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German Film Archives and Third Reich posters

The Reichfilmarchiv was established in 1935 and was the world’s first national film archive. Today, Germany does not actually have one central all-encompassing film archive or collection. Third Reich film materials are even more fragmented thanks to the plundering of the Reichsfilmarchiv after the war by the Soviets and the Allies.

The post-war state-based archives in München, Berlin, Düsseldorf, and Frankfurt/Main hold immensely important film posters and ephemera from the earliest days of silent films through to the present day.

The federal Bundesarchiv has seven main archives but all film materials are in Koblenz, in central Berlin (Fehrbelliner Platz), or (as far as NS film leadership and Party affiliations go) in Berlin-Lichterfelde. The Bundesarchiv poster holdings are extensive and include not only its own West German inventory but many Third Reich items which were taken to the Soviet Union by the Red Army and later returned to East Germany and held by the then DDR Filmarchiv. The BA-FA does not have any exhibition facilities but does loan film posters and other materials out to museums and institutions on a temporary basis.

The F.W. Murnau Stiftung in Wiesbaden also has a number of original posters but is primarily a film preservation and restoration entity which licenses television, documentary film footage and DVDs of some films via Transit Films in München. The Stiftung was established as the legal rights-holder of most German film stock by the BRD in the 1950s, when film inventory, confiscated in 1945, was returned by the Allies and responsibility entrusted to the new West German government.

The Deutsches Institut für Filmkunde (DIF) in Frankfurt/Wiesbaden is a scholarly enterprise, publishing seminal works such as the three volume Geschichte des dokumentarischen Films in Deutschland (1895 – 1945). Its library book holdings are not extensive, and are primarily post-war film publications.

The former DDR Filmarchiv, which was housed in Potsdam’s Marstall, had most of its Third Reich inventory transferred in 1990 to the Bundesarchiv - Filmarchiv. Potsdam consequently has a focus on the East German DEFA, although a few important items from the pre-1945 era are still on display, including the original Ufa scripts for MÜNCHHAUSEN and DIE GOLDENE STADT.

The only guide, other than internet information, to these collections is the CineGraph book Recherche: Film published in 1997, but there are only six pages devoted to Third Reich materials.

The Gillespie Collection visited the above archives over the past decade and can report that other than some materials on the Bavaria Filmkunst studio from the 1930’s/40’s, the München archive, at the Stadtmuseum, has almost nothing on the Third Reich. Frankfurt has important Entwurfe from Otto Hunte and Bruno Rehak, and some posters, which can only be accessed in a nearby suburb by appointment; and Düsseldorf has mostly post-1945 film posters. Potsdam has scattered Third Reich holdings but as per above, most have now been integrated into the BA-FA.

The Berlin Kinemathek/Berlin Film Museum has extensive holdings, which include over 550,000 film stills, thousands of Werbematerialen, and about 1,500 pre-1945 film posters (and 15,000 post-WWII posters). A world-class permanent exhibition on German film has a room dedicated to Leni Riefenstahl and other NS film directors and films, with some original posters on display, including the very rare posters for OLYMPIA, SIEG IM WESTEN, and WUNSCHKONZERT. In our opinion, Berlin has the finest collection of all those covered in this summary.

The Deutsches Historisches Museum on Unter den Linen in Berlin has a number of very rare film posters in their collection. DER EWIGE JUDE, JUD SÜß and S A MANN BRAND are on permanent display in their Twentieth Century exhibition area on the ground floor. The Museum’s Zeughauskino occasionally screens Third Reich films, which are preceded by a compulsory lecture as per the custom for any ‘Vorbehaltsfilm.’

The visits were not comprehensive in every city but in some cases access to the archives, the library, and holdings outside of the public areas were arranged. There is no doubt that there remain big gaps in the holdings of these archives and museums as far as Third Reich posters and materials are concerned. None of the archivists indicated that acquisition monies were budgeted or available, and most rely on the donation of film personality estates (Nachlass) and the generosity of private collectors, limited exchanges with other institutions, and de-accessorisation of duplicated items. Considerable research and promotion of film directors and stars exiled from Nazi Germany has been the overwhelming focus of these archives for more than forty years. The Third Reich has been all but ignored, still considered taboo, and there seems no impetus to exploit such holdings.

The EYE Film Institute in The Netherlands, which houses the Dutch film archives, is reputed to have the best single collection of Third Reich film posters extant. For example on a visit in Summer 29015 we found two Karl Ritter original posters not in our Collection –– one for Verräter and one for  Kadetten. There is rarely a major exhibition from this era that does not borrow posters from Holland. The Vienna film archive has extensive Third Reich poster holdings, but naturally concentrated on Austrian 'Muster' graphic designs of German films that were in most cases completely different than the German poster designs prior to 1939. Many poster exhibitions in Germany draw on Vienna archival holdings regularly, too.

The Gillespie Collection is seen to be one of the best privately held collections of rare posters from this era that is known. The opportunity today for an archive, museum or private collectors to obtain original copies of many of the posters we hold is almost nil, even if acquisition budgets allowed. They simply are not on the market.