Das Wunder von Bern (The Miracle of Bern) (2003)
Director: Sönke Wortmann.
Starring: Louis Klamroth (Matthias Lubanski), Peter Lohmeyer (Richard Lubanski), Johanna Gastdorf (Christa Lubanski), Mirko Lang (Bruno Lubanski), Birthe Wolter (Ingrid Lubanski), Katharina Wackernagel (Annette Ackermann), Lukas Gregorowicz (Paul Ackermann), Péter Franke (Sepp Herberger), Sascha Göpel (Helmut Rahn), Knut Hartwig (Fritz Walter), Holger Dexne (Horst Eckel), Simon Verhoeven (Ottmar Walter), Jo Stock (Toni Turek), Martin Bretschneider (Hans Schäfer), Christian Broos (Werner Kohlmeyer).
troubles for a family following the end of WWII
Spoiler Warning: below is a summary of the entire film.
Ruhr region, spring 1954. Four boys and a girl are sitting in a tree looking for the home coming of a pigeon. When they spot it they run home to get the message, which gives the score in a soccer game.
A mother, Christa Lubanski, with one daughter and two sons scolds her oldest son Bruno for not reporting to work because she worked so hard to get Hartwig to hire him. Her son replies: "I won't work for an ex-Nazi!" So mom tells him that on weekends he is going to work with her at the bar. The boy says he can't because: "Gotta practice Negro music." Mom says he will work and the older kid says he won't. Mom now turns her attention to her youngest boy Mattes. She tells him to eat, but Matte says he's not hungry. His sister Ingrid tells mom that Mattes's team lost and he's upset about it.
Mattes goes to his rabbit hutch and climbs in with two bunnies. He tells the bunnies that his team is never going to be German national champions.
On Tuesday after school the whole family is at the bar. The father has been in Russia as a POW for 11 years. Mattes goes over to an apartment building and throws a pebble through an open window that hits a young man named Helmut Rahn. He comes to the window protesting about the pebble that hit him, but Mattes says they are late for practice. Helmut says he will be down in 15 minutes. He comes down and they start walking. Helmut complains that his predecessor as a bag boy was much better than Mattes. So Mattes says maybe Helmut should get a different bag boy. The fellow tells Mattes that he knows that he is his mascot and can't win without him.
Mattes's team is practicing soccer. One of the men watching on the sidelines, Willi, yells to Helmut that he couldn't even hit a truck with a soccer ball. Helmut kicks the ball hard and it hits Willi in the forehead and knocks him down.
Mattes runs home in the shadow of a huge coal factory. His family is sitting at the table and Mattes asks what's wrong? Mother got a letter and won't open it until everyone of the family is present. They fear that it's bad news, but Mom opens and reads the letter and then says: "We're going to be a real family again."
Munich, Bavaria. Sports reporter Paul Ackermann arrives home from work and rushes into his place so he can hear how the soccer game is going. An older man is there already listening to the game. The wife Annette asks him if he is off work already and the husband says no. The older man virtually runs out of the house. Annette tells her husband about a honeymoon trip to Morocco that her father purchased for them.
The train comes into the station. The Lubanski family is waiting there to greet the husband/father. Dad gets off the train and starts walking toward the station house. He sees his daughter and thinks she is Christa his wife. They hug each other. Ingrid has to tell him that she is Ingrid his daughter. Dad turns and sees his wife and two boys. He asks who is the younger boy? Mattes arrived after dad went off to war.
The family shows dad the tavern which is very close to the coal factory. Bruno tells his dad that he is a musician. Dad sees photos of Helmut Rahn, who plays for Rot-Weiss Essen, and asks who he is? Mattes says Helmut is the Boss. He adds that Helmut is his best friend and he, being the bag boy, gets to see the soccer games for free.
At night dad tells Christa that the kids need some discipline. Mom says yes because she has not had much time for them. Dad also says that he wants to go back to work in Shaft No. 4 so he can feed his family himself. He also wants to sell the bar. In bed Christa moves closer to him, but he asks her: "Just give me some time, Christa."
