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IN HEAVEN, UNDERGROUND goes inside remarkable Jewish cemetery in Berlin

IN HEAVEN, UNDERGROUND (Britta Wauer, 2011)
Cinema Village
22 East 12th St. between University Pl. & Fifth Ave.
November 18-24

The main character in Britta Wauer’s charming documentary, In Heaven, Underground: The Weissensee Jewish Cemetery, is described by one man in the film as “a tropical forest with stones,” and it is quite a beautiful one at that. Opened in 1880, the Weissensee Jewish Cemetery in east Berlin is the longest and largest continuously in-operation Jewish burial ground in Europe, currently home to more than 115,000 graves spread across one hundred gorgeous acres of trees and greenery. Combining archival footage, photographs, and new interviews, Wauer (Gerda’s Silence, A Hero’s Death) goes inside the cemetery and the many fascinating characters associated with it, each with a unique story to tell, from octogenarian rabbi William Wolff, who conducts services at the cemetery, to bricklayer Harry Kindermann, who has worked there since he was a child and met his first love there. Art classes come there to make grave rubbings, family members arrive searching for long-deceased relatives (the cemetery has meticulous records identifying every single person buried there), aviary experts climb trees to track birds of prey, men and women wander the many paths seeking to reconnect with their Jewish past, and German military officers regularly provide cleanup help, determined to maintain the dignity of each grave. There are at least 115,000 stories in Weissensee, so although Wauer can’t of course tell them all, she does an excellent job of delving into some of the key tales, including how this remarkable place has survived and thrived, particularly during the Holocaust. Lovingly shot by Kaspar Köpke and featuring a playful score by Karim Sebastian Elias that evokes Hollywood romantic comedies, In Heaven, Underground is a delightfully upbeat look at death.

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