Sterling Look Back to Look Forward

By Jo Phillips

Film is one of the greatest narration tools when it comes to telling stories, particularly stories not so easily digestible. Take for example Back to Berlin, a film that traces eleven Israeli bikers as they make the journey from Israel to the Berlin Olympic stadium – yes, the one most well known the as the Waldbühne Stadion, the site of Hitler’s infamous 1936 Berlin Olympics.

Part of the reason for travelling is to take the Maccabiah torch from Israel to the infamous Berlin site for the opening ceremony of the 2015 European Maccabiah Games. The idea is to connect with other Jewish people across Europe who could potentially be in the games – so it’s part PR and part soul-searching, and all heartbreaking story telling.

The Maccabiah Games, first held in 1932, are an international Jewish and Israeli multi-sport event. It is the third-largest sporting event in the world, with 10,000 athletes competing. The Maccabiah Games were declared a ‘Regional Sports Event’ by and under the auspices and supervision of the International Olympic Committee in 1961.

These kosher motor-bikers are nine Israelis and two Jewish people of the Diaspora (those living outside Israel). They include photojournalists, a TV host, a physicist, a farmer, a surgeon, an inventor, an architect and an art dealer. Seven are descendants of Holocaust survivors, two of whom are actual survivors as well as two who are grandchildren of original 1930’s Maccabiah Riders. This makes for quite the tale to tell, one that is actually easier to digest as each bikers story is told as they enter the relevant city. They also, of course, make a detour on the journey to visit Auschwitz.

This does not take away from the horror of the stories they tell, it doesn’t lesson the pain, but it does allow us to engage in a very simple, personal, congruent way with horrors that are way beyond most of our understanding and their words don’t come with images that are necessarily shocking, yet your initial reaction is to turn away.

We ride through the film alongside the bikers as we hear the stories they tell each other and the burden is slightly eased by the simple ability to share on a screen stories that must be told. And what’s the best way to tell a story? Whatever the vehicle, it must be one that stays with people, otherwise what is the point in telling it? This films crafts the tale beautifully.


BACK TO BERLIN is released in UK cinemas on 23rd November.


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