Discover This: Zuwandern

Copyright: Sabine Herpich

People collecting recyclable bottles on the streets of Berlin are a common sight. It’s also common knowledge that if you’re too lazy to return your bottles you don’t throw them in the trash can but put them at the side for collectors to get at them more easily. During the summer, picnickers, revellers and sunbathers often have their empty bottles ready for the inevitable person who wanders around parks and open places, carrying a big plastic bag or a trolley filled with bottles in the hope of making a few Euros for their troubles – a single bottle usually being worth between eight and 25-cents when returned. The understanding between those who have enough and those who make a living from the waste of others often strikes me as unique and without trying to romanticise the situation, can bring an element of dignity to the situation of poverty.

Sabine Herpich, a young Berlin-based filmmaker, has made a film about a family who arrived in Berlin in such poverty that collecting bottles was their only way to survive. The Badeas, a Romanian family of five, arrived here without knowing which country they were in. They lived in an abandoned shack for some time and got their water from de-freezing ice in the winter before they were able to find a home, get jobs and finally send their children to school. Sabine Herpich teamed up with Diana Botescu, another young Berlin-based filmmaker, to meet the Badeas like big parts of the Berlin population meet the bottle collectors: with a sense of respect, a feeling for other people’s dignity and the knowledge that pity would be incongruous.

Copyright: Sabine Herpich
Copyright: Sabine Herpich

To make a level-headed documentary film about a poor immigrant family that first struggles to survive, then has to overcome language barriers all the while battling with a continuous feeling of alienation is no easy task particularly if you aim to avoid the traps that some documentary filmmakers love to fall into – exposing the misery of others for the sake of an “authentic” film or using human drama for a tear-jerking audience pleaser. Herpich and Botescu did well to choose observation over staging and long shots over dramatic cuts. There is no commentary apart from two or three fact-bound text plates, no music, no frills. Instead, Zuwandern is composed of a couple of more or less unedited sequences in which the family calls their relatives, talks to a school director, tries to solve communication problems, and of course, for parts of the film, collects bottles.

Copyright: Sabine Herpich
Copyright: Sabine Herpich

It took the two filmmakers nine months of filming to come up with a selection of everyday situations which, put together, allow for some insightful looks into German immigration policy. In passing, we meet some admirable people who choose endurance over surrender – which would nevertheless mean returning to a country whose language their children could speak at school. But since the film is devoid of any kind of moral judgement (very much like the great documentaries Fremd and Land in Sicht), we are not left with a clear idea about how the general situation should change or who is to blame. We just learn the story of a family who used to walk the streets of Berlin collecting bottles to make a living. Maybe you met them once and maybe you understand their situation a little better now. If it were only for that, this film would have already achieved a lot…

 edited by Belal Awad

Zuwandern, Germany 2014, 80 min.

director: Sabine Herpich/ Diana Botescu, cinematography: Sabine Herpich/ Florian Lampersberger, protagonists: Rebeca Ana-Maria Badea, Marina Carmen Badea, Alexandru Daniel Badea, Marian Razvan Badea, Nicolae George Badea, languages: Romanian, German, distribution: self-distributed (so far)

Berlin screening (German/ Romanian with German subtitles):

Berlin premiere tonight, Tuesday June 17th, 8:30 pm at Volksbühne at Rosa-Luxemburg-Platz in the presence of the filmmakers and family Badea!
Watch the trailer and get your tickets here:

Discover This! is a weekly Berlin–based film comment.


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  1. Nicolae-George Badea on


    Sehr schön!!!

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