Kai Christiansen, Germany
„Alfred Brehm stands for Germany’s cultural heritage alongside the Brothers Grimm and Karl May.“ (Hamburger Abendblatt). And if you are mystified about any of these men, shame on you. At least now, you have a chance to learn more about Alfred Brehm who was born in 1829. He grew up in Renthendorf, a small town south of Berlin between Chemnitz and Jena. His father, Christian Ludwig Brehm, was a pastor, but also an ornithologist who taught Alfred to appreciate animals, in this case birds. Alfred left university after a few semesters to go to Egypt, the Sudan, and the Sinai Peninsula in 1847. His travel companion was Johann Wilhelm von Müller, who financed the five-year trip; Alfred was only 18. This journey was overshadowed by illnesses and the departure of von Müller, but also set the destiny of Brehm to become the expert on animals of his time and a contemporary of Darwin. Later in life he headed of the Zoological Garden of Hamburg (1862-67), a zoo near Planten un Blomen at Tiergartenstrasse (a street which still exists today). After vicious mobbing by the management, he left Hamburg to run the aquarium in Berlin (1869-1910). The zoo finally bowed to the competition of a young man named Carl Hagenbeck who founded his zoo in 1863. The Berlin aquarium was torn down and rebuilt three years later under new management. However, the lasting legacy of Alfred Brehm is his 10-volumne encyclopedia Brehm’s Life of Animals (Brehms Tierleben) which first appeared in 1864 and has been reprinted in more tha 200 editions and is still in print today. Brehm included his own animal sketches. His descriptions are personal and poetic; he believed that animals are humans in a different form. He also was one of the first to believe that caged animals should live in an environment as close to their natural habitat as possible.
This, and much more, make up the festival film Alfred Brehm Die Gefühle der Tiere (the emotions of the animals). His home in Renthendorf is still standing – a museum with 9000 stuffed birds and thousands of books. Directed by Kai Christiansen, Vladimir Burlakov plays Alfred (who died at age 55 in 1884. Roger Willemsen, well-known German television moderator, spins out the threads of the storyline. Oliver Goetzl and Ivo Nörenberg, present-day photographers of animals around the world, discuss Brehm’s accomplishments with respect and also present their own films. (Becky Tan)