Things can move slowly in Germany and Berlin. Especially things having to do with “the war” and the Nazi past.
The German-born film actress Marlene Dietrich falls into this category. Some Germans (the dumb ones) still view Dietrich as a traitor to Germany. They fail to grasp the big difference between being anti-Hitler and being anti-German. Dietrich, working in Hollywood in the 1930s and ’40s, refused to support the Nazis. She became an American citizen and entertained US troops. Her return to West Germany in 1960 drew a mixed reception. She was cheered and jeered. Later she said famously: “The Germans and I no longer speak the same language.” But after she died in self-imposed exile in Paris in 1992, Dietrich was buried in Berlin, at her request. In 1993 Berlin purchased her vast memorabilia collection for the film museum there for $5 million.
But Germany’s capital city has been slow to honor its native daughter, even in death. Although the US awarded Dietrich the Presidential Medal of Freedom in 1947, it was not until after she died in 1992 that her fellow Berliners acknowledged her by placing a small plaque on the building at Leberstraße 65 where she had been born in Berlin-Schöneberg. In 1997 Germany issued a postage stamp bearing Dietrich’s portrait.
Several proposals to name a Berlin street in her honor led nowhere. (Apparently Berliners think “Liver Street” sounds better than Marlene Dietrich Street!) It took the entirely new construction for the revitalized Potsdamer Platz in 1997-1998 before Berlin could muster the courage to name a small square for her – five years after her demise. (But still no street.) Marlene-Dietrich-Platz was it for another five years until Dietrich was made an honorary citizen of Berlin on May 16, 2002 – a decade after her death. As I said, things can move slowly in Berlin.
But in 2010 Marlene Dietrich and many of her German-speaking cinema colleagues will shared another honor from Berlin. In conjunction with the 60th Berlinale film festival, the creation of a new “Boulevard of the Stars” – a Berlin version of Hollywood’s Walk of Fame – was announced. According to a February news release, “Dietrich is one of 40 actors, directors, composers and scriptwriters who will be honored on the ‘Walk’ when it is unveiled in full late this summer near Berlin’s film museum on Potsdamer Strasse.” But to kick things off, on February 12, 2010, film festival director Dieter Kosslick and Berlin mayor Klaus Wowereit unveiled the very first bronze star, for Dietrich. (See photo above.) The nearby Film Museum Berlin already features a permanent Dietrich exhibition, based on its huge collection of items from her estate.
But not even Berlin’s Boulevard of the Stars is without controversy. This time the objections have nothing to do with Dietrich herself or any of the other proposed honorees. No, this time a Berlin interest group for public transport passengers claims the Berlin “Walk of Fame” will interfere with a planned streetcar line that is supposed to carry passengers between Alexanderplatz and Potsdamer Platz. The streetcar plan was approved by the Berlin Senate in 2007. Critics want the Boulevard of the Stars moved to a different location in the Potsdamer Platz area. But the proposed tram line may not be realized for another 10 years, if then. (I told you, things move slowly in Berlin.) Currently the “Walk” and Dietrich’s star are on Potsdamer Straße, as planned.
Dietrich got her star on Hollywood Boulevard in 1960, when the Walk of Fame was first inaugurated and the German actress/songstress was still very much alive. Interestingly, the Hollywood Walk of Fame is celebrating its 50th year this month. The Hollywood Walk of Fame began with 2,500 blank stars. More than two-thirds of them were filled in with awards during the first two years. In contrast to the Berlin copy, the original Walk was designed by one person: southern California artist Oliver Weismuller. (Berlin’s “Boulevard” was designed by the team of GRAFT and ART+COM.) Weismuller’s “Walk” was an effort to give the decaying Hollywood district a much-needed face lift. By 2005, more than 2,400 of the original 2,500 stars were filled, at an average rate of two per month. The latest Walk of Fame star, for former Beatles drummer Ringo Starr, was unveiled on February 8, 2010, the 50th anniversary to the day on which construction first began on the famed landmark. Appropriately, his star is next to the iconic Capitol Records Tower at Hollywood and Vine. Starr: “I want to thank Capitol Records. It’s nice to look at a building that you helped pay for.” (The Beatles group first got a star in 1998.)
The Berlin walk of fame proposal dates back to 2004, but financial issues forced organizers to delay the project. The estimated cost for the Boulevard of the Stars is about one million euros, a considerable sum for the cash-strapped city-state of Berlin. However, Berlin’s walk of fame will feature something the original in Hollywood doesn’t offer: interactive “Pepper’s Ghost Cameras” that allow visitors to take a photo of themselves standing next to a ghost-like image of their favorite star. (It’s all done with mirrors – and digital imaging.) Each 48-cm (19-inch) wide brass star will bear the honoree’s name, date of birth/death, and signature.
The question remains… Will Berlin’s asphalt red carpet of stars become a real tourist draw or just a weak imitation of the original? Only time will tell. But half a century after she got her Hollywood Walk of Fame star, Dietrich finally got another on Berlin’s Boulevard of the Stars.