I last saw my friend Harun Farocki a few days before the opening of his exhibition at the Hamburger Bahnhof in late January 2014. Astonishingly, this was his first major one-person show in Berlin, a city that he called home and that had shaped his intellectual and artistic sensibility for over half a century. “I should have been born in Berlin,” he muses in his autobiographical “Written Trailers” (2009). Farocki was initially drawn to West Berlin in the early 1960s because the island city had been spared the Wirtschaftswunder (economic miracle) of the 1950s that had reshaped the rest of West Germany. It retained a forlorn rawness, a sense of bohemia, and a countercultural public sphere that attracted hippies, draft dodgers, political outcasts, and artists of all kinds. Farocki was a member of the first Deutsche Film und Fernsehakademie (Berlin Film Academy) class, along with Helke Sander, Holger Meins, and Wolfgang Petersen. He lived in a commune, wrote criticism, and produced relatively obscure agitprop films such as Herstellung eines Molotow-Cocktails (How to Make a Molotov Cocktail) (1968), Anleitung, Polizisten den Helm abzurissen (How to Remove a Police Helmet) (1969), and the better-known Nicht löschbares Feuer (Inextinguishable Fire) (1969). As Berlin changed over the years, however, so, too, did Farocki and his filmmaking practice.

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