Nowadays, the complexity of producing non-digital films is hard to imagine. A guided tour of the Bitterfeld-Wolfen Industry and Film Museum helps to change the focus. Visitors gain deep insights into the challenging temperatures and light conditions by inspecting the particular machines that produced the world's first marketable colour film in 1936. The site displays the complete manufacturing process: from the production of the film strip to the composition of the light-sensitive photographic developer and the subsequent processing, drying and packaging. The process was initiated by a machine from 1930, which produced the film base as a medium for photographic emulsion. This emulsion or developer, made from up to 50 different chemicals in a top secret composition, is finished in the previously dark melting chamber before being applied to the film base by another machine in an immersion process. The next step, a drying tunnel with temperatures between 8 and 40 degrees Celsius, was a tough workplace as well. At the end of the tour there is no doubt about the fact that this factory not only made film history but also witnessed high-precision work under most severe conditions.
"Women Make Better Diplomats", starring Marika Rökk, was the title of a costume movie made in 1941 – right in the middle of the Second World War - that became hugely popular in Germany. But the real star of this shallow comedy was not so much the actress as the newfangled Agfacolor process. For this film is generally acknowledged to be the first ever colour movie to be shown on the screens of a German cinema.
The Wolfen Industry and Film Museum has a lot of similar stories to tell. Anyone who enters this factory that once used to be the second largest film manufacturer in the world, will find himself on a journey through the history of 20th century photo and film techniques. It begins with the building which was constructed in 1909 by the AGFA company (Aktiengesellschaft für Anilinfabrikation) and, from then on, used for a broad range of products ranging from films for movies and photographic purposes to x-ray plates, small format film, aerial film and film as graphic prints. In 1936, factory workers in Wolfen produced the world’s first viable multilayer colour film for large-scale use on a processing machine that is still existing, thus heralding the age of colour photography for the masses. The fortunate combination of original machinery at an original site provides a striking impression of the production process in a working atmosphere. Rooms covered with white tiles for applying the photographic emulsions, and long dark passageways for transporting the light-sensitive film strips take visitors back into a world which seems to be light years away from trivial movies like the one featuring Marika Rökk. In 1964, Wolfen, now part of Eastern Germany, rebranded its film products ORWO (short for Original Wolfen). After the reunification, the Wolfen Film Factory shut down but gave birth to a couple of new companies that proceed to manufacture films. In 1993, the Industry and Film Museum opened, thus ensuring the conservation of the world’s oldest film processing machine. An impressive collection of cameras documents the multiple applications of ORWO articles. In addition there is a multimedia show illustrating the development of the Bitterfeld-Wolfen region from an agricultural area to a centre for the chemical industries.
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Tuesday - Sunday 10am-4pm