Through morning fog and blocks of monolithic concrete it makes its way to a neon-lit destination of tiled walls and floors, the Berlin U-bahn subway system used by workers, businessmen, families, students playing truant, wealthy and poor, drunkards, beggars, troublemakers, conspiracy theorists and pickup artists, badly behaved children and their frustrated parents, and alongside them a teenage girl riding the Linie 1, lost and helpless and asking for the way to Kreuzberg.
Giving a different name to anyone who asks her but searching for pop star Johnnie who promised he would meet her and they would be together, instead she ends up at the station for the Zoologischer Garten in the wrong part of the city, harassed and harangued by the variety of people who travel the subway, a cross-section of the sad and desperate population of a divided city caught on the frontier of two cold empires.
Regarded as one of the most successful German musicals of all time, originally staged at Berlin’s Grips Theatre in 1986 with music by Birger Heymann and the book written by Volker Ludwig, Linie 1 was adapted into film in 1988 by director Reinhard Hauff who ported over the majority of the stage cast, supplemented by additional dancers and singers, only replacing Sunnie with newcomer Inka Groetschel, feeling that the current lead could not convince as a teenager without the suspension of disbelief accepted in theatre.
Linie 1 the product of a society economically and culturally deprived, the underground transit system represents the underground subcultures of Berlin, the fellow travellers Sunnie meets sharply divided between those who are rude and dismissive, hiding their faces behind newspapers, and those who want something from her, seeking to take advantage of her innocence and naivete, while ticket inspectors prowl carriages seeking fare dodgers and the Wilmersdorf Widows sing of the good old days of the Weimar, and inevitably the skinheads arrive to cause trouble for everyone.
Running almost nine kilometres straight across the city through thirteen stations, the nature of the U-Bahn would imply linear motion but less a narrative progression than series of vignettes as each musical number is presented, Sunnie more a witness than a participant, and at times Linie 1 borders on incoherent in the seemingly random derailments from logic despite remaining resolutely realist other than one brief dream sequence when a more fantastical approach might better express the hopes of these frustrated people to escape from their mundane and disappointing lives.
Screened as the opening night film of the Berlin Film Festival upon original release and now in service again as part of StudioCanal’s Cult Classics collection, the new edition of Linie 1 contains interviews with Petra Zieser (depressed Lumpi, insurance administrator Titti and Bisi, too cool for school) and Rainer Strecker (Lumpi’s mournful friend Kleister) as well as producer Eberhard Junkersdorf and director Reinhard Hauff, discussing the conception, production, reception and legacy of the show and its film adaptation.
Linie 1 is available on Blu-ray and DVD from StudioCanal now