People on Sunday

People on Sunday (German: Menschen am Sonntag) is a 1930 German silent drama film directed by Robert Siodmak and Edgar G. Ulmer from a screenplay by Billy Wilder. The film follows a group of residents of Berlin on a summer's day during the interwar period. Hailed as a work of genius, it is a pivotal film in the development of German cinema and Hollywood.[2] The film features the talents of Curt Siodmak (story), Fred Zinnemann (cinematography) and Eugen Schüfftan, who had developed the Schüfftan process for Metropolis three years earlier.

People on Sunday
German film poster
Directed by
Produced by
Written by
  • Erwin Splettstößer
  • Brigitte Borchert
  • Wolfgang von Waltershausen
  • Christl Ehlers
  • Annie Schreyer
CinematographyEugen Schüfftan
Distributed by
  • Stiftung Deutsche Kinemathek/Berlin (Germany)
  • BFI (DVD)
Release date
  • 4 February 1930 (1930-02-04)
Running time
73 minutes
CountryWeimar Republic


The film is subtitled "a film without actors" and was filmed on Sundays in the summer of 1929. The actors were amateurs whose day jobs were those that they portrayed in the film—the opening titles inform the audience that these actors have all returned to their normal jobs by the time of the film's release in February 1930. They were part of a collective of young Berliners who wrote and produced the film on a shoestring. This lightly scripted, loosely observational work of New Objectivity became a surprise hit.[3]

People on Sunday is notable for its portrayal of daily life in Berlin before Adolf Hitler became Chancellor and as an early work by writer/director Billy Wilder before he moved to the United States to escape from Hitler's Germany.

The film is the directorial debut of the Siodmak Brothers.[1] The film was co-produced by Moriz Seeler, founder of the Filmstudio 1929 production company and Seymour Nebenzal, cousin to the Siodmaks, whose father Heinrich put up the money.[4] The film began a thirty-year collaborative friendship between Nebenzal and Wilder.

Siodmak called it "a nice little film" and said Wilder only worked on the movie "a couple of minutes" contributing some ideas.[5]


The film opens at Bahnhof Zoo train station one Saturday morning. Its opening scenes show the bustling traffic of central Berlin. The movie follows five central characters over a weekend. Wolfgang (Wolfgang von Waltershausen), a handsome young man, sees a pretty woman (Christl Ehlers) who seems to be waiting in the street for someone who has not arrived. He takes her for an ice cream, teases her about having been stood up and invites her to a picnic the following day.

Erwin (Erwin Splettstößer) is doing his day job as a taxi driver. While he is fixing the car, his depot receives a phone call from his girlfriend, Annie (Annie Schreyer), who wants to know if they are going to the cinema that evening. Erwin clearly is not keen to go. (One of the motifs of the movie is to play down the importance of the cinema in the lives of these young Berliners.) At the end of the day, Erwin returns home to find Annie moping about in their threadbare apartment. The couple bicker continually as they prepare to go to the cinema. The first row is over the pictures of movie stars in their bathroom. Annie cherishes the pictures of various actors while Erwin enjoys the photos of actresses, and the couple tear up each other's pictures during the squabble. Another argument arises over whether Annie should wear the brim of her hat up or down. (Another theme of the movie is the self-centred machismo represented by Erwin and Wolfgang.) Wolfgang arrives in the middle of this argument and Annie never gets to the cinema; Erwin and Wolfgang drink beer instead and plan to go to the countryside the following day.

The next morning, the two men take a train to Nikolassee, accompanied by Christl and her friend Brigitte (Brigitte Borchert). Annie stays home, sleeping away the day. The four daytrippers walk to Wannsee, along with many other Berliners, to enjoy the beaches and parks. As the four friends have a picnic, swim in the lake and play records on a portable gramophone, Wolfgang flirts with Brigitte, to the annoyance of Christl. He later play-chases Brigitte into the forest, where they find a secluded spot and make love. Afterwards, the four friends take a boat-ride, during which Erwin and Wolfgang flirt with two girls who are in a rowing boat.

As they head back into Berlin, Brigitte suggests to Wolfgang that they meet again the following Sunday. He agrees, but Erwin reminds him afterwards that they had planned instead to attend a football match. Wolfgang's decision remains unresolved. Erwin returns to find Annie still lying in bed, slowly waking up to realize this was the day for their excursion. Erwin angrily shows her what time it is. The final scene returns to shots of the streets of Berlin. The closing series of intertitles announces: "And then on is back to work... back to the everyday... back to the daily grind... Four... million... wait for... the next Sunday. The end.".


  • Erwin Splettstößer as himself (taxi driver) - The five leading actors were all amateur actors. Like his film figure, Splettstößer was also a taxi driver in real life. He liked acting and appeared later in small roles in two other films also directed by Robert Siodmak: Abschied (1930) and Voruntersuchung (1931). In an unfortunate accident, he was run over by his own taxi in 1931 and died.
  • Brigitte Borchert as herself (record seller) - Like her film figure, Brigitte Borchert (born 1910) also worked as a Gramophone seller when she was discovered for this film. It was her only film role; she later married the illustrator Wilhelm M. Busch in 1936. In 2000, Brigitte Borchert appeared in Weekend am Wannsee, a documentary film about People on Sunday. Brigitte Borchert died as a centenarian in Hamburg-Blankenese in August 2011, aged 100 years.
  • Wolfgang von Waltershausen as himself (wine seller) - Wolfgang von Waltershausen (born 1900; died 1973) came from a wealthy family in Bavaria. He was a descendant of Georg Friedrich Sartorius. Waltershausen later had small roles in two other movies. During the Third Reich he worked in the mining industry, in post-war-Germany he sold books and audiocassettes. He was married two times.
  • Christl Ehlers as herself (an extra in films) - Christina "Christl" Ehlers (born 1910) was born as the daughter of an harpsichordist and an artist. She left Germany in 1933 after the rise of Adolf Hitler. During the Second World War, she lived with her mother in the United States. She had a bit part in the Hollywood movie Escape (1940). She later married and had four more children, in addition to one child from a previous marriage. She worked with her husband in a family-owned aircraft company and also had her own vitamin business. Christina and her husband died in a private plane crash in New Mexico in 1960. All of her children are still living and reside in Northern California.
  • Annie Schreyer as herself (model) - There is no information about Annie Schreyer.

Four well-known actors of the Weimarer Republic appear in small roles:


Contemporary critics regarded the movie as an accurate and laconic portrayal of the Berlin they knew[6] and saw the closing intertitles as an accurate claim that these characters represent ordinary real-life Berliners. In retrospect, these closing words have gained an ironic poignancy in light of the later horrors of Nazi Germany.


In the autumn of 2002, Menschen am Sonntag was presented at one of Berlin's popular Jewish Culture Days. The Berlin-based Eastern European group Trio Bravo+ was commissioned to produce a new silent movie score for the film, which proved highly successful and was subsequently released as a standalone soundtrack CD.[7]

In 2005, the Netherlands Film Institute released an updated DVD of the film, restoring some missing scenes and commissioning a new score from Elena Kats-Chernin. This is the version used by the British Film Institute as the basis for its own DVD entitled People on Sunday, released 25 April 2005.[8]

The Criterion Collection released their edition of Menschen am Sonntag on Blu-ray and DVD in the United States on June 28, 2011, with a score by The Mont Alto Motion Picture Orchestra, and the Elena Kats-Chernin soundtrack as an alternate.[9]

Prior to the production of the German television series Babylon Berlin, producer Stephan Arndt and director Achim von Borries screened "Menschen am Sontag" for the entire cast and crew to help them better understand Weimar life in Berlin before the Nazi era.


  1. "Wettbewerb/In Competition". Moving Pictures, Berlinale Extra. Berlin: 84. 11–22 February 1998.
  2. Berlin film festival website Archived 2007-02-11 at the Wayback Machine
  3. Evelein, Johannes Franciscus, ed. (2009). Exiles Traveling: Exploring Displacement, Crossing Boundaries in German Exile Arts and Writings 1933–1945. Rodopi. p. 209. ISBN 978-90-420-2540-0.
  4. ""Menschen am Sonntag": Brüchig wie das Leben".
  5. Encounter with Siodmak Taylor, Russell. Sight and Sound; London Vol. 28, Iss. 3, (Summer 1959): 180.
  6. CITYGIRLS_s035_060(21.01.) Archived 2007-09-27 at the Wayback Machine
  7. Trio Bravo+ website}
  8. BFI DVD People on Sunday
  9. "People on Sunday". The Criterion Collection.
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