Watch the film about a group of young ladies, transported to 1945 Berlin. Those young ladies volunteer for the ATS service (I’ll tell you more about this service in a minute).
It’s summer 1945. The war ended on May 8.
Since then, the city of Berlin has been divided into different sectors, controlled by the Soviets, the Americans, the British and the French armies. The mood is divided – of course, people are tremendously happy that war is over.
On the other hand, most of the Germans are grieving because they lost friends and relatives during the war – who either died as soldiers while fighting in Russia, France, Italy, the Balkans, Greece or at one of the other frontlines. Or they died during the bombing of German cities.
The city is severely damaged – many houses are uninhabitable. Piles of “Trümmer” (that’s what ruins and the debris are called in German) are characteristic during those 1945 days. The Berlin inhabitants face serious malnutrition, and struggle to scrape together food for their families each and every day. (Not to justify things! Just a list of challenges posed by the post-war situation, and how a German person would have experienced it in 1945.)
After 12 long years of Nazi education, propaganda and brainwashing, all Nazi-related things are suddenly now forbidden.
The citizens of Berlin are faced with the fact that their city is now populated – and ruled – by foreign soldiers: Black soldiers from the US, black North African soldiers from the Maghreb or from France. Russian soldiers are also frequently seen in the streets. The Germans have yet to learn how to come to terms with this new situation. Up until that moment these people were “enemies” – and suddenly they now have to work out how to live side by side. Having been opponents in war for over five years – worlds now collide as those foreign soldiers populate the city.
Whereas the official rules for soldiers forbid any private contact with German civilians, people actually do MEET, speak, trade food and cigarettes, visit each other and, eventually, even fall in love …
(Sidenote: You may not forget that there were an estimated number of around 150,000 German women who were raped by foreign soldiers!)
The British Army, however, tries to limit the contact between their soldiers and the citizens of Germany. Private meetings and visits are actually forbidden – “fraternisation” is the term for this ban.
In this setting, a group of British ladies arrives.
Protected and guarded by British male soldiers, they are wandering around like tourists in the shattered city of Berlin.
Describe how they move around, and what they see …
… the Nazi emblems mounted on the walls of former Nazi palaces (especially, in the film footage around minute 0:50 and 1:52!)
… the great piles of rubble where famous Berlin grand hotels had previously stood for decades and decades.
… how the women stand together in a group, smoking cigarettes and chatting.
→ What else do you see, and want to include in your scene?
Then add a CONFLICT.
Describe how a German woman approaches the ATS ladies, and shouts insults at them. Place yourself this German woman’s shoes, and explore her frustrations: How she – an inhabitant of Berlin for years and years – sees those British ladies walking around her city. She sees them observing and inspecting everything with detached interest, as if they’re viewing exotic animals in a zoo. Roaming around the city as if it were theirs .
Let the German woman reveal all of what she experiences: the hardships. The hunt for food. The fear of being raped every night. How it is to live in a damaged house. How it is NOT to know if your husband will ever return from Russia, if he’s a prisoner of war – or if he’s actually dead.
Let the German woman SHOUT at the British group.
Her goal is to let those British ladies – as protected as they are – know how she suffers. She wants them to have an unfiltered glimpse of what post-war Berlin is actually like.
However, the British ladies, too, are no strangers to the misery of war.
Several of the young women have served as volunteers in an anti-aircraft gun battery, or worked with Service Vehicle Maintenance on motor vehicles or even tanks. Some of those British ladies experienced the bombing of Great Britain, and lost friends and relatives during the London Blitz.
→ Write a heated, testy, petulant conversation between the German lady, and the British group.
Narrate how they battle with words.
How they argue.
Let the worlds COLLIDE.
Want prompts like these every Tuesday?
If you need more background information about those British ATS ladies, here it is.
- Read how a former ATS girl remembers Berlin in 1945
“My friend Peggy Quinney and I were the first two ATS girls to enter Berlin after the fall in 1945 …” Read this breathtaking eyewitness report.
It’s a report for the “WW2 People’s War. An archive of World War Two memories – written by the public, gathered by the BBC”. Contributed by brssouthglosproject, Article ID: A5325392, uploaded on August 25, 2005.
People mentioned in this report: Hilda L Witchell, Peggy Quinney
Quote: “My lasting memories of Berlin are of a city with no birds or cats as they had been eaten by the starving survivors …”
- If you need yet another setting, try this one: Several ATS girls and soldiers visit Hitler’s Palace called “Reichskanzlei”, now lying in ruins.
- Want to know how ATS ladies actually served during WWII?
Browse these image databases, so that you can write about their backgrounds – how they were trained, and what they experienced during the war.
Also, explore what their motivation was to sign up for voluntary service with an institution like the ATS. View the 1940s-1944 posters that motivated those women to join forces: