Death in the Baltic sea

Death in the Baltic sea

Death in the Baltic sea

A series by Rikke Detlefsen und Jesper Clemmensen, 4 x 25 min, MDR 2021

Part 1 – The Village
Part 2 – The File
Part 3 – Go West
Part 4 : East meets West

What makes a person try to flee across a hostile sea in a most unsuitable vessel, risking – and actually sacrificing – his own life and the lives of those he loves the most? The answer very much depends on the perspective of the person trying to find some kind of meaning in such an horrific incident. Why did they flee? What went wrong? And Who is to blame? These questions look quite different from the two sides of the Iron Curtain – even today.


The escape route from the GDR to the West across the Baltic Sea has been widely overlooked, even though the escapes were no less dramatic and the ressources and methods used by the regime to prevent them were substantial. More people died here, than in escapes across the wall and the border in Berlin. 

One story was the most tragic and incomprehensible of them all: The deaths of two young couples and a small child on September 10, 1979 outside a campground at Nonnevitz on the Holiday Island of Rügen. This was the single “Republikflucht”-incident throughout the history of the GDR that demanded the most victims but very strangely never has been documented.

The background, facts and consequences of the fatal escape attempt of Ulf (30), Renate (29), Lutz (24), Manuela (19) and tiny Ines (2) have been a painful mystery to their next of kin for decades. Trying to solve it brings several unexpected turns of events that touch upon the fundamental grievances of the Cold War years in the divided Germany. And it turns out to be a tale of longing, love, hate and misconceptions between three families, and between the GDR and the BRD. 

BioNTech – Project Lightspeed

BioNTech – Project Lightspeed

BioNTech - Project Lightspeed

A film by Michael Schindhelm, 52 min, ZDF/ARTE 2021

Available in the online ARTE media library until 18.04.2025


With the BioNTech vaccine, medical scientists Uğur Şahin and Özlem Türeci achieved a breakthrough after years of research.

The mRNA technique, which has been an important component for cancer research for many years, is now making history as a vaccine against Covid-19. But where does cancer research go from here? Can the mRNA technique also help to fight malaria? The film shows the incredible achievement of a start-up company from Mainz for global health.


Apennine Mountains – The Wild Heart of Italy

Apennine Mountains – The Wild Heart of Italy

Apennine Mountains - The Wild Heart of Italy

A film by Kristian Kähler and Silvia Palmigiano, 2x43 min, ARTE 2021

The Apennines are the backbone and soul of Italy in equal measure. These high and low mountain ranges traverse the Italian mainland, alternating from north to south. The many historical sites along the way help define the country as a whole, as does the wild and impassable nature. There are many national parks, home to rare species such as the bee-eating red-backed shrike or the nearly 500 Marsican brown bears. The Italian shepherding tradition has left a strong mark on the cultural landscape of the Apennines. Ancient traditions, picturesque places and living history can all still be found here. Locals call the Apennine Mountains “L ‘Italia minore” – Little Italy.

If you want to understand Italy and its culture, you don’t have to go to Rome or Milan. A journey through the serpentine roads of the northern Apennines is enough to understand where the true heart of Italy beats: right here – in the green forests, the abandoned villages and the rolling hills.

The Apennine mountain range stretches from Liguria across the Italian boot to Calabria at the tip of the boot. Yet the mountain region between the cultural cities of Bologna and Florence is known to only a few.

20-year-old Andrea Barrani dreams of producing his own wine right here – on the steep slopes of the Cinque Terre.

Shepherdess Cinzia Angiolini has also found happiness in the Apennines: she breeds the local Zerasca breed of sheep. Old traditions are preserved in the Apennines because there are people who maintain them – like the bell ringers of Monghidoro.

Young Federico Mezzini still struggles with the 400 kg bells, but he is confident that he will soon be able to play a concert.

Laura Sbaccheri has spent her whole life doing without her dream: She always wanted to ride a motorbike. A stroke of fate prevented her from doing so. Now, in her late 30s, she has finally fulfilled her dream: She rides on the Mugello racetrack at 250km/h and enjoys the thrill.

The journey along the northern Apennines ends in Umbria. Here, geologist Andrea Mazzoli shows on mountain bike tours what spectacular secret lies hidden in the million-year-old rocks.

The Apennines are considered the backbone of Italy – a world of its own with much to discover.