At work Paul learns that his boss wants him to cover the world cup of soccer in Switzerland. Of course, his wife Annette is already packing for their honeymoon trip. When Paul gets home he immediately tells his wife that they have to cancel their honeymoon since his boss is sending him to cover the world cup. He says he's been given the chance of a lifetime. Annette is furious and asks Paul if soccer is more important to him that his honeymoon? He remains silent. She thinks about it and then tells Paul that he can go, but under one condition. She's going with him.
Mattes is sad when he learns that he is not going to Switzerland with Helmut. Helmut says it's just not possible and, anyway, what would his father say? Mattes says he wishes Helmut was his father. Helmut replies: "Don't ever say that, Mattes. Your father went through a lot." He adds that things will get better at home gradually.
Television covers the world cup and Mattes can see film of Helmut practicing with the German national team. At work Richard is welcomed by his colleagues. Things have changed a bit in the mine and Richard is going to have to learn some new things. Richard starts to panic and runs. The other miners grab him and take him down.
The German soccer coach says his guys are a bit out of shape, so he has them all do push-ups. Then he gives them a little talk. At the end he sends one of the players home because he is smoking on the sly. When the coach sits down by his assistant coach, the assistant asks his boss if he wasn't a little hard on the soccer player? Coach says the guy can stay, but he wants the team to know that their coach means business.
Bruno plays rock-n'-roll music with the band for a dance. Ingrid is dancing rock-n'-roll style when she sees her father standing by a door just staring at her. She knows she has to go home with him. Bruno sees what's going on. Ingrid is mad at her father and says she wasn't doing anything wrong. Dad says as long as she lives in his house, she will have to follow the rules. And now she's burning mad and walks ahead of her father.
After school, the two temporary soccer captains are picking sides and poor Mattes is not only the last to be picked, but the two captains fight over who has to take him. Even Carola got picked before him. Dad starts to watch the match. Mattes is small and has a hard time getting into the mix. When a team scores a goal Mattes retrieves the ball and sees his father. His father looks disappointed in him. He says nothing. Dad just gets up from a crouching position and leaves. So, now Mattes even feels smaller now thanks to insensitive dad. (Oh, the streets in the area are covered with coal dust and small pieces of coal.)
After the game Mattes comes to talk with his father about soccer. This time dad is not so bad and he tells Mattes that he is a better defensive player than an offensive player, so he should specialize in defense.
Training Camp Spiez. The German national team checks into its hotel in Switzerland. Helmut asks his roommate Frederich if the coach will let him play against the Turks? The guy says yes, but Helmut says that teammate Berni Klodt is in really good shape and coach might pick him. Frederich agrees with Helmut on that statement too. As Frederich goes for a shower, Helmut says to himself: "What a strange guy."
Paul and Annette arrive at their hotel room. They really have a lot of space in the room. Paul starts to get to work at the typewriter, while Annette cuddles his neck from behind.
Richard goes to church. He watches as Mattes pays for a candle, lights it, sets it down, says a very short prayer and leaves.
Opening Round, Germany vs. Turkey. Instead of Helmut, Berni Klodt gets chosen by the coach to play against the Turks. Meanwhile, Mattes is playing great defensive ball. Carola tells him he played a great game and Mattes bursts out in a big smile.
At the compensation board, the clerk tells Richard that he did not have 11 years and 4 months in service. He was found guilty of theft and sabotage and was sentenced to an extra five years. He will not be given compensation for those five years. Richard explains that they stole some brown sugar to prevent their starving to death. The clerk says that doesn't change anything. Richard asks him if he knows how many German soldiers starved to death? He gives the answer himself: "Hundreds of thousands!" The clerk says that he didn't make the rules. He starts to say that Richard should be happy . . .., but Richard is so infuriated that he says the clerk should be happy that he was never in Russia and happy that he (Richard) doesn't beat the clerk's face into a pulp. Richard gets up and leaves.
