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  • Writer's pictureMalak AlSayyad

Breaking free from Contrainertown

Updated: Jan 30, 2023

Originally published in German and English (both written by Malak AlSayyad)

When Denijen Pauljević first encountered Matthias Weinzierl at a coffee shop in

Munich, it was only his second day at the Refugee camp, after living in hiding for an

entire year since his arrival in Germany. At only 18 years old, he had to flee from

Belgrade to escape the Yugoslav wars in 1992. He came to Munich through Prague,

where he wanted to study film directing, but due to the program being prohibitively

expensive for foreign students, he got an internship in Czech television instead. Then he

crossed into Germany illegally and arrived in Munich, where Denijen has been living for

the past 25 years.

„Beschränkung“ (Constraint) is a short film that was written and directed in 1995 by

Denijen in collaboration with Matthias. When the two of them were first getting to

know each other over coffee that day in Munich, they realized they have a common

interest in filmmaking. Matthias immediately suggested that they make a film together:

Denijen would write the script for a short film and they would meet again in two weeks.

“I thought to myself, well, I just met this guy five minutes ago and he’s suddenly offering

to produce a film with me.” Denijen shares laughingly, “then I said, why not? Just write

it and see what happens... So, I did.”

Indeed, two weeks later, Matthias came back, and the pair edited the script together. In

a matter of two months, Matthias had also managed to raise the necessary funds and put

together a small film crew. They completed the film in six weeks and started showing it

in cinemas as a pre-screening and at universities around Germany and beyond. It was

pretty successful.

Denijen explains how at the time, between 1992 and 94, there was a comparable “crisis”

of refugees like in recent years, though not at the same scale. Almost 300,000 refugees

came to Germany in one year, mainly from Bosnia and Herzegovina. People at the time

also protested that “the boat is full!” he says and the refugees were met with animosity,

discrimination and even violence as the first infamous attacks on refugee camps

occurred during that period. Denijen was able to surround himself with people who

were accepting and welcoming to refugees and other migrants. “But still, the xenophobia

was present in Munich,” he recalls, “especially while dealing with the bureaucratic

processes of getting my residence permit renewed every three months. I could really feel

the rejection and hostility there.”

The word “Beschrankung” (constraint) described the life he and many others were

expected to lead as asylum seekers in Germany. They were not allowed to work, nor to

study, nor to move freely beyond the city of Munich. “It is as if they expected me to just

sit in the container and wait.”, he explains,” but of course, I didn’t do that. [...] I tried to

make the best of my situation... if they would have deported me the next morning, at

least I would know I didn’t just sit passively waiting in the corner.” Denijen worked

illegally, formed a band with whom he performed at many concerts and of course,

travelled to various cities to screen and present his film. Today, he feels like the

pressure, the suspense, the fear and his desire to make the best out of it all, gave him a

sensation of living very intensely, an intensity that he is yet to experience again.

When he wrote first the script for the film years ago, the words came to him intuitively

and spontaneously, but now looking back, he realizes how the fragility of his life and

threat to his existence - due to the war and the danger of being sent back - was

symbolized in the film through his use of the motif of glass and frailty. Watching the film

today is an experience that makes Denijen feel like he has been transported back in

time. “It’s not that I can’t remember it. I just don’t feel it anymore.”

Today, Denijen works in Asylum-consulting. He explains that when he speaks to recent

refugees at work, he feels like he is on the other side, even though he experienced

something similar and had a very hard time living in fear and precarity for those two or

three years. “When I watch the film every once in a while, these feelings of fear and

uncertainty that used to weigh me down so much, come back to me momentarily.”

Denijen worked hard and fought for his freedom from the constraints in which he lived.

For the past 20 years he has enjoyed the same freedoms as other Germans, including a

German citizenship, which he was granted in 2017. And yet, “constraints” often find

their way back into his life, but he does not feel acutely confined from the outside, like in

the past, but that he himself is responsible for his current constraints.

He hopes that his film can inspire newcomers who are going through what he once went

through to break out of their constraints and out of situations that they do not approve

of, despite the difficulty. He hopes to show the importance of staying active and not

waiting for help from someone else, because for him, what is most important is making

the best out of your own situation with your own actions.

Twenty-five years later, Denijen likes this short film he made in his youth, an amateur

production with limited technical possibilities, because despite the everything, it has its

own “raw power”, he feels.

“It is a little bit rough and a little bit wild.”

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