The second part of our series is dedicated to the Southern Apennines. The journey begins on the Gran Sasso, at the almost 3,000-metre Corno Grande – the highest point of all the ranges. The landscapes of Campo Imperatore have been shaped by sheep breeding for centuries. Here, Pastore Abruzzese shepherd dogs protect the sheep from attacks by wolves.

Further south, brown bears emerge from the wooded heights to roam the village of Villalago. The people of this picturesque community have become accustomed to the visits from the Marsican bears. Researchers are studying these endangered animals and working to preserving the population.

Further south in the town of Melfi in Basilicata, falconers maintain the tradition of breeding birds of prey, practised here since the High Middle Ages. Stauferkönig Friedrich II. Friedrich II, Emperor of the Roman-German Empire in the 13th century, was an enthusiastic falconer and wrote a still important book ‘On the Art of Hunting with Birds’.

In the southernmost tip of the toe of Italy, the Apennines surprises with sequoia trees and deep green forests, contradicting assumptions that Calabria is only hot and dusty.

Here, after 1500 kilometres, the journey through the Southern Apennines comes to an end.

Planet of the Sheep

Planet of the Sheep

Planet of the Sheep

A film by Marvin Entholt, 2 x 45min, NDR/ARTE 2021

Sheep are probably the most underestimated animal in the world. Without them, mankind would not be where it is today. Food, clothing – the unpretentious ram has been providing man with all this for eleven thousand years. The animals have made societies grow, they prepared people for culture and to this day they guarantee life and prosperity in many parts of the world. ‘Planet of the Sheep’ goes on a search for traces and clues among shepherds and breeders all over the world.

In Europe, the traditional shepherding profession is on the verge of extinction. In the Lüneburg Heath, only a few shepherds are still on the road with their herds of Heidschnucken to preserve the cultural landscape. Though some old shepherding cultures are still alive, in Sardinia as well as in northern Macedonia living the tradition of transhumance of many thousands of animals. In Scotland, a young, female generation is breaking new ground to save the ancient culture of sheep farming into the 21st century. And in Spain, too, new forms of sheep farming are becoming established: shepherd schools are training a new generation of shepherds.

China is going its own way: here, sheep are kept intensively by the hundreds of thousands to satisfy the population’s hunger. But on a smaller scale, quality of life and often human survival are directly linked to the existence of the sheep – as in Ethiopia, where farmers can finance their children’s schooling thanks to just a few animals. The undemanding sheep is a master of adaptation to almost any environmental condition – and thus probably also a helper in climate change.

Part 1:   Out into the World

Part 2:   Out into the furture

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The Voice of the Birds – Olivier Messiaen, Componist and Ornithologist

The Voice of the Birds – Olivier Messiaen, Componist and Ornithologist

The Voice of the Birds – Olivier Messiaen, Componist and Ornithologist

A film by Holger Preusse and Philipp Quiring, SWR/ARTE, 52 min, 2022

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For Olivier Messiaen, birds are “the greatest musicians inhabiting our planet”. Their endless melodies with the finest tonal gradations, their diverse singing and the infinite variety of rhythms are the lifeblood of the French musician. On the occasion of the 30th anniversary of his death on 27 April 2022, we tell Olivier Messiaen’s story from the perspective of the birds.

Messiaen became acquainted with birds at a young age, and when he came to Paris from the French provinces in his early 20s, they continued to flutter in his head. As organist of the parish church La Trinité in Paris, it is the birds that provide him with their songs, over which he improvises. Music lovers from all over Europe make a pilgrimage to see him. The premiere of his opera in Paris in 1983 is awaited with great excitement: In “Saint Francis of Assisi” (“Saint François d’Assise”), birds play a central role. For him, the birds are something metaphysical, a direct link to God.

Against the background of the “Voice of the Birds”, the film portrays the eventful life of the composer and ornithologist Messiaen through musical examples and narratives of selected interlocutors: There is conductor Kent Nagano, cellist Camille Thomas, Ondes Martenot interpreter Natalie Forget and organist Thomas Lacôte, Messiaen biographer Peter Hill, DJ and biologist Dominik Eulberg and, last but not least, Pierre-Laurent Aimard, who vividly explains selected passages from Messiaen’s “Catalogue d’oiseaux” (“Catalogue of Birds”).