Dietrich's burial elicits strong emotions in Berlin

May 17, 1992|By Carl Schoettler | Carl Schoettler,Berlin Bureau

BERLIN -- Marlene Dietrich returned to her old neighborhood yesterday. She came back in a plain wooden coffin adorned with lilacs and tulips, red carnations and blue-star flowers, and draped with the flag of Berlin with its prancing black bear.

She would never again need the suitcase in Berlin she used to sing about in her deep, throaty, bittersweet voice.

Ms. Dietrich had left Germany during the time of the Nazis and rarely returned even after World War II ended. She was last here 32 years ago -- and not too well-received then. Even in death she made Germans uneasy and sparked endless discussion on the streets, in the newspapers and at the burial ground.

"You were the other Germany," proclaimed the wreath of the Bundnis 90/Green party, a center-left-environmental coalition.

"She had the strength to leave," said the guy at the "beerstube" down the street from the cemetery.

"My opinion is that she betrayed her people," said the right-wing nationalist political candidate, passing out anti-Dietrich leaflets outside the cemetery.

But she never wavered in her decision, said the clergyman at the graveside. She was constant and upright, but always sentimental.

He said her homecoming was now complete: "Home again, as we say in Berlin, in the 'Kiez,' " back in the neighborhood, back on the block.

She was borne to the cemetery through the city in an open hearse. At the gate of the cemetery a young man darted out of the crowd of about a thousand and dropped a single rose at the head of the cortege.

The crowd applauded as six uniformed pallbearers raised the coffin to their shoulders for the measured walk to the grave.

About 50 mourners, including her daughter, Maria Riva, followed, a somber, black-clad mass in the verdant, sun-washed municipal cemetery.

"Dear Marlene, you have come home," said Maximilian Schell, who acted with her in "Judgment at Nuremberg."

"I think you would have liked that applause," he said.

Mr. Schell, Ms. Dietrich's loyal friend, made what was probably her last movie, "Marlene," a touching documentary in which she is a ghostly presence who speaks but never appears.

The memorial angel at the end of the row of graves nicely recalled her first film, "The Blue Angel."

Mr. Schell, Horst Bucholz and Hildegarde Knef were the only real movie stars present at the private ceremony. Hollywood seemed to be represented, oddly enough, by the mayor of Beverly Hills.

Afterward, the Berliners she had come home to filed past, thousands and thousands of them, from noon into the twilight of evening, dropping flowers and a handful of dust into the open grave.

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