Posts Tagged ‘Christian Steyer’

Für die Liebe noch zu mager?
Too Young for Love? (Für die Liebe noch zu mager?) is a portrait of a girl on the cusp of womanhood. At the start of the film, our heroine Susanne (Simone von Zglinicki) is wide-eyed and still wet behind the ears. She works at a textile plant and is a model worker. Susanne has a crush on Lutz, the town hipster, but he stills sees her a little girl. The German title of this film translates literally to “Still Too Skinny for Love.” It appears in IMDB under the title Too Skinny for Love1, but the DEFA Library at Amherst chose to translate the title based on its meaning rather than a literal translation.

From Delmer Daves’ A Summer Place to Greta Gerwig’s Lady Bird, filmmakers have explored the subject of coming of age for both comedy and drama. In the United States, filmmaker John Hughes practically made it a brand with films such as Pretty in Pink, Sixteen Candles, and Some Kind of Wonderful. In Too Young for Love, Susanne is no longer a teenager, but she’s not quite a woman either. The film follows that journey carefully, step by step. It is never salacious or prurient, and there is, as one might expect from a DEFA film, plenty of interludes where the merits of socialism are discussed.

In a style similar to The Legend of Paul and Paula, the film has some nice musical interludes including the Klaus Renft Combo performing “Als ich wie ein Vogel war” (“When I Was a Bird”). The Klaus Renft Combo, like Wolf Biermann, was a thorn in the side of the East German government. The were banned from the radio in 1962 for their obviously Western-influenced rock music. The ban was eventually lifted in 1967, and the group become extremely popular, but with their songs of social criticism it didn’t take long for them to get on the wrong side of the authorities again, and the band was banned from even existing in 1975. Lyricists Gerulf Pannach and songwriter Christian Kunert were thrown in prison for nine months and then officially “expatriated,” even though both men had been born in East Germany.

Too Young for Love?

Too Young for Love was Bernhard Stephan’s first feature film. Before that he had worked in television, directing an episode of Polizeiruf 110 (Police Emergency Call)2 and the miniseries Täter unbekannt (Offender Unknown). His second feature film, Aus meiner Kindheit (From My Childhood), was the story of the Ernst Thalmann’s youth, recreating pre-WWI Hamburg in Schwerin. Stephan went on to make several more films for DEFA. They usually focused on the lives of ordinary people in the GDR. One notable exception is Jörg Ratgeb, Painter (Jörg Ratgeb, Maler), which explores the life of the Swabian contemporary of Albrecht Dürer at the time of the German Peasants’ War (1524–1525). With the fall of the Wall, feature film opportunities dried up and Stephan returned to television. He has made a name for himself there, primarily for his work on comedies and crime shows.

Originally, Katharina Thalbach was slated to appear in the role of Susanne, but when she became pregnant, the role was turned over to Simone von Zglinicki, who was still a student at the theater school in Leipzig at the time. Von Zglinicki was a good replacement. Both women are excellent actresses, and both have faces that are particularly good at expressing wide-eyed wonder. Von Zglinicki went on to appear in several more East German films, including Hans Roeckle and the Devil (Hans Röckle und der Teufel), Love at 16, (Liebe mit 16), The Flight, and Sabine Kleist, Age 7. Thanks to her relative youth, the Wende had less impact on her career than it did on most of the older East German actors. She has gone on to appear in numerous films and television shows since that time.

Playing the self-absorbed and irresponsible Lutz is Christian Steyer. Steyer practically made a career in East Germany out of playing irresponsible jerks. A year earlier, he had made a splash in The Legend of Paul and Paula playing just such a character. He’s a little more sympathetic here, but still not exactly a role model. He is also a talented composer, creating the music for several movies including Jan on the Barge (Jan auf der Zille), Sabine Kleist, Age 7, Forbidden Love (Verbotene Liebe), and Jana and Jan (for more on Christian Steyer, see Sabine Kleist, Age 7).

Christian Steyer

The film takes some gentle jabs at East German socialism and its restrictions on goods and travel, but the one that resonated the most was the line, “Mensch Opa, das sind echte Levi′s!” (“Man, Grandpa, those are real Levi’s!”). Until the early seventies, blue jeans were frowned upon by the establishment on both sides of the Berlin Wall. In the West, they weren’t allowed in most workplaces, and in the GDR they were seen as a symbol of the invidious influence of western culture and part of the subculture of juvenile delinquency and rock’n’roll. As a result, East German teens coveted jeans, and in particular, Levi’s. Levi’s figure prominently in both the play and novel of Die neuen Leiden des jungen W. (The New Sorrows of Young Werther) by In Ulrich Plentzdorf with one character saying that jeans were the finest trousers in the world (“Jeans sind die edelsten Hosen der Welt”). The East German government railed for years against the garment, but, like so many of the SED’s decisions, it was a lost cause. By 1970, most young people in the West were wearing jeans on a regular basis, including those pro-communist revolutionaries that were causing trouble for the U.S. government. Eventually, East German garment factories started making jeans, they called “Doppelkappnahthose” under names such as “Goldfuchs,” “Wisent,” and “Boxer.” At first, they were brown corduroy knock-offs. The state-owned factories wouldn’t get around to making actual denim jeans until 1978. The East German jeans really didn’t measure up as far as teens were concerned. They wanted Levi’s, not Doppelkappnahthose.

In 1978, the Levi Strauss & Company made a deal with the East German government to ship 800,000 pairs of the popular jeans to the GDR. In spite of the steep price—costing more than twice the price of the East German jeans—and the limit of one pair per person, people lined up to buy them and they sold out quickly. Of course, owning a pair of real Levi’s brought its own perils. It pegged you as a potential troublemaker, which could lead to a Stasi file on you.