Opening Round, Germany vs. Hungary. At the family tavern the customers are watching the soccer game on television. Mattes goes and sits by his father. Richard says that he saw Mattes in church and he asks who did he light a candle for? Mattes says it's for Helmut Rahn. The coach isn't playing Helmut in the game, so he thought a prayer might help Helmut. Dad takes Mattes outside to the back of the tavern to scold him for abusing the church to get something material for some ball player. He tells Mattes to go home and think about what church means. Matte starts to protest, but his dad slaps him across the face and tells him to get going. And don't cry! German boys don't cry!
Bruno comes out and asks his father what's going on? Dad says it's none of his business. The guy is just too harsh and strict with his children and he is alienating them from him. When Bruno asks dad why can't he at least ask a question, dad tells him: "Shut up and get inside!"
Mattes is back in the rabbit hutch with his bunnies. He tells his bunnies: "I wish he'd never come back!" Bruno and two friends sneak out in the night.
Laying in bed, Annette has to listen to Paul complain that the 8-3 loss to Hungary was a disgrace and all Herberger's fault. Annette says she thinks that Herberger is just saving his best players for the game against Turkey.
Paul and Annette are dancing in a club when Paul sees three German players come in for a drink. Paul mentions that the coach wouldn't allow his team members to go out drinking. They dance a little closer to the soccer players to listen in on their conversation. The three are very disappointed at the way the game went and they say they are going to drink their anger away.
In the top bunk of the bunk, Mattes can't sleep. He turns on his bed light, gets dressed, takes his suitcase and walks down to the train station.
Paul and Annette help a drunken Helmut to a bed. They walk him over to the steps of his hotel and then leave him there. The coach watches from the patio. Coach starts to go back up to his room, but the proprietor lady asks him please not to walk on her just washed floor. So he sits and talks with the woman. She has nine children, but coach says he has twenty-two and one of them is causing him a lot of problems. And now he has to punish him and two other teammates. The older woman tell coach: "Rubbish! You aren't in Germany now. You don't always have to punish 'em."
Helmut finally crashes onto his hotel bed. His roommate asks him if he's crazy because the coach is going to send him back to the hotel room. Frederich even asks if Helmut is for or against the German team? This makes Helmut mad and he shouts that, of course, he's for the team. Frederich only says: "Good."
In the morning Mattes is still sleeping on one of the depot benches. His father comes and gets him. He pulls Mattes back home by the boy's right ear. Dad grounds Mattes for a week. On top of that dad whips Mattes with his belt. Mother hears the sound of the belt against bare skin and runs downstairs screaming for Richard to stop it! While mom and dad yell at each other, Mattes runs to his room. Richard says his wife is against him, as well as the children. He starts blaming his wife for the rotten kids. Mom stands up to dad and says that Mattes tried to run away because of him. She strikes out against dad by telling him of all the sacrifices she had to make and all her accomplishments, and now he comes around and runs everything down in order to put things "right" again. Before his return, she had a happy family, but now all the children are upset and sad. Moreover, dad never compliments his children on their real accomplishments. And now she really hits him with a: "You're the least disciplined of us all!" The man is self-centered and doesn't really care for his real children. Dad gets angry and walks out.
Coach holds a press conference and the reporters really criticize him. The coach stays calm and sloughs off the questions.
June 23, 1954. Germany vs. Turkey in the decisive match. The coach gives the lineup to his team. Again Helmut is not playing. Coach reads to his players several nasty letters he received from fans. When he finishes he just tells his players: "Now get out there!"
Mattes is grounded, so outside on the sidewalk Carola writes the score on a piece of cardboard and holds it up for him to see it. It's 7-2 in favor of Germany.
Coach anguishes over the decision of whether or not to put Helmut into the game. He asks the team captain Fritz what he thinks and he says both Bertie and Helmut are good. It seems though that he is leaning a bit toward Helmut this time since the match coming up with Yugoslavia is going to be more of a defensives game compared to the game with Turkey.
