The Lawyers – A German Story

A photograph provides the starting point for the film. It shows three men in a Berlin courtroom: they are Otto Schily, Hans-Christian Ströbele and Horst Mahler. It is the beginning of the 1970s, and all are lawyers working with the left-wing extraparliamentary opposition APO. Mahler sits in the dock; Schily and Ströbele are there to defend him. All three men regard the existing West German state as an oppressor of political freedom and a puppet of the USA, and all three are determined to fight for a different, a better Federal Republic of Germany.

What divides them is their idea of how to achieve that goal. Mahler has become involved with the Red Army Faction, throwing Molotov cocktails and trying to broker the purchase of weapons; his two colleagues, in contrast, have chosen to fight the ideological battle with words. The tie that binds the men at this moment is a common vision of "left-wing justice". Together they take the risk of publicly declaring solidarity with those who are identified as enemies of the state; they participate in high-profile political trials, clashing with chiefs of police, high-ranking judges, and with powerful public figures such as publishing magnate Axel Springer; and they often spend days at a time together.

Today, one of them is a former Minister of the Interior from the Social Democratic Party, another represents the leftist conscience of the Green Party in the federal parliament, and the third is a leader on the right-wing fringe. Together they cover the entire spectrum of politics in Germany: Schily is the bourgeois conservative, Ströbele the committed leftist, and Mahler the right-wing extremist. 38 years have passed since they were photographed in Berlin, and today it is no longer possible to get them in the same room together. Schily and Ströbele studiously avoid each other, and both have broken off all contact with Mahler.

The film follows the biographies of these three men, all of whom belong to the same generation and all of whom were formed by the same West German reality. Director Birgit Schulz investigates the elements that shaped them, the nature of the political ideals that initially bound them together, and the points on which they differed, prompting them to seek their separate paths until they finally ended as opponents.

The film tells first of great ambitions and dreams, then of personal injuries, mutual alienation and broken relationships, and finally of new dreams. The three lawyers were interviewed during several days of filming. In the course of these conversations many intimate and stirring confidences were shared, which add depth to this "German Story". As the film unfolds, what at first seems contradictory in each man's biography almost takes on a certain logic. Individually and independently of each other, all three lives show a kind of consistency –– and each of the three insists that through all the intervening years, he has remained true to his convictions…

A cinema documentary film project for WDR/ ARTE/ NDR/ RBB (90min)
The project has been subsidised by the Filmstiftung Northrhine Westphalia,
the Filmförderungsanstalt FFA and the Deutscher FilmFörderfonds DFFF.

Director: Birgit Schulz
Dramaturgical consultant: Heiner Stadler
Photographer: Isabelle Casez, Axel Schneppat
Sound: Pascal Capitolin
Editor: Katharina Schmidt
Sound: Pluramon
Production Manager: Monika Mack, Jorge Bogalho (WDR)
Post Production: Jörg Kobel
Distribution: Realfiction
Producer: Sabine de Mardt
Commissioning editor: Christiane Hinz/ WDR, Andrea Ernst/ WDR/ARTE, Silvia Gutmann/ NDR, Jens Stubenrauch/ RBB


In August of this year, the Wiesbaden Film Evaluation Agency (FBW) awarded  The Lawyers – A German Story a rating of "especially noteworthy" and selected the film as its documentary film of the month.

"Horst Mahler, Otto Schily and Hans-Christian Ströbele: three figures of the '68 generation, three controversial personalities and political companions through turbulent chapters in Germany's history, from the Red Army Fraction to the current debate over international terrorism."

"This informative as well as courageous documentary juxtaposes historical images and footage with present-day filmed interviews in order to trace the radically different paths followed by these three men. Personal insights and individual perspectives on political events allow the viewer room to draw his own conclusions. The result is a provocative film which presents a challenge and provides plenty of material for heated discussion. At last we have again an exciting political documentary with explosive potential!"
Film Evaluation Agency (FBW)

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