The film did well, thanks to its realistic portrayal of everyday life in East Germany. It is worth noting that on IMDB, the film rates much higher with women than it does with men, which, I suppose, would make it qualify as a “chick flick” or a “Frauenfilm.” It is a well-made film with some exceptional performances from its leads.

IMDB page for this film.

Buy or stream this film.


1. The German word mager means lean, and comes from the Latin macer; the same root as our words “meager” and “emaciated.”

2. Later episodes of this series are being shown on MHZ under the title Bukow and König, which is a bit like renaming Law & Order “Lupo and Bernard.” Bukow and König have only appeared in 18 of the Polizeiruf 110 episodes. Compared to other characters such as Leutnant Vera Arndt (48 episodes), Hauptkommissar Herbert Schneider (58 episodes), and Hauptmann Fuchs (85 episodes!) this is a drop in the bucket.

© Jim Morton and East German Cinema Blog, 2018. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this site’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to Jim Morton and East German Cinema Blog with appropriate and specific direction to the original content.

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Sabine Kleist
Sabine Kleist, Age 7 (Sabine Kleist, 7 Jahre…) falls into a sub-category of films that could be collectively labeled “Children’s Escapade” films. The are stories that start with a child who, either by their own choice or accidental circumstances, is left to wander around alone in the city. While the adults search for the kid (or are unaware they are missing), the kid enjoys various adventures and meets interesting people. These films are usually labeled as children’s films, but they are really intended more for adults than kids. Examples include Little Fugitive, Escapade in Japan, the Home Alone films, and, in some respects, The Florida Project. It is an interesting sub-genre because even the most comedic versions of this story have an underlying sadness, while the more serious ones have a playful quality about them.

The film starts with black-and-white still shots of a car accident. The two adults in the car, a man and woman, are both killed, and only their daughter Sabine (Petra Lämmel ) survives and is sent to an orphanage. The film then flashes forward to a ceremony where the orphanage is saying goodbye to a teacher named Edith (Simone von Zglinicki). Edith is about the give birth to her first child, and seems conflicted about leaving the children, especially Sabine, who has formed a strong attachment to Edith. After Edith leaves, Sabine sneaks out of the school to look for her. She wanders around Berlin, enjoying various adventures and meeting people from every walk of life. It becomes clear that, more than anything, Sabine wants to be part of a family. This unrequited longing weighs heavily on the film adding sorrow to an otherwise light film about a child’s adventures in Berlin.

Sabine Klest is directed by Helmut Dziuba. Dziuba was best known for his work on his films for children and young adults although he did occasionally work in other genres (Coded Message for the Boss, for instance). Unlike many other children’s film directors, Dziuba’s films have a darkness that reflects the fears of childhood. His “proletarian trilogy” (Rotschlipse, Als Unku Edes Freundin war, and Jan auf der Zille) examined the lives of young people during the Weimar and Nazi periods. His frankness sometimes rubbed the authorities the wrong way, and his last film Jana and Jan, could only have been made after the Wall came down (for more on Dziuba, see Jana and Jan).

sabine kleist

The film stars Petra Lämmel in her only film role, and she is sensational. Director Dziuba noticed Lämmel, and thought she’d be perfect as Sabine Kleist. He wasn’t wrong. Lämmel was praised for her remarkably nuanced performance in Sabine Kleist. She was chosen as the best child actress at the 1983 International Film Festival in Moscow. Apparently, however, acting didn’t agree with Lämmel. Sabine Kleist was the only film Lämmel appeared in, and when Dziuba went to see if she wanted to be in his 1990 film, Forbidden Love (Verbotene Liebe), Lämmel turned him down. Today, she is a mother and works as a dental technician in Berlin.

Simone von Zglinicki, who plays Edith, on the other hand, has had a long career in films, theater, and television. Von Zglinicki has a tough job here, playing a woman who has kept her emotions in check for so long, that she is no longer sure how she feels about anything. It required the normally expressive von Zglinicki to remain stone faced throughout most of the movie. Von Zglinicki first appeared on screen in Bernhard Stephan’s Too Young to Love?, the story of a girl’s transition into womanhood. It was an auspicious beginning. She went on to appear in dozens of East German films and television shows, while, at the same time, continuing to pursue her first passion: theater. With her extensive television experience and her youth, the Wende had less effect on her career than some of her fellow East German actors. She has continued to appear in several television shows, and as made the occasional movie, all the while continuing her career in theater.

One of the most usual things about Sabine Kleist is its soundtrack, which has aspects of everything from Ennio Morricone and Nino Rota, to Bebe and Louis Barron. Composer Christian Steyer had been playing the piano since he was a kid. He attended the University of Music and Theater Leipzig and studied music for several years with Amadeus Webersinke. In the seventies he started acting and was soon both appearing in films, and writing soundtracks. With his bushy head of hair and wild beard, he became DEFA’s resident hippie, appearing in films such as The Legend of Paul and Paula, Too Young for Love?, The Dove on the Roof, and Godfather Death. With two skills to rely on, the Wende had less effect on Steyer’s career than it had on the careers of many other East German actors and composers. Today, he is probably best known in the West for his portrayal of Tannhaus in the German-language Netflix show Dark.

sabine kleist

Sabine Kleist was popular at film festivals. When it was shown on television the following year, the still shots of the accident at the beginning were cut out because the TV station felt that the public would find them too disturbing and might tune out. Critical opinions of the film were mixed. Some felt it was too sweet, but the finale hardly qualifies as sweet. At its core, it is a deeply sad film and is worth seeing.

IMDB page for the film.

Buy or stream this film.

© Jim Morton and East German Cinema Blog, 2018. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this site’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to Jim Morton and East German Cinema Blog with appropriate and specific direction to the original content.