Die Feuerzangenbowle (1944 film)

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Die Feuerzangenbowle
Film poster
Directed byHelmut Weiss
Produced byHeinz Rühmann
Written byHeinrich Spoerl (book and screenplay)
StarringHeinz Rühmann
Erich Ponto
Paul Henckels
Hans Leibelt
Music byWerner Bochmann
CinematographyEwald Daub
Edited byHelmuth Schönnenbeck
Distributed byUFA
Release date
  • 28 February 1944 (1944-02-28)
Running time
97 minutes
CountryNazi Germany

Die Feuerzangenbowle (The Fire-Tongs Bowl or The Punch Bowl) is a 1944 German film, directed by Helmut Weiss and is based on the book of the same name. It follows the book closely, as its author, Heinrich Spoerl, also wrote the script for the film. Both tell the story of a famous writer going undercover as a student at a small-town secondary school after his friends tell him that he missed out on the best part of growing up by being educated at home. The story in the book takes place during the time of the Wilhelmine Empire in Germany. The movie was produced and released in Germany during the last years of World War II and has been called a "masterpiece of timeless, cheerful escapism."[1] The movie stars Heinz Rühmann in the role of the student Hans Pfeiffer, which is remarkable as Rühmann was already 42 years old at that time. The title comes from the German alcoholic tradition of Feuerzangenbowle.


The title refers to the Feuerzangenbowle punch consumed by a group of gentlemen in the opening scene. While exchanging nostalgic stories about their school days, the successful but somewhat stuffy young writer Dr. Johannes Pfeiffer realizes he missed out on something because he was taught at home and never attended school. He decides to make up for it by masquerading as a student at a small-town high school.

As student "Hans Pfeiffer", he quickly gains a reputation as a prankster. Together with his classmates, he torments his professors Crey and Bömmel and Headmaster Knauer with adolescent mischief. His girlfriend Marion unsuccessfully tries to persuade him to give up his foolish charade and return to his writing career. Eventually, he falls in love with the headmaster’s daughter Eva and discloses his identity after masquerading as his Professor Crey in school.

In the last scene, Pfeiffer explains that everything except the Feuerzangenbowle scene in the beginning was just a product of his imagination, even his girlfriend Eva.


Film production and release[edit]

Die Feuerzangenbowle was produced by Ufa Studios in Potsdam-Babelsberg. Filming was drawn out by shooting scenes to perfection to save the younger actors from being drafted into the war. Nevertheless, by the time the film was released, the German army had suffered massive casualties and some of the actors had been killed on the battlefield despite these efforts.

The film's release was in question when Bernhard Rust, secretary of education and former high-school teacher, bristled at the way the movie poked fun at teachers. To circumvent a ban by the censorship board, producer Heinz Rühmann presented the film to Hermann Göring at the Führerhauptquartier, where it proved to be a success, thus effecting its delayed release on 28 February 1944 in Berlin.

Historic context and criticism[edit]

The transformation of the accomplished writer back to a not-so-innocent schoolboy is an example of the cheerful escapism popular in German films at the end of World War II. In 1942, propaganda minister Joseph Goebbels had called for the production of predominantly entertaining films in Germany to distract the population from the political and moral debacle of the war.[2]

The charm of the teachers in the film lies in their old-fashioned attitudes and individual quirks. As representatives of an older, nonfascist generation, they were a nostalgic reminder of a lost past to the wartime generation in Germany. The film ridicules and at the same time celebrates this lost individuality through parody.[1]


Hans Pfeiffer[edit]

Dr. Johannes Pfeiffer is an accomplished playwright in Berlin, who never attended regular school, as he was educated at home. His friends' nostalgic recollections of their school days convince him that he missed out on something, so he decides to go under cover as a gymnasium student in the fictional small town Babenberg. He introduces himself as Hans Pfeiffer "with three Fs – one before and two after the ei" and quickly gets into the habit of playing elaborate practical jokes on his teachers.

The teachers[edit]

The teachers in the story are stereotypic parodies of different teaching styles. Professors Bömmel and Crey represent liberal and democratic teaching styles, respectively, but neither has much luck in gaining the students’ respect. This feat is reserved for teacher Dr. Brett, who does not appear in the book, but was added to the 1944 movie to represent the authoritarian style popularized at the time,[3] although here, Dr Brett exercises this style in a not unfriendly manner. The teachers' exaggerated individual quirks and particularly their dialects set them up to be easy targets for imitation and ridicule by the students. Some have acquired nicknames based on their looks. Headmaster Knauer, for example, is known as "Zeus" among the students, whereas Professor Crey is referred to as "Schnauz" (Moustache).

The women[edit]

Two women play central roles in the story and Pfeiffer’s life. Pfeiffer’s lover Marion is a modern and self-assured "big-city girl". She travels to Babenberg to try to convince Pfeiffer of the foolishness of his actions and bring him back to Berlin. Pfeiffer declines and she threatens to blow his cover. This makes her the "bad girl" of the story in accordance with the ideologies of the times reproving emancipated and "sinful" women like Marion.[1] She eventually loses Pfeiffer when he falls in love with innocent blonde Eva, Headmaster Knauer’s daughter, who embodies the ideal image of a proper "girl next door".

Cult film status[edit]

Since the 1980s, the film has gained cult film status at many German universities. During party-like showings in university auditoriums in early December, students bring props to participate in the movie’s action similar to audience participation in showings of The Rocky Horror Picture Show. For example, the audience will ring alarm clocks whenever an alarm clock rings in the movie and use flashlights when Hans Pfeiffer uses a pocket mirror to pinpoint the location of the Goths on a map behind the teacher to help a fellow student in history class. In 2006, more than 10,000 students participated in this tradition in Göttingen alone.[4]


  1. ^ a b c Georg Seeßlen, 1994: Die Feuerzangenbowle In: epd Film 3/94.
  2. ^ "Entertainment and Ideology in National-Socialist Film", Deutsches Filminstitut DIF e.V.
  3. ^ Sven Maier: Die Feuerzangenbowle, filmstarts.de Kritiken
  4. ^ Britta Mersch: Uni-Kultfilm "Feuerzangenbowle" In: Spiegel Online, 18 December 2006

External links[edit]