Quarter final. Germany vs. Yugoslavia. June 27, 1954. Bruno comes in and sets a radio down on Mattes' desk. Mattes is very excited about being at least able to hear the game. He hears the announcer say that Helmut Rahn is playing forward. The guys are interrupted by sister saying that it's dinner time and they better come down. Dad prepared a delicious meal and the females praise his efforts. It looks like dad might be trying to turn over a new leaf. He says it's mother's birthday, but since he was gone so long, he has presents for everyone. He makes some big points with Mattes when he gives him a soccer ball. Mattes goes out to show the ball to his bunnies, but they are gone. He asks the neighbor if he saw what happened to his rabbits? The neighbor gives him a hint by saying isn't it your mother's birthday? He opens the garbage can and sees his two bunnies inside. He screams bloody murder and runs someplace he can be alone.
Dad is in hot water with the entire family. Dad says that he thought mom bought the rabbits at the market, but he would have had to see those bunnies in that big rabbit hutch of theirs. Bruno just keeps shaking his head at his father. Dad tells him to stop that and when they get into an argument he slaps Bruno across the face. Mother finally finds Mattes out by the river. She has the soccer ball with her, but Mattes says he no longer wants the ball. She offers to buy Mattes two rabbits, but Mattes says: "I never want rabbits again." He asks his mother if dad was always so mean. She says that dad has not been the same for 12 years now. Mom now says that the whole family has to help father to get better with a little understanding and care.
Germany defeats Yugoslavia 2-0. The press gives the coach a hard time again. And coach handles it very well.
At night Mattes sees that now it's Bruno who is running away. Mattes asks him why and Bruno tells him it's never going to work between him and papa. Besides, he wants to get out into the world and do something meaningful. He naively wants to go to East Berlin where he says everyone is equal. He says there's freedom of speech in East Berlin. And he hears that East Germany needs musicians. Mattes asks him not to go. Bruno says Mattes is the best man in the family and he knows he can count on him. He tells Mattes to take this letter to mom and dad, but don't give it to them for a week because he hopes to be long gone by that time.
Richard now goes to talk to his priest. For a little while they talk about the match coming up with Austria for the semi-finals. The priest has good news for Richard. He is not alone. Most of the former POWs are having a hard time adjusting to being back home. He has spoken with a lot of them with Richard's problem. Many of the former POWs are ashamed of having been in prison and try to act very tough so no one sees the suffering they had to go through and the bad affects on them of the imprisonment.
Richard walks home and sees an old beat up soccer ball. He starts kicking the ball around. He is actually still good at soccer.
Dad finally opens up a little with his youngest son about his experience in a POW prison. He says neither they or the Russians ever had enough to eat. You see the German army had destroyed most of their land and there just wasn't enough to eat. He could actually get his hand around his thigh. Mom and sis listen to the whole story. Dad says that he stopped thinking about his family after awhile and just counted the winters. He did think a lot about food. But, more importantly for the family, dad admits he did Mattes wrong. He says everything here seems so strange and he doesn't know how to act anymore. And he chased Bruno away. Mom and Mattes tell him that Bruno was itching to leave anyway and would have done so without dad being here. Mom says that there are still three people here who all need him.
Semi-final. Austria vs. Germany, 1-6.
Outside Mattes and the boys play soccer.
Annette actually is taking a positive interest now in soccer. She says she was just childish before about the game. Now she wants to know who do they play for the championship? They have to play Hungary again. Paul is doubtful that the Germans will win. Annette objects to that negative attitude, so they bet. If the Germans win, Annette gets to name all their children. If the Hungarians win, Paul gets to name the children.
Coach gives an interview to a journalist. The man asks the coach if he really thinks his team has a chance against Hungary? Coach candidly says if the weather is sunny, the Hungarians will win, but if the weather is a bit wet, the German will win. The Germans will win because team captain Fritz Walter plays the best in wet weather.
