have fallen in love with Johanna.Long Roads – Secret Love (Weite Straßen – stille Liebe) starts when Berlin-based trucker Hannes Kass (Manfred Krug) pulls his semi-truck over to check on something. While fixing the problem, Herb Schneider (Jaecki Schwarz), a cheerful young man, approaches him and asks for a ride to Rostock. If this were a Hollywood film, we’d know that things were about to go downhill for Hannes, but this isn’t Hollywood and Herb turns out to be a good guy who dropped out of college because he hadn’t figured out what he wanted to do with his life yet. Herb is prone to flights of fancy, which we see through his eyes. After playing a prank on the young man that lands him in the hospital with pneumonia, Hannes atones by taking on Herb as a second driver. On their return to Berlin, the men give a ride to Johanna (Jutta Hoffmann) and her daughter Rieke (Ulrike Plenzdorf). Johanna is on her way to stay with friends in Berlin after having a falling out with the girl’s father (she says she’s not married, but do we believe her?). When Johanna’s plan to stay with friends doesn’t pan out and there are no rooms to be had anywhere, Hannes invites Herb and Johanna to stay at his place. It isn’t long before both men have fallen in love with Johanna.
Long Roads – Secret Love is based on Endlose Straßen (Endless Roads) by Hans-Georg Lietz. I’m not sure of the reason for the title change. “Endless Roads” is a much better movie title, and the love here is less secret than unfulfilled. Lietz wrote several books, short stories, and radio plays before his death in 1988. He headed the Zirkel Schreibender Arbeiter (Working Writers Circle) at the Neptun shipyard in Rostock and died in nearby Tocino.
The screenplay was by Ulrich Plenzdorf, one of the most well-respected screenwriters in East Germany (second only to Wolfgang Kohlhaase). Plenzdorf was born in 1934 in the Kreuzberg district of Berlin. His parents were ardent supporters of communism, so, as one would expect, they were often in trouble with the Nazis, and imprisoned for their beliefs. After the War, when it looked like the Allies—and the United States in particular—were going to let the Nazis walk while attacking the communists, the Plenzdorfs moved from the Kreuzberg district (which was in West Berlin) to the Lichtenberg district in East Berlin. The young Plenzdorf went to school in Leipzig, but did not complete his studies, he then enlisted in the Volksarmee and joined the SED. In 1963, he started working at DEFA, at first as a dramaturge and a script doctor (often the same thing). After the 11th Plenum, he got into trouble for Karla and didn’t get a chance to contribute another screenplay to DEFA until Long Roads – Secret Love was made.
One of the things he worked on doing that four-year hiatus was his book The New Sorrows of Young W. (Die neue Leiden des Junge W). The book started life as a screenplay. After DEFA rejected it, it turned it into a play and a novel. The book examines the interior monologue of a young man in East Germany. It’s a conscious attempt on Plenzdorf’s part to combine the literary aspects of Goethe with the modernism of Catcher in the Rye. The book was a hit on both sides of the Wall. Eventually, the popularity of the book proved to be too great to ignore and it was made into a movie in 1976.
Plenzdorf gained further fame with his screenplay for The Legend of Paul and Paula, for which he also wrote lyrics to some of the songs by The Puhdys. His career was going like gangbusters until he signed the 1976 “Offener Brief” (open letter)—a letter requesting that the expatriation of Wolf Biermann be rescinded. After that, Plenzdorf didn’t get to work on a film again until 1980, when Herrmann Zschochethe—director of Long Roads—hired him to write the screenplay for Rear House Bliss (Glück im Hinterhaus).1 After that, more work followed, including script and scenario work on Swan Island, Taken for a Ride (Bockshorn), and The Suspicion (Der Verdacht). After the Wende, Plenzdorf wrote several episodes for the TV series Liebling Kreuzberg (Darling Kreuzberg), which starred Manfred Krug and was created by fellow East German Jurek Becker. In 1998, he wrote the screenplay for Abgehauen (Runaway), Manfred Krug’s account of what happened to him after he signed the Wolf Biermann letter. It was directed by Frank Beyer. That same year, he wrote two scripts for the TV series Der Laden (The Store), but this would be the last of his work for either television or the movies. Plenzdorf died in 2007 after several years of illness.
Herrmann Zschoche should need no introduction here. He is most famous for Seven Freckles, but he also directed Karla, Eolomea, Swan Island, The Solo Sailor, and others. Although he is best known for his films about young people, nearly all his films deal with human relationships and love. He often hires nonactors or unproven actors, and gets excellent performances out of them. For this film that wasn’t an issue. Most of the cast was made up of seasoned professionals. The only non-actor in the main cast was Ulrike Plenzdorf (Ulrich Plenzdorf’s daughter), who was three years old at the time.
Manfred Krug, Jaecki Schwarz, and Jutta Hoffmann made an interesting trio. Krug was a well-established movie star by this point. Long Roads was the first time Krug played a long-distance truck driver, but it wouldn’t be the last. He would do it again in How to Feed a Donkey (Wie füttert man einen Esel) and would have success in West Berlin as a long-haul truck driver in the popular series Auf Achse (On the Axle). It’s easy to see why. Krug looks as comfortable behind the wheel of a semi as John Wayne did on a horse. Jaecki Schwarz, on the other hand, makes a less likely truck driver, but that’s not really his role here. Schwarz was still studying at the Film Academy in Potsdam-Babelsberg when he starred in I Was Nineteen a year earlier. Jutta Hoffmann had starred in several films by this point, most notably, Julia Is Alive (Julia lebt), Karla, and Just Don’t Think I’ll Cry; but she had yet to make Her Third, the film that cemented her position as one of the best actresses in East Germany.
Hoffmann and Krug had also signed the Biermann letter. By the time the Wall came down, they had moved to West Germany. Schwarz continued to work at DEFA. Unusually for East German actors, all three of the stars of Long Roads had long, successful careers in film and television after the Wende.
The romantic triangle is nothing new to cinema. From The Philadelphia Story to Pretty in Pink, the history of cinema is littered with tales of his kind. In most of these, we root for one particular guy to win the girl. In this respect, Long Roads is closer to Jules and Jim than the usual romantic triangle. There is no great passion here, and no happily ever after. Both men are attracted to Johanna, but she doesn’t seem that keen on either of them. She likes both men, but is still stinging from her previous relationship. A relationship, it turns out, that holds a firm grip over the rest of the movie.
At its core, however, it is about the relationship of the two men. In the West, this would manifest itself in the form of a buddy movie, but this movie handles it with a bit more finesse than Hollywood.2 As film historian Walter Schobert noted in the Frankfurter Rundschau, the film contained scenes of everyday life that were too often absent from West German and American films
1. Although it was never acknowledged or even called “blacklisting,” virtually everyone who signed the Biermann letter found their work opportunities had disappeared. Some, like Hoffmann and Krug, as well as Arnim Mueller-Stahl and NIna Hagen, moved to West Germany. Others stayed in the GDR, either out of choice or because their requests for exit visas were denied.
2. Starsky and Hutch creator William Blinn would go on to explain this as the type of film (or television show, in his case) that is about the love between two straight men. More recently, Jaecki Schwarz has come out as gay, which adds another avenue of exploration to the movie.
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