Children of the Open Road

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Kinder der Landstrasse
Kinderdlandstrasse plakat.jpg
Story by Johannes Bösiger
Directed by Urs Egger
Starring Jasmin Tabatabai
Andrea Eckert
Mathias Gnädinger
Nina Petri
Noemi Steuer
Theme music composer Detlef Petersen
Country of origin Switzerland
Original language(s) Swiss German, German
Producer(s) Johannes Bösiger
Helga Bähr
Veit Heiduschka
Alfred Nathan
Martin Schmassmann
Peter Spörri
Cinematography Lukas Strebel
Editor(s) Barbara Hennings
Running time 117 minutes
Distributor Metropolis Film World Sales
Original release
  • 1992 (1992)

Children of the Open Road (German: Kinder der Landstrasse) is a Swiss feature/drama film that was produced in 1992, focusing on the fictitious family, the Kesslers, and the historically real attempt of the Swiss to eliminate the Yeniche culture in Switzerland by the Kinder der Landstrasse foundation between 1926 and 1973.


The Yeniche Kessel family – Theresa, Paul and their five-year-old daughter Jana - escapes the Nazi terror and returns to Switzerland in 1939. Trusting to have escaped the hell, they get into their supposedly safe home into the clutches of the auxiliary Kinder der Landstrasse and victims of racial persecution in the name of so-called children's welfare: Jana Kessler (Martina Straessler, Jara Weiss as a child, and Jasmin Tabatabai as adult Jana), in 1939 five years old, has been snatched from her parents, and the following years she's consigned to a life of orphanages and foster homes, in order to sever her ties with her culture and to 'assimilate' Jana to a 'better way of life'.

Jana becomes the ward of Dr. Schönefeld, the director of the agency. But the system is not able to 'break' the young women, and instead of to preempt a new generation's caravans from following their nomadic traditions along Switzerland's country lanes.

Though grown sad-eyed, tough and wary after years as a ward of the state, imprisoned and stigmatized as crazy and unteachable and even declared insane for the same claimed 'reasons' by officials, Jana struggles to unloose the bonds of the system and starts to find her mother and father. Experienced with foster families and homes, Jana is convinced that she will always in the eyes of others be a Gipsy.

As a young adult falls Jana in love with the farmer's son Franz, and the plan for the future reunion with her parents, to the beginning ignoring that her family was finally destroyed by Schönefeld. At the request of their guardian, Jana is arrested again and imprisoned by the so-called administrative care, but Franz helps her to escape. The luck of the young pair is soon overshadowed by Jana's pregnancy.



From 1926 to 1973, the Swiss government had, according to the final report Unabhängige Expertenkommission Schweiz – Zweiter Weltkrieg (Volume 23) of the Swiss parliamentary commission of that name, a semi-official policy of institutionalizing Yeniche parents and having their children adopted by more "normal" Swiss citizens, in an effort to eliminate Yeniche culture.[1] The name of this program, provided by the Swiss children-oriented Pro Juventute foundation, was Kinder der Landstrasse (literally "children of the country road"). In all, about 590 children were taken from their parents and institutionalized in orphanages, mental institutions and even prisons.


The film was produced by Lichtblick Film - und Fernsehproduktion, Panorama Films, Schweizer Fernsehen (SRF), Wega Film and Zweites Deutsches Fernsehen (ZDF) in 1992 on locations in Austria, Germany and Switzerland. As of 1992, Kinder der Landstrasse was the most expensive Swiss film production. It was also the first official co-production of the three German-speaking countries Switzerland, Germany and Austria.

Cinema and television[edit]

The film premiered at a public audition in May 1992 in Zürich-Wollishofen.[2] The drama's international premiere was in August 1992 at the Locarno Film Festival. In television, the drama was first aired on 24 February 1994. The film was presented repeatedly at international film festivals, among them the San Francisco Film Festival in 2006 at its 50th anniversary.[3]

Critical response[edit]

Lexikon des Internationalen Films (LIF) said, "on the fate of a vagrant family and her daughter in the period 1939–1972, the youth and social welfare of a Swiss charity is denounced, the exercise ideological abuse of power of the demon National Socialist ideas... postponed action that encourages social and social conscience and provides fundamental issues of our Western social system."[4]

The San Francisco Film Festival said, "with refreshing clarity, director Urs Egger's straightforward storytelling serves the film well as cinematic drama, as do fine, naturalistic performances, especially by Jasmin Tabatabai who plays the teenage Jana with determined if bewildered candor... The family's near escape from the Nazis in the beginning casts an ironic light on the film. Whether it comes at the hands of the executioner or by the edicts of the self-righteous bureaucrat, cultural annihilation is the ultimate goal of racism."[3]


Home media[edit]

The film was released on DVD in German language.[5]

See also[edit]

External links[edit]


  1. ^ Thomas Huonker, Regula Ludi (2001). "Roma, Sinti und Jenische. Schweizerische Zigeunerpolitik zur Zeit des Nationalsozialismus. Beitrag zur Forschung (Veröffentlichungen der UEK, Band 23)" (PDF) (in German). UEK, Swiss Government. Retrieved 2014-11-13. 
  2. ^ Guests were the director, members of the film crew, no officials, but representants of the Yeniche people's Radgenossenschaft society.
  3. ^ a b Alicia Springer (2006). "Children of the Open Road". San Francisco Film Festival. Retrieved 2014-11-13. 
  4. ^ "Akte-Grüninger. Geschichte eines Grenzgängers" (in German). (former LIF). Retrieved 2014-11-13. 
  5. ^