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Film / Kolberg

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Kolberg is a 1945 film made in Nazi Germany, directed by Veit Harlan.

It centers around the 1807 siege of the East Prussian town of Kolbergnote  during the War of the Fourth Coalition, part of The Napoleonic Wars. France has just won a crushing victory against the army of Prussia at the battle of Jena, October 14, 1806. As Napoleon and his armies march into Prussia, confusion reigns and the people are left unsure what to do. Joachim Nettelbeck, mayor of the coastal town of Kolberg, insists on fighting to the last against the French invaders. However, Nettelbeck faces a great deal of resistance. Many citizens of Kolberg have become defeatists, arguing for surrender to Napoleon after the defeat at Jena. General Loucadou, the military commander at Kolberg, jealously guards his privileges and refuses to cooperate with Nettelbeck's plans to rally the population of the town to fight the French. Nettelbeck perseveres, eventually appealing to the King of Prussia for aid.

Kolberg is the most expensive film of the Nazi era, and one of the oddest. Joseph Goebbels ordered the production of a propaganda film celebrating the bravery of ordinary Germans fighting against invaders, as armies were entering Germany from both east and west. For this, he employed 100 train cars desperately needed for military transport to haul salt to the film set to simulate snow, and used perhaps 5,000 soldiers as extras.note 

And it was all for nothing. By the time the film was ready for release in early 1945, Nazi Germany was collapsing. Less than 2 months after its release, the real city of Kolberg was razed to the ground by the Red Army, and its residents fled rather than fighting to the last man. Goebbels didn't let reality interfere with propaganda, and insisted that Kolberg was fighting on just like in his film. Kolberg was shown sporadically in a few Berlin theaters in the last couple months of the war, and is said to have been brought to the besieged German pocket of La Rochelle in France by a submarine. Nowadays, like many Nazi era propaganda films, this movie has been declared a ''Vorbehaltsfilm'' in Germany which may only be played for educational purposes under certain circumstances and with an introduction as to what the propaganda tried to achieve with this movie.


  • Artistic License History: The French army retires from Kolberg after suffering enormous casualties. In reality the siege of Kolberg didn't end until the Treaty of Tilsit ended the war, on very bad terms for the Prussians.
  • As You Know: Joachim helpfully reminding Maria that her father died after setting fire to his own house to deny it to the French.
  • Blade-of-Grass Cut: A closeup of Kolberg farmers harvesting wheat.
  • Epic Movie: Grand battle scenes and the proverbial "cast of thousands", all shot in Agfacolor, the UFA process that rivaled Technicolor.
  • Framing Device: The film opens in 1813 during the "War of Liberation" against Napoleon, as Count Gneisenau is trying to get King Frederick William to declare war on France. As Gneisenau is extolling the virtues of a civilian army, the film jumps back to 1806.
  • Headbutt of Love: Friedrich gives his sister Maria an icky one. See Incest Subtext below.
  • Historical Domain Character: Many, including Napoleon, Prussian King Frederick William III, Count August Neidhardt von Gneisenau and Joachim Nettelbeck.
  • Incest Subtext: A pretty creepy scene in which Maria's brother Friedrich, while giving her a Headbutt of Love, says that he's never loved anyone like he loves her, and promises to replace her lover Schill in her life.
    "When Schill is gone, you'll have me. I'll be everything to you."
  • Kid Amid the Chaos: Maria rescues an adorable child who was separated from his family when their village is shelled by the vicious French.
  • Leaning on the Fourth Wall: Lots, as Goebbels was trying to drive home a propaganda message about resistance to the Allies. The slogan being sung by the marchers in the opening scene—"The people rise, the storm breaks loose!", which comes from a patriotic poem by Prussian writer and soldier Theodor Körner (who died at war in 1813, incidentally)—was actually Goebbels' slogan for total war.
  • Leitmotif: The tune of Maria's song "Das Jahr ist halb vergangen" is her leitmotif.
  • New Year Has Come: Nettelbeck is in no mood to celebrate New Year's 1807, what with the French rampaging through Prussia.
  • The Place: The Prussian town of Kolberg. Which since 1945 has become the Polish town of Kołobrzeg.
  • The Quisling:
    • Golomow the wealthy businessman urges surrender to the French because he doesn't want his property to be damaged.
    • Maria's brother Klaus drinks to the health of Napoleon, much to his sister's disgust. Later, Klaus the coward can't bring himself to fight the French.
  • Royal "We": Francis II, emperor of Austria, uses it while announcing his abdication.
  • The Siege: The Prussian defense of Kolberg in 1807.