The Famous Downfall Bunker Scene

How Historically Accurate is the Most Parodied Scene in Film History?

Adam M Wakeling

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Bruno Ganz as Adolf Hitler in Der Untergang (Downfall), 2004.

OOliver Hirschbiegel’s 2004 film Der Untergang (Downfall) attracted widespread critical acclaim for its depiction of the drama which played out in the Führerbunker during the Battle for Berlin. In particular, Bruno Ganz was praised by German and non-German critics alike for his chillingly-accurate portrayal of Adolf Hitler in the final ten days of his life.

The film gained another quite difference audience on YouTube after a scene in which Hitler flies into a rage at his subordinates gave rise to hundreds of parodies. Downfall, one of the most serious and important films of the decade, became a cornucopia of online comedy.

Downfall is a carefully-researched film, based on the 2002 book Der Untergang by Joachim Fest (published in English as Inside Hitler’s Bunker: The Last Days of the Third Reich) and Bis zur letzten Stunde (Until the Final Hour), the first-hand account of one of Hitler’s secretaries, Traudl Junge. Junge is the viewpoint character of the film. So, did the events in the famous scene actually happen as the film depicts them?

The Battle for Berlin

The main events of Downfall begin on Hitler’s fifty-sixth birthday on 20 April 1945 and end with the Soviet capture of the Führerbunker and the surrender of German forces in Berlin on the morning of 2 May. Hitler committed suicide on the afternoon of 30 April. The pivotal conference which is the subject of the famous scene took place on the afternoon of 22 April.

First stage of the Battle of Berlin, Lonio17/Orionist, Wikimedia Commons, Creative Commons Licence.

The military situation for the Third Reich had already become hopeless. On 19 April, the Red Army broke through the Oder-Neisse Line, the last German position to the east of Berlin, and began its encirclement of the capital. Berlin residents woke on the morning of 20 April to the sound of Soviet artillery. The Red Army had assembled more than one and a half million men for the assault, against which the Wehrmacht and the SS could not field even fifty thousand regular soldiers. In their support, they had around forty thousand men and…

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Adam M Wakeling

Adam Wakeling is an Australian writer, lawyer and historian. He is online at https://www.amwakeling.com/ and on Twitter @AdamMWakeling.