One and a half moving hours pass, during which you don’t miss him a bit. But then it still sounds in Lutz Pehnert’s film biography, Bettina Wegner’s hit “Kinder” from 1979. The children’s rights anthem, which – although written in East Berlin – breathes the anti-authoritarian spirit of West Berlin’s children’s shops, is covered by none other than Joan Baez. The US political bard, with whom Bettina Wegner was actually supposed to perform in the Berlin Waldbühne after her expatriation from the GDR in 1983.
73-year-old Bettina Wegner tells the film on the concert stage that she hasn’t sung the song for years. Understandable. Which artist wants to go down in history as “the one with the small hands”? But then she heard “Sin so klein Biere” for the first time, the fun version of a punk band. She reconciled that with her own song. “I’m a punk fan!” she calls out to the audience. And she has a sense of humor too. Neither of these things were suspected around 1980, when their albums “Sind so kleine Hände” and “Unfortunately I’m sad anyway” were also circulating in the West among high school students with an affinity for songwriting. It didn’t seem to fit at all with the moral imperative that characterizes Bettina Wegner’s songs.
In “Bettina”, the film portrait dedicated to her, which was already celebrated at the Berlinale, she sings “Children” solo. Her age voice has lost some of its anger and fury, but that doesn’t hurt. The fighter with the guitar always had enough of that.
Pehnert’s homage tells a history-rich German-German life. Film excerpts and photos of the young musician show a harsh beauty who, with the melancholic, veiled look of a doubter, does not go well with the hit love songs that she sang at the beginning of her career in the sixties.
Born in Berlin-Lichterfelde in 1947, Bettina’s parents are communists. The family moves to East Berlin. Bettina’s life as a “critical socialist” in the GDR seems predetermined after winning talent competitions and studying acting and singing. Only that the GDR perceives the freedom of thought and speech propagated by Wegner in her texts as a threat. The artist has a much too rigorous, fearless character.
After the Warsaw Pact countries invaded Czechoslovakia, she distributed protest flyers and was arrested. The GDR put her on trial and sentenced her for “anti-state agitation”. The audio recording of her interrogation by a public prosecutor, together with the interview passages of today’s Wegner, is one of the strongest elements of the film, which is rich in material and nevertheless edited with epic breath.
Illustrated with photos, the gentle voice of a young woman resounds, who appears unwaveringly courageous in the face of state violence. She is sentenced to “probation in production”, i.e. factory work. She is a single, young mother, the father of the child is Thomas Brasch.
Nevertheless, in the 1970s she managed to work as a singer-songwriter again in the state that made life difficult for her as an artist, although she loved it like a home. Together with her husband, the writer Klaus Schlesinger, she founds a series of events that are repeatedly banned.
When she protests against Wolf Biermann’s expatriation, the pressure increases. From 1980 she was only allowed to sing “with a passport” outside of the GDR, where there was an unspoken professional ban. In 1983, the GDR forced her to leave completely.
Since then, Bettina Wegner has lived in Frohnau, where today, as a curious symbol of political absurdities, an S-Bahn line, revived after reunification, runs through her garden. Here in the west, even after decades, it’s still “over there,” she says. She has remained homeless and uprooted ever since. The director Bettina Wegner borrowed his narrative structure from the song “Gebot”, whose verses “Stand tall when others are sitting / Shout louder when others are silent / Not sinking into prosperity / Solidarity with the weak”. turned into subtitles.
Her two strongest songs can also be heard in the original material: the burning ballad “For my departed friends”, in which she addresses the grief over the emigration of artists from the GDR. And the emancipated sigh “Oh, if only I had come into this world as a man”.
With her songs, her attitude, Lutz Pehnert makes it very clear in “Bettina”, she is one of the greats of political-poetic songwriting. As a musical kindred spirit of Wader, Degenhardt, Biermann and also Rio Reiser; the anger about social inadequacies and the Human love always in view.