Dad takes Mattes for a ride. He is taking him to Bern, Switzerland to see the final game. July 4, 1954.
Coach goes over the game plan with his team. He has studied the defeat at the hands of Hungary and has discovered several weaknesses in the other team's game. Player Bozsik is too offensive -- he leaves big holes open. They will make use of that wide open space. He says the real threat in the game is the Hungarian player Hidegkuti for he is the man that runs their game. To stop them they have to go after Hidegkuti. Coach says they have a chance of beating the Hungarians, who know the German weaknesses, but not their true strength. The Hungarians don't know that the Germans are strong enough to beat them.
The team is hoping for some rain and as they get ready to get on the bus it starts raining. They have smiles on their faces now. Dad's car is acting up and is going very slowly. The teams come out onto the field. The stadium listens to the two national anthems. The Hungarians score the first goal and the second. Dad and Mattes are still on the highway. He tells Mattes to close his eyes and imagine he is in the stadium watching the game. Germany finally gets a goal. And now it's tied up 2-2.
At half-time the German players are scolding each other for their bad plays. The coach has to tell them to stop it. He says: "Haven't you realized it yet? We can be world champions!" At half-time, dad and Mattes take a break to urinate by the side of the road in the wide open mountains. Dad apologizes about the rabbits. He says he just want to have something good to eat for mother's birthday.
The game is beginning again. Germany's goals were by Morlock and Rahn. The German goalie is really playing well and is the best man on defense. Dad lets off Mattes by the stadium. Matte goes around and gets in through a window. He gets onto the field. The ball comes rolling up to his feet and he picks it up and throws it to Helmut, who is amazed to see the young lad here. Now Rahn scores another goal.
One minute is left in the game. They start the play and the whistle blows before anyone can get really close to the goal. The Germans are ecstatic. In the tavern back home the guys are all hurrahing and celebrating. On the field Fritz Walter receives the trophy for winning the World Cup.
Singen Station two days later. Paul and Annette are stuck in a huge crowd of people waiting for the arrival of Helmut Rahn. Annette tells Paul that she is pregnant and feels like it's going to be a boy. Paul is so happy that he throws his press pass up in the air. He and Annette are going to celebrate on their own. The pass lands by Mattes's feet. He picks it up and then gives it to dad. The train comes in to a terrific reception for the team. Dad and Mattes are able to get on the train thanks to the press pass. Mattes has two cold beers in his hands and gives them to Helmut. He says that he knew that Helmut couldn't win without him. Helmut says that's right. That's right and wasn't he (Helmut) right? Helmut puts the two guys in an empty compartment and says he will be right back. He shares one of his beers with the coach.
Mattes asks his father what he thinks of Helmut. Dad says: "Nobody's as good as he is." Mattes corrects his father: "You are." And now Mattes gives to his father the letter from Bruno to his parents. Dad reads it and starts crying. He says that Bruno writes that the family can visit him anytime. Mattes comforts him. Dad laughs at himself for crying like a kid. Mattes tells him: "I think German kids can cry now and then." They stay on the train with the team.
"One year later the last POWs returned home. At the same time the German economic miracle began. The Bern team never played together again."
Good movie about two themes. The return of German POWs from Russia and the men's adjustment back to normal society and the German national soccer team's struggle to win the world cup in 1954. There is also a story about sportswriter Paul and his wife Annette who are newlyweds and Paul's need to be away to see the soccer and other games. The re-adjustment to normal society after having been through a war and imprisonment or just war alone is usually about the same regardless if the person going through re-adjustment is German, American or Iranian. These men have serious mental problems. Some have post-traumatic stress disorder, which Richard probably doesn't have. But even if they don't have PTSD, the men are still going to have significant problems about getting used to a new routine. Like Richard says in the film, he doesn't know how to act back home. The soccer part of the story is pretty good too as Germany has a good year. Paul and Annette also make a cute couple.
Patrick Louis Cooney, Ph. D.
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