Poetry and music from the film ‘Wings of Desire’ (Der Himmel uber Berlin)

Poetry and music from the film 'Wings of Desire' (Der Himmel uber Berlin)

One of my favourite films of all time is the Wim Wenders film The Wings of Desire known in German as Der Himmel uber Berlin. It won the Best Film at Cannes in 1987.

Some of the magic  of this film comes from the music (Nick Cave, U2), the acting (Bruno Ganz, Solveig Dommartin) and also from the poetry (Peter Handke) which is scattered throughout the film. The German poet Peter Handke is responsible for some of this evocative poetry, which is haunting and stays with you, lulling you into a dreamy state between sleep and waking.

I have never found German to be particularly pleasing to the ear, but this film made me love the sound of the language and to hear its beauty. Here are some of Peter Handke’s poems from the film along with excerpts from the film. I hope you enjoy them and are inspired to watch the entire film, Wings of Desire is a masterpiece.

Song of Childhood By Peter Handke

 

When the child was a child
It walked with its arms swinging,
wanted the brook to be a river,
the river to be a torrent,
and this puddle to be the sea.

When the child was a child,
it didn’t know that it was a child,
everything was soulful,
and all souls were one.

When the child was a child,
it had no opinion about anything,
had no habits,
it often sat cross-legged,
took off running,
had a cowlick in its hair,
and made no faces when photographed.

Poetry and music from the film 'Wings of Desire' (Der Himmel uber Berlin)

When the child was a child,
It was the time for these questions:
Why am I me, and why not you?
Why am I here, and why not there?
When did time begin, and where does space end?
Is life under the sun not just a dream?
Is what I see and hear and smell
not just an illusion of a world before the world?
Given the facts of evil and people.
does evil really exist?
How can it be that I, who I am,
didn’t exist before I came to be,
and that, someday, I, who I am,
will no longer be who I am?

When the child was a child,
It choked on spinach, on peas, on rice pudding,
and on steamed cauliflower,
and eats all of those now, and not just because it has to.

When the child was a child,
it awoke once in a strange bed,
and now does so again and again.
Many people, then, seemed beautiful,
and now only a few do, by sheer luck.

It had visualized a clear image of Paradise,
and now can at most guess,
could not conceive of nothingness,
and shudders today at the thought.

Poetry and music from the film 'Wings of Desire' (Der Himmel uber Berlin)

When the child was a child,
It played with enthusiasm,
and, now, has just as much excitement as then,
but only when it concerns its work.

When the child was a child,
It was enough for it to eat an apple, … bread,
And so it is even now.

When the child was a child,
Berries filled its hand as only berries do,
and do even now,
Fresh walnuts made its tongue raw,
and do even now,
it had, on every mountaintop,
the longing for a higher mountain yet,
and in every city,
the longing for an even greater city,
and that is still so,
It reached for cherries in topmost branches of trees
with an elation it still has today,
has a shyness in front of strangers,
and has that even now.
It awaited the first snow,
And waits that way even now.

Poetry and music from the film 'Wings of Desire' (Der Himmel uber Berlin)

When the child was a child,
It threw a stick like a lance against a tree,
And it quivers there still today.

Motorcycle Accident – Wings of Desire

Bruno Ganz plays a lonely angel who roams the streets of Berlin and provides comfort to mortals in need. In this scene, he materialises on the street to attend a motorcycle accident and remind a dying man of the eternal memories in his psyche, and perhaps of collective memories. These are beautiful moments, sublime voices and images.

Wings of Desire – Music by U2 and Nick Cave

Wim Wenders, the film’s director, is known for using evocative music in film as well. He famously used Nick Cave the Bad Seeds in a scene of the film (the band were living in Berlin at the time). U2 also recorded one of their most underrated songs ‘Faraway (So Close) for the film as well. For the band themselves, this song has still remained a solid favourite and a classic and yet is still one of the lesser known U2 songs of the 80’s.

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