Berlin Calling

Year: 2008 | Director: Hannes Stöhr | Language: German (with English subtitles)


Berlin Calling is a film which epitomises the cool, hedonistic Berlin which emerged in the mid to late 00s. It tells the story of DJ Ikcarus (played by real life Berlin DJ Paul Kalkbrenner), who struggles to deal with his life as a successful international DJ. When not touring the world, Ikcarus lives a hedonistic life of drug excess and all night parties, a situation which begins to impact on both his work and relationship, and eventually leads him to have a massive mental breakdown. Yet his time in hospital gives Ikcarus the space to both reassess his lifestyle and begin to come to terms with the contemporary city his life is so entwined with.


Ikcarus is used in the film as a symbol for modern-day Berlin youth culture. The city has built much of its ‘cool’ cachet in recent years on its hedonistic day long (if not weekend long) parties, which attract thrill-seeking young people from around the world. However the depiction of this party scene in the film highlights the superficial nature of such a lifestyle, and so (much as Ickarus’s name suggests) Berlin’s post-unification reinvention of itself as a hedonistic mecca lacks a solid foundation.

The film may avoid the images of rebuilding which littered post-unification Berlin cinema for year’s after the fall of the Wall (see Stöhr’s debut feature Berlin is in Germany), but Ikcarus’s identity crisis is very much linked to unification. We learn through the film that he is a child of unification, who came of age in the city’s infamous clubs of the 1990s. Similarly it is no coincidence that Ikcarus suffers his breakdown in front of one of the last remaining stretches of the Wall.

The film suggests that the crux of Ikcarus’s problems lies in his inability to reconcile his international lifestyle with his more local identity as a Berliner. His wardrobe throughout the film consists solely of different international football jerseys. Yet at the same time he struggles to build meaningful relationships with his friends and family. This comes to a head during his recovery, as the film shows that the time spent in the hospital gives Ikcarus time to reassess and reconnect with the city around him. He begins to use Berlin street sounds in his music and, in one pivotal scene, we see Ikcarus listening to this music on the roof of the hospital, with the city laid out beyond him, giving us visual confirmation of this reconnection.

However the narrative also suggests that Ikcarus’s new found connection to the city remains fragile. A wire fence still lies between him and the city whilst he is in hospital. Similarly the film ends with a montage of world flags and an airport scene which hints that separation still exists between the new global city and Berlin’s more local and unique identity.

Key City Sights

Clubs and bars around Wrangelkiez, East Side Gallery, Berlin S-Bahn

Further reading

Lost and Sound: Berlin, Techno und der Easyjetset, Tobias Rapp (2009)

Strobo, Airen (2010)

Similar films

Chillout, Julieta, Am Himmel der Tag, Berlin am Meer


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