A light-hearted look at beach camping, infidelity seventies fashions, and Trabants. Lots and lots of Trabants.
In 1991, less than two years after the Berlin Wall came down, a film called Go Trabi Go hit the cinemas in Germany. It’s the story of a man, his wife, and their bored teenage daughter who—taking advantage of the newly available European West—take a trip to Italy in their trusty old Trabant. While the husband is busy with his own misadventures, the wife rediscovers her sexuality and the daughter finds romance. The film was a hit and helped spark a fascination with all things East German (Ostalgie).
Fourteen years earlies, East German television aired Camping-Camping—a film about a man, his wife, and their bored teenage daughter taking a trip to the Baltic Sea in their trusty old Trabant. While the husband is busy with his own misadventures, the wife rediscovers her sexuality and the daughter finds romance. It’s hard to gauge the extent to which Go Trabi Go director Peter Timm was influenced by the earlier movie. He left East Germany the year it came out, but the similarities are undeniable.
Camping-Camping starts as workers prepare a beach near Binz on the island of Rügen for the coming onslaught of holiday visitors. When the visitors come, they come in a stream of camper-hauling Trabis, accompanied to the strains of Beethoven’s “Ode to Joy.” The Engel family is on its way to the beach, but the father, Detlef (Dieter Franke), would rather be elsewhere. The idea of spending two weeks cooped up with his family in a camping trailer doesn’t appeal to him at all. He and his work buddy Alfred Pommeranz (Rolf Ludwig) devise a plan. After the Engels have set up camp, Pommeranz sends a telegram to Detlef letting him know he is needed back at work. Detlef apologizes profusely and runs off to have fun in Berlin with Pommeranz, leaving his wife Eveline (Ursula Karusseit) and daughter Nina (Sybille Winkler) to fend for themselves.
Nina, too, would rather be anywhere else than on a camping holiday with her family. She lets it be known early on, moping around the campsite, chewing bubblegum demonstrably, and complaining. This all changes when she sees how much Harry (Frank Penzold), the son of neighboring campers the Tabberts, has grown. The two of them spend their time reading excerpts from Wolfgang Bretschneider’s Sexuell aufklären, rechtzeitig und richtig (Sexual Enlightenment, The Right Way at the Right Time).
Without her husband there, Eveline is feeling old and in the way. She agrees to a makeover by her daughter, and she emerges from it looking ten years younger. Inspired by her new look, the mother and daughter, along with the Tabberts, go to the local dance to have some fun. There, they meet Thomas Flemming (Henry Hübchen), a charming, if somewhat aggressive young man who starts following around Eveline like a lovesick puppy. He manages to convince her to go with him to the bar at the Interhotel in Warnemünde, but they miss the last bus and have to stay there for the night.
Meanwhile, Detlef and Alfred are having a terrible time in Berlin. The things they thought would be fun aren’t fun at all, and it keeps raining. Alfred tries to make things more fun, but always misses the mark. Attempts to pick up women fall flat, and Detlef starts to miss his wife. The question is will his wife miss him?
While it’s not a classic, Camping-Camping is a fun little movie. It was directed by Klaus Gendries. Gendries worked exclusively in television, but his TV-movies are considered some of the better ones coming from television production. His films include Florentiner 73, Aber Vati! (But Father!), Today is Friday, Der Schimmelreiter (The Rider on the White Horse), and Meschkas Enkel (Meshka’s Grandson), which starred Erwin Geschonneck alongside Gendries’ son Götz in the title role. As with others who came from East Germany television, his transition after the Wende was less abrupt than the ones faced by the DEFA crew. He immediately started filming episodes of various television shows, starting with the short-lived ZDF/ORF series Viel Rummel um den Skooter (A Lot of Fuss About the Scooter), then moving on to shows such as Der Bergdoktor (The Mountain Doctor), Für alle Fälle Stefanie (Stefanie, in any case), Der Landarzt (The Country Doctor), and, of course, that refuge for DEFA actors and production people, In aller Freundschaft (In All Friendship).
The script was written by Klaus Poche, a screenwriter who also worked as a novelist, graphic designer, and book illustrator. His first effort as a screenwriter was the script for Born in ‘45, which got him relegated to television after the 11th Plenum. There, he often worked with director Frank Beyer, who also found himself relegated to television. Poche was one of the people who signed the protest letter against the expatriation of Wolf Biermann, which didn’t make things any easier for him. Even so, he managed to write the script for Private Party, which further estranged him from the authorities. Shortly after that, he signed another open letter; this time protesting the 9,000 West German Mark fine levied against Stefan Heym for having his book published in West Germany after it was refused publication in the GDR. That letter got him, Stefan Heym, and seven others kicked out of the Schriftstellerverband der DDR (German writers group of the GDR). When he was unable to get his autobiography, Atemnot (Hard to Breathe), published in East Germany, he followed Heym’s example and published it in West Germany. In late-1979, he moved to the BRD, where he worked primarily as a screenwriter. His first film after moving was to the West was Die zweite Haut (The Second Skin), a TV-movie that—because it starred Angelica Domröse and Hilmar Thate, and was directed by Frank Beyer—could qualify as an honorary DEFA film. Porsche died in 2007 in Cologne.
Ursula Karusseit is the star of the Camping-Camping, and much of the movie centers around her. Karusseit was born in Elbing, East Prussia, now part of Poland and renamed Elbląg. In 1945, the Germans were kicked out of the area, so her family moved to Germany proper. From 1960 to 1962, she studied acting at the Ernst Busch Academy of Dramatic Arts (then known as the Staatlichen Schauspielschule Berlin-Schöneweide). From there, she began acting on stage, eventually securing a permanent position with the Volksbühne in Berlin. She primarily appeared in television films, starting in 1963 with Wenn die Rosen tanzen (When the Roses Dance). Her first big hit on TV was her starring role as Gertrud Habersaat in the five-part miniseries, Wege übers Land (Paths Across the Land). After that, she regularly appeared in television in both TV-movies and miniseries through the seventies and eighties while continuing to perform on stage. Like most of those actors who mostly worked in television and theater, the Wende had less effect on her career. She is best known today for her role as Charlotte Gauss on the popular hospital drama In aller Freundschaft (In All Friendship). Karusseit died in 2019. She was 19.
Henry Hübchen is known to most people for his role in Go for Zucker (Alles auf Zucker!),1 the 2004 comedy about a Jewish man of no particular faith who is forced to sit Shiva when he’d rather be playing pool. The movie was an unexpected hit. Hübchen was born in West Berlin, but grew up in East Berlin. He started appearing in DEFA films and television when he was a still a teenager. He started to study to become a physicist at the Humboldt University of Berlin, but decided he preferred acting and switched to studying acting at the Ernst Busch Academy of Dramatic Arts. After graduating, he performed often on stage and occasionally in TV movies. His big role came in 1974, with the release of Jakob the Liar. While most of his movie work in the GDR was in TV-movies, he continued to act on stage. After the Wende, this didn’t change. In 1992, he played Karl May in the six-part miniseries about the author. From there he went on the appear in several miniseries and television shows until 1999, when he appeared in Leander Haußmann’s Sun Alley (Sonnenallee) playing the main character’s father. After that, we saw more of him in feature films, including Sass, Distant Lights (Lichter), C(r)ook, Whiskey with Vodka (Whisky mit Wodka), and Young Goethe in Love (Goethe!).
The rest of the cast is solid, especially Rolf Ludwig, as the well-intentioned but inept Alfred Pommeranz. Ludwig was an important force in East German radio, television, film, and theater. This is amazing considering he rarely acted without being at least three sheets to the wind. He described himself as “not a drinker, but a drunkard” (“kein Trinker, sondern ein Suffkopp”). He got into a row with fellow actor/alcoholic Harald Juhnke over which one would get to name their autobiography Nüchtern betrachtet (Soberly Considered), but Juhnke finally conceded that Ludwig was the bigger drunk. Ludwig died in 1999 Berlin.
Unmentioned here—intentionally ignored, I suspect—is the fact that visiting Rügen had its restrictions. You wouldn’t find this sort of camping at the beaches along the Baltic Sea that people used to try and leave the country.2 Even where camping was allowed, you’d be sure to see a few police patrolling the area. Also missing from the film is the Colossus of Prora, an imposing-looking housing complex at the north end of Binz municipality.3 But laying cold hard facts on the public isn’t what this film is about. It is light entertainment and on that level it succeeds.
1. Perhaps a better translation of Alles auf Zucker—or, at least,a more explanatory one—would be “everything on Zucker,” as in “bet everything on Zucker.”
2. For a story about this, see Christian Petzold’s excellent 2012 film Barbara, starring Nina Hoss..
3. The Prora complex is actually eight separate buildings, but its design makes it look like one long apartment block. It was designed by a Nazi architect named Clemens Klotz. It is both impressive and oppressive. I’ve written more about the Colossus of Prora on my Patreon